Monday, November 26, 2012

Cortona, Arezzo, Italia!

I'm back folks!

I apologize dearly for the silence the past month or so, as all writers do, occasionally I get burnt out a bit and have to take some time to regroup and refocus.  Alas, the itch has returned and I'm back :)

I reviewed my last blog and realized I left you all with quite the cliffhanger..!  So where were we..


Finally arrived in Cortona by train all of us, excluding Nicole, feeling pretty freaking sick.  We stepped off the train onto the station platform and headed into the picturesque town of Camucia.  We were all sufficiently in the "hangry" and tired, not to mention sick stage at this point and desperately searched for an open cafe.  Alas, we had arrived just at the time when everything in Italy shuts down completely.  Approximately between the hours of 2-4pm..awesome

We finally found a small cafe open and all four of us collapsed in chairs with our backpacks strewn around us.  We waited for Nicole's friend Katie to arrive along with her boyfriend (they had just come from Amsterdam) so that we could all take a taxi into Cortona together.  While the others chowed down, me, Chris, and Robbie had about 3 bites total between the three of us of our food.  Upset stomach blows while traveling by the way.  In case you were unaware..

We ordered a taxi and all 6 of us piled in with all our backpacks mind you, and headed off into the Tuscan countryside.

I had been eagerly anticipating seeing gigantic fields of sunflowers and unfortunately we had seemingly arrived literally just as they had all withered up and died..super duper sad face.  My brother however was able to find what I would have to say was the sole single survivor of the mass sunflower death and that made things just a little bit better :)

After following some wacko Italian directions such as, go past-a ah a curve with a-ah tall tree and big-ah house-ah, look for the ah, how you say, vineyards on your-ah left, past the stone-ah house with the-a large ah-barking dogs and you are there!  Perfecto!


No worries, we did in fact make it to the villa and boy was it worth it!  Let me give some background now as to how the villa comes into play..

When I very started planning my trip wayyy back in February ish my lovely friend Nicole informed me that she already had a trip planned to go to Cortona, Italy and stay in a villa with a group of friends.  She wanted to take a longer trip and thus that is why she joined us for the two weeks prior.

Annddd moving on.  Arrived at the villa, again, BEAUTIFUL.  The picture of me with the sunflower is the front portico area.  We spent lots of time out here.  We met all the peeps staying at the villa, wonderful people and thoroughly enjoyed our time getting to know them.  As we had arrived with absolutely no plan on where to stay (oops, I blame the sickness and early morning train trip!) they graciously offered what little room they had to the homeless travelers.  We proceeded to spend the next 5 days or so drinking wine, watching sunsets, reading books, exploring Cortona's beautiful countryside, shopping in the town, and eating wonderful food.  Below are some pictures taken on my iPhone, enjoy!

Also I'm not sure if anyone is aware but if you have ever seen the movie with Diane Lane called "Under the Tuscan Sun", Cortona is where a big portion of that movie was filmed.  

Hard to beat a Tuscan sunset
Tuscan house in the distance and below is the villa we stayed at
Above picture, eating dinner in Cortona's square, below: Pool at the villa
We made dinner one night with fresh meats, breads, cheeses, and local wine. YUM!

everyone eats these sandwiches in Italy..figured we'd make our own too

Let's talk about Cortona a little.  The countryside was absolutely phenomenal.  I can only imagine how much better it would have looked had all the sunflower fields been in bloom.  I don't believe I would have been able to resist running out into the middle of a sunflower field to just throw my arms out wide and twirl.  Next time ;)
Vineyards were everywhere, me and Chris snuck into one to try the grapes of course, delicious!  Downside.  Only one cafe and only one restaurant.  If you wanted variety, you had to take an 8ish minute taxi ride or bus ride up into Cortona's city center located on the hillside.  Problem with that..Cortona only has about 4 taxi's in town..only one of the drivers speaks any English (if you want to call it that) and you must call them to use them.  Luckily the group who had the villa had working phones.  If for some miracle you got one on the phone, most likely you were promptly given the number of the "english" speaking driver who was more than likely busy.  We resorted to the buses more often than not but those stopped running fairly early in the afternoon..more than once we were out in the city late at night after dinner waiting on the one taxi to arrive.  Word of advice, if you come to Cortona or anywhere in the Tuscan countryside, do yourself a favor and rent a car.

The next day me and Chris decided we would do a little cowboy camping to try and save some money.  Chris had staked out a nice area near the backside of an abandoned house.  (Side note: Cortona had tons of empty houses surprisingly.  A couple of the houses in the picture below were actually empty..anyone else want to go live the "Under the Tuscan Sun" dream with me?!)
We threw up our hammocks and began to settle in and to our dismay discovered we had apparently camped in the India of mosquito countries.  Millions of them.  We both looked at each other, nodded, promptly tore our hammocks back down, grabbed our bags and headed into the abandoned villa.  Not gonna lie, was a tad bit creepy at first but after making a nice, warm pallet on the dusty stone floor it really wasn't so bad.  We fell asleep immediately and woke up rested, mosquito bite free.  If anyone has ever read "The Boxcar Children" books before, it felt a lot like that, which I'm ok with :)

The next night we decided we should get a real place to sleep and so we said goodbye to our little boxcar-esque home and headed into the town center.  We booked a room in Cortona's city center at hostel I can't quite recall the name apologies.  However I do know that it once was an old monastery.  So cool!  While me and Chris were hanging out in the common room the first night the little Italian hostel owner offered us watermelon, what a gem.

Needless to say, Cortona was a wonderful time of relaxation, making new stateside friends, drinking lots of wine, eating lots of gelato, reading books, and as always, exploring.

Next comes Roma!


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lessons Learned

Things we’ve learned whilst roaming about Europe:
  1. Restaurants:  Completely different from the US. and boy do they take their time..  You will not receive a check unless you specifically ask for it.  When the waiter arrives at your table they expect you to have your entire order ready so I hope you've scoured that menu quick!   Whilst dining at an American restaurant a waiter/waitress will check in on your table approx. 3-5 times during your meal.  Maybe more, maybe less.  In Europe, once you receive your food thats it, no checking in and certainly no free refills, which brings me to my next point.  All food in Europe is severd a la carte.  An entree is priced by itself, if you want any sides, those are extra.  When you order a drink, you just get one.  Waste not perhaps?  Never thought I'd take that for granted in the US but boy is it nice.  Also probably why we are the most obese country..oh well, for those of us who can control our gluttonous rages the American restaurant system is quite lovely. 
    The last thing is  they do NOT split checks and get annoyed if you ask.  Because of this, it's always best to carry small change. 
    Point of advice though, don't be afraid to try the local tastes of the country, I have found almost all of them to be delicious!  Open your palate, open your world. Lessons learned.
  2. Bathrooms: 
    In Europe they are mostly referred to as "Water Closets" or "WC's" or even toilettes.  You will get a very dumb look if you ask for a bathroom.  Also, busy walking around the streets of Venice and suddenly that 2 liter bottle of water you chugged 20 minutes ago hits you with all the force of Niagra Falls?  Guess what, using the "water closet" to relieve yourself is going to cost you.  That's right, bigger cities in Europe charge you for the use of a public toilet.  I abhorred this and refused simply to use one opting instead to hold it until meal time and we sat down in a restaurant.  Ridiculous.  Other than that the bathrooms are all very unique looking in their own way.  Hard to explain this until you come to Europe and just experience them for yourselves.  Lessons learned.
  3. Drinking:
    Alcohol is completely acceptable at any time of the day, encouraged even.  Water does not seem to be a big deal here and no one seems too concerned about drinking it..odd.  You usually get a silly look from a restaurant if you ask for tap water but they will bring it for you, albeit reluctantly.  If you do not specify tap water you will get a big glass bottle of water that is certainly not free.  Also side note: if they bring you bread at your table, don't eat it unless you plan on paying for it.
    Europeans (especially Italians) down espresso like its water.  Nuts.  Walk up counters in cafes' are everywhere around here where people stand and order the traditional European breakfast of an espresso and croissant.  I've had a chocolate croissant nearly every morning in Europe, I'm in love.  Lessons learned.
  4. WWOOF
    Apparently me and Chris look like Swedish WWOOFERS which is ironic as I am dying to do WWOOFING.  Lessons learned.
  5. Hostels:
    Really truly and honestly are not that bad.  Like at all.  Sure its no 5 star luxury suite but for prices ranging from $9-$20 a night its a pretty dang good deal.  Also, look for hostels with kitchens and cook your own dinners!  So much cheaper and is actually really fun.  We unfortunately were only able to do it a few times but you meet a lot of your fellow hostel buddies doing that. When choosing a hostel, I never went below the 70% ratings or above the $29 per bed range.  It worked really well for us.  Lessons learned.
  6. Buying random things:
    In the big cities its hard to come by supermarkets.  They are not too prevalent, which is weird.  However you can buy, condoms, KY jelly, and cigarettes from street vending machines, but no medicine.  What? Awkward.  Lessons learned.
  7. Italians and Greeks:
    Do not seem to have much sense of time.  Greeks especially.  It's great.  Lessons learned.
  8. Pack:
    One bag is sufficient and don't be careless in how you pack it each time you move locations.  Learn the way everything fits best while its on your back and always take care to pack it that way each time.  Your back will thank you.  Lessons learned.
  9. WiFi:
    You will learn the value of pulling out your phone whenever you sit down to check that maybe, just maybe, wifi will be around you.  Lessons learned.
  10. Clothes:
    In every city/country I've visited (besides Spain) no one wears workout clothes (ie. nike gym shorts, tshirts, running shoes/chacos) Like ever.  Sorority girls all over the US just fell over dead.  No norts!? Nuts right??!  However, they do oddly enough, deem it socially acceptable to wear running shoes with almost any kind of outfit, and I mean ANY (picture, dress tops, skirts, dresses even!) yet I'm the one who gets the weird looks for wearing my tshirt, shorts, and chacos.  Who knew?  Lessons learned.
  11. Aladdin/Jasmine Pants:
    These are quite the rage in Europe, varying in styles.  Some are huge, baggy, and legit, I prefer the more subdued version of just slightly wider in the hips and taper down towards the ankle.  I course had to get a pair so you can watch for me to rock them in the US ;)   Lessons learned.
  12. European money:
    Simple, it looks just like monopoly money and therefore feels fake.  Dangerous.  Lessons learned.
  13. Languages:
    I have a very, and I mean VERY limited arsenal of words in different languages, by no means am I anywhere near fluent in anything other than good ol' english.  However, it really truly is not too hard to get around Europe.  It can be frustrating at times but almost everyone speaks general english, enough to aid you in your time of trouble.  My advice?  The younger the better, go for the people in the 18-30ish year range, they seem to know/speak the best english.  Lessons learned.
  14.  Maps:
    Do yourself a favor and pick up a map IMMEDIATELY upon arrival in every city you arrive in.  Also if you don't have an international data plan (I didn't), use the wifi when its available, map where you want to go, then save the pictures to your phone (iPhone users, screenshot like crazy!!  Not sure what to tell android users besides get an iPhone :) Zoom in on the final destination to get a good shot of all the surrounding streets and take a screenshot.  You will fall down in gratitude to me if you do this.  You'll see.  Lessons learned.
  15. Italian food:
    Delicious for..maybe 3 days.  Soon after you want to vomit if you see another pizza or pasta dish.  If there are 3,500 restaurants in any given city, 3,300 of them are italian places with the EXACT same menu.  Same 5-6 pizzas and same 3-4 pasta dishes.  Blah.  We were glad to leave Italy if only to get variety of food!  We almost cried when we found a (somewhat) authentic mexican restaurant while in Rome.
Now I know I'm a bit of jokester and kid a lot about the silly differences I've experienced, however I wouldn't have traded this experience for anything.  It has been the best (alongside college!) time of my life.  Something I will remember for forever.  I absolutely cannot wait until I am a mother and get to one day tell my kids all about the time I traipsed around Europe, backpacking my way from one adventure to the next. 

Since the title of this blog is "lessons learned" I suppose I should also go into detail a bit more about a few other things.  Before departing on this journey I knew already that I had a bit of a gypsy heart.  The desire/urge/passion/want to experience new and exciting places has always been a part of me.  I was practically bursting at the seams for the past 5-6 years waiting for this trip to happen. 

Now what are the parts I didn't know? 

Well, I had never traveled on my own before, neither had I ever made it farther east than the Carolina's, farther west than Nevada, farther North than the middle of Canada, and farther south than Mexico.  Needless to say, I was in a bubble of experiences. I plan on traveling most parts of the world throughout my life but of course wanted to start with Europe first. 

Unknowns:  Would I actually like the different countries?  Would I hate the food?  Would I get homesick?  Would I tire of the nomadic lifestyle of having no permanent home and living out of a backpack?

What I discovered was that I happened to experience a little bit of truth (to an extent) in most of the above.  I did love every country I saw.  I actually loved the food but did quickly tire of the same kind of food (ie. Italy..),, I got homesick perhaps a couple times, but soon quickly forgot the feeling as we would walk out the door to something new, and then finally did I tire of the nomadic lifestyle?

The answer is a bit complicated, but to make it easier, yes.  I'll explain further.

Backpacking from place to place is wildly exciting and I have loved it no matter how exhausting it was.  What I have discovered about myself however, is that I miss having a "home" of my own.  A place that is all mine, a place I can come back to, cozy up on the couch with all my surroundings so achingly familiar to my eyes and nose.  It doesn't really matter where this "home" is, it's not a specific place for me yet, but regardless, I love having something so comforting to return to after all your travels. 

I would love to actually pick a country and move there for a couple of years.  I want to truly "live" the culture and not just "visit" it.  Backpacking will always hold a special place in my heart though and by no means do I think those days are over but it is nice to discover the kind of traveling you most prefer.  For me, I want a home base where I can do shorter trips to places all over but still be able to return home when needed.  Tells me I need to move to Europe eh?  We shall see...

I've got ideas already bubbling around in my head for other trips.  I believe Asia will be my next venture..not sure when I'll get to experience that soon enough.

Traveling will forever be a part of my life.  Now I just need to find the right kind of career to foster that. 

Upon my return I plan on doing anything and everything to make some money for myself whilst I relentlessly pursue whatever it is that makes my heart come most alive.  I am determined to not get another "career" job until it incorporates the things that I truly love to do.  Life is much too short to work the majority of your time, hating what you do!

I will leave you with this excerpt from a fantastic book I read about a year ago.  It's called "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein.  It is told from the unique perspective of the family dog and his perspective on human life.  Now, before you dismiss the book because of how weird that sounds.  Don't.  Just read it.

"To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live.

To feel the joy of life.

To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter every day.

To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am.

I am.

That is something to aspire to."

Lessons Learned,



ps.  Look for another blog from me soon detailing our adventures throughout Italy and Spain!  When I return home I will also detail out my budget and ways to travel for cheap for those who have similar dreams as mine that feel it is not possible!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Budapest, Vienna, and Venice

Location:  Currently somewhere inbetween Vienna, Austria and Venice, Italy.

I am currently sitting on an overnight train bound for the beautiful Italian city of Venezia!  The past few days have been a complete whirlwind, but an outrageously fun whirlwind.

Upon leaving Greece we made our way by plane on to Budapest harboring a few doubts in our minds as we had been told not so great things about Budapest.  All those thoughts quickly flew from mind upon our arrival as we discovered that Budapest was actually in fact gorgeous!  After some time taking buses and underground tubes we made our way to our cute little hostel, The Goat Hostel.  We arrived at a massive wooden door and buzzed our way in and found ourselves winding up a massive spiral staircase, finally stumbling in, exhausted from our travels and was shown to our room by two nice hungarian men named Steve and Gabrielle (the owners).

We laid our bags down then drew straws as to who got to shower first (besides my brother..apparently hiking for 5 months out on the AT makes you less apt to care about those :)  We cleaned up, got some great suggestions from Steve on local Hungarian restaurants and headed out.  Steve mentioned Ruben as being his favorite place to eat so we felt it appropriate, we made our way there in the brisk air, thoroughly enjoying Budapest by night.

We arrived at the restaurant and had the most fabulous meal of the trip thus far.  We feasted on whole trout (literally! It was like the cartoons, ate the meat off the bones, leaving the head and tail behind, crazy), rabbit, salmon, veal, apple strudel, creme brulee (my favorite!) and local Hungarian wine.  It was amazing and ridiculously cheap for what we ate with a wonderful cozy atmosphere.  If you ever make your way to Budapest, look up the restaurant Ruben!  You won't regret it!

Picture of the menu at Ruben (it was quite impressive as it was translated into 3 different languages!

 After diiner we decided to stroll for a bit in the brisk air admiring the massive bridges crossing the Danube River covered in sparkling bulbs lighting up the night sky.  We strolled and strolled to our hearts content, our stomachs and hearts full of both delicious hungarian delicacies and thankfulness to be doing what we were.  We finally headed back to the hostel as the night air was turning considerably chill all falling asleep within seconds having one of the best nights of sleep yet.

The next morning we checked out but left our bags behind thanks to our kind hostel owner (tip for travelers: if you checkout of a place yet aren't leaving the city for a while, always ask the hostel if you can just leave your bags behind while you go explore.  They almost always say yes and you get to unload your burden once more).  We took off eager to see Budapest by day and as I said before, it's gorgeous!  Silly people who told us otherwise.  We had a great lunch eating goulash and ciabatta's, traditional hungarian lunch food, did a little shopping for some warmer clothes, and overall thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Eating lunch

Also sidenote* Random fact about Budapest...did you know that it is actually comprised of two cities? The Danube River splits the two, one is called Buda and the other is called Pest..crazy eh? We actually stayed in Buda and only made our way into Pest when crossing the Danube River.

The Danube River by day
 One of the bridges by day
Budapest by day
First big mistake of the trip thus far:  That morning we woke up and decided we would head to Vienna, Austria that afternoon.  Our hostel owner had informed us we could easily take a bus there for only 5 euros! (Under 26 youth discount)  Our mistake however was not leaving immediately that morning to go buy the bus tickets and instead waiting until just an hour before that afternoon to head to the station..when we arrived, all but two tickets were left for the last bus out that evening, such a bummer.  We had to instead resort to a train ride which cost us each 25 euros, suffered a loss on that one..lesson learned.  We took the train and arrived safely in Vienna or Wien as they call it here.  We wandered around lost in the middle of the night until a kind stranger thankfully pointed us in the right direction.  In the midst of our wanderings we were passed by a large, loud, overly excited, drunken, group of 15 to 16 yr old kids..annoyance.

Having some fun Tebowing on the train to Vienna
The Wombat:  This was the hostel we had chosen, upon our arrival around 1am we walk in to what is seemingly a club and not a hostel..loud club music, drunken kids everywhere, dark lighting, kind of weird and certainly not appealing to 4 tired travelers, and then bonus!  The drunken kids from earlier were staying there as well.  On top of that, the people at the front desk also screwed up our room reservations and our group ended up being separated by gender.  The boys decided they would head on to bed in their own room while me and Nicole decided we'd head into this bar in the hostel and see what it was all about.  We ended up having a good time and met some cool people.  Our bartender, a nice Sicilian man, a cool South African named Luca Antonio who was a tour manager for a company called Contiki Tours (more on that later) and some hilarious Aussie chicks.  Luca sat and talked with us for a long while explaining the Contiki Tours to us.  Anyone from around the world can sign up and participate in it, they usually get people from ages 18-to mid 30's, they travel for 37 days to 18 different countries.  Luca's job was basically to be their tour guide throughout the trip, he is expected to plan their itineraries in each city and know information on each city to tell the tour.  Sounds like a fantastic job to me, I'll be looking that up at a later point, thanks for the tip Luca!

Although we ended up having a good time the hostel overall was just not a good choice, we checked out immediately the next morning and went to another called Hostel Ruthensteiner.  It was absolutely adorable with musical instruments placed everywhere in the common room available to those so inclined.  They also had a great courtyard out back, nice rooms, and a friendly, helpful staff.  Highly recommend this place.  After we settled in there, we headed out to see what we could find out about renting some bikes to tour the city.  Snagged a great deal and headed off on our cute little bikes to explore.  Best idea ever.  We made our way to the Schonnbrunn Palace, but opted out of the tour of the inside and instead chose to explore the beautiful grounds surrounding it instead.  Gardens are everywhere with labyrinth maze hedges making me feel as if I was in Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter during the Triwizard Tournament..we came upon a wonderful fountain called Neptune's Fountain, depicting Neptune riding a gigantic conch shell pulled by half horse half fish creatures with various other characters surrounding him.   It was quite possibly the biggest and prettiest fountain I've ever seen  (can't wait for the Trevi!)  Behind the fountain was a big, giant, grassy hill with switchbacks all the way to the top.  We made the climb to a magnificent sight of the city and the palace way far below.  Quite cool.  Took lots of pictures (both iPhone and DSLR, a few of my iPhone ones are listed below), grabbed a coke and a dessert at the small restaurant then headed back to our bikes to continue our tour.

view of Vienna, Austria and the Palace below

Neptune's Fountain

Vienna is an extremely clean/environmental city that is wonderfully bike friendly.  Bike paths/trails are all over and its quite easy to travel around, if you go I certainly suggest renting bikes instead of walking everywhere.  The Nasch Market was our next destination which was supposed to be a fantastic outdoor food market, but first we came upon a small park that had big, red, hammocks hanging everywhere in the park!  We stopped of course and lounged on a hammock for a bit or two..who WOULDN'T stop for that?!  Then proceeded on to the market.  Below is a picture snapped at the hammock site.

One of my most favorite photos actually taken by Chris (props). Edited on instagram

The market was fantastic, alive and bustling with people and color everywhere!  My DSLR was glued to my hand snapping photos therefore I did not get any pics on my iPhone (sorry! You'll see them soon enough!)  We bought 3 bottles of wine for 10 euros and longingly eyed all the cheeses, meats, breads, pastries, fruits, vegetables, and spices set up all over.  I could just picture myself living in Vienna, hopping on my bicycle to head to the market for fresh ingredients to make dinner that night.  Just lovely.

That night we took an overnight train and arrived early morning to Venice.  It was mindblowing gorgeous and the coolest part to me was that there was absolutely no cars.  Everyone travels by either foot or water by the use of the canals.  You either have your own boat or make use of the water taxis which were oh so fun to ride :)  Chris unfortunately caught a nasty 24 hr bug and had to sleep it off all day in the hostel while me, Nicole, and Robbie went exploring.  Venice is certainly beautiful and eye catching but I must say it has not been my favorite.  It is extremely touristy and PACKED with people, you can't walk around without bumping and jostling shoulders with everyone you pass.  Not my thing.  Plus the city is extremely pricey..don't plan on staying here long if you're traveling on a budget.  We did get lucky and snagged a Gondola ride though for a pretty good price.  Most of the little Gondolier men were giving us a price of a 100euro for 3 people for a 20ish minute ride through the canals..crazy!!  We were able to luckily jump on board with an older couple in the same predicament of not wanting to pay that price and instead each paid just 20 euro for 5 of us.  Still pricey but worth the experience.  I also had my first gelato experience as well and it was marvelous!

We had a great dinner of lasagna, spaghetti, and pizza, and headed back to the hostel.  Robbie started feeling bad as well and seem to have caught the same bug as Chris spending the next few hours in the bathroom too.  Our train was scheduled to leave at 3am but we were left with a dilemma.  We had already purchased our train tickets but Robbie was unable to even stand.  He pushed us to go so we didn't waste all the money we had spent, we reluctantly headed out to the station yet a train never showed up..we took this as a sign our group was not meant to split up and we headed back to the hostel to sleep until the morning when we could then figure out the train situation.  We woke up hours later with Robbie feeling good enough to leave with us, we trudged back to the train station and luckily a nice Italian lady at the counter informed us we could use our same tickets from the night before on another train leaving that morning.  Turns out we were supposed to catch a bus first the night before to leave from a different train station..this was of course written in Italian and we didn't catch it..whoops.  Regardless it all worked out anyway and we finally made it to Cortona.  The worst part though was I then began to feel terrible..

For more of my iPhone pictures from the trip follow me on instagram!  My user name is carrie_pickering and while you're at it go ahead and follow me on twitter as well @carrie_pick as I try and keep that updated on where we're headed to next!

Be on the lookout for a short blog on our time in Tuscany as well as "Things we've learned in Europe"




Wednesday, September 19, 2012


For the past two days I have successfully stuffed myself with copious amounts of gyros and crepes, frolicked and danced in the Aegea/Mediterrean Sea (at both day and night), and seen the most magnificent sunrise/sunset where I felt my own eyes were not deserving of such beauty.

To put it simply, Greece is stunning.  The people are wonderful, warm, welcoming, and treat you like family if only you share a laugh together.  It's beautiful.  Most everyone speaks English extremely well and I must say I do hate the fact that they can converse so well with me in my native tongue and all I can say in Greek is Yassou (hello), we spent 5 days just trying to properly say "Efharistó" (which is thank you)  It is absolutely insane to experience just how powerful our own country is as well.  EVERYONE knows everything about the States.  They even know most of our complete history, it's crazy to hear how widely known we really are.

We arrived in Athens from London almost 40ish minutes late, our connecting flight to Santorini was scheduled to leave an hour from our original landing time .... yeah..we were terrified we would miss that flight and therefore had to RUN through the airports, security, and customs as best we could to make it.  Turns out they had held the plane out on the runway for the small group of people late from the Athens flight.  They bused us to the plane and we entered planeside (always very cool)

Finally!  We arrived in Santorini!  We saw our first Grecian sunset from the sky and arrived in the dark.  Our hostel host, Kostas was there to pick us up smiling as broadly as can be with his big, gap-toothed grin and aged leather skin. We had a terrifying drive experience along the curviest/bumpy roads I've ever seen until we finally were able to release our breath upon arriving safely at our hostel, Villa Dimitris.  It's a lovely place I would recommend to anyone and only cost us 10euros a night which translates to about $14 USD!  We met Kostas wife Rula, who spoke excellent english and were quickly settled into our little room.  We of course then proceeded to immediately throw down our bags and head right back out the door to do some exploring...

We followed the breeze and our noses down towards the sea, we came across a wonderful local eatery called Pepitos.  We sat down and had a feast of gyros, lamb, moussaka, saganaki, feta cheese, and Mythos (local beer)  Delicious.  Now that we had satisfied the rumblings in our empty stomachs we were significantly perked up from our flight ordeal and headed off down the boardwalk path bordering the water.  Tons and tons of restaurants, bars, and little shops line this path and we randomly selected a bar called Noma.  The vibe was cool and not too many people at all, which we found ideal.  We all ordered a couple of Alpha's (another local beer) and proceeded to spend the next 3 hours talking to our bartender, Thanos.  A wonderful guy from Athens here to work for the season.  Once the wee hours of the morning started to roll in and we began to feel as if we should vacate we decided on a whim to buy two bottles of wine and go play in the water.  We ran down, jumped in the water all of us screaming like schoolgirls (only two of us are in fact girls), had a grand ol' time for a bit splashing and frolicking in the water before we finally settled down and stood staring up at the night sky at the very same constellations we knew all our friends and family could see as well.  Talk about feeling small..our sky is THAT big.  Thanos then came down to join after he had closed the bar and we all sat on the beach talking about anything and everything under the sun for hours.  Sharing stories and jokes back and forth laughing and giggling throughout.  Wonderful how you can enjoy your time so much with someone from across the world...we finally headed up to bed around 4:30am which was actually only 8:30pm at home in TN (Greece is a full 8 hrs ahead)

First time out on the beach!

This entire rock face was bolted for rock climbing.  Awesomeness

The next morning we woke up with a ravenous appetite ready to slaughter and cook up the next donkey that passed our way..we decided that could anger a few of the locals and besides, I'm not much in the business of killing animals myself..we decided crepes for breakfast was a much better idea anyway.  From there we made our way down to the famous black sands of Santorini to spend the day at the beach.  The black sand is extremely interesting, comprised of teeny tiny little black pebbles rubbed smooth from the water.  The pebbles are black as they are actually Volcanic rock.  An inactive volcano is located on another island very close by.  We have been told there are actually white and red sand beaches as well on the same island.  Crazy.  We took the late afternoon to walk all over taking pictures and exploring to finally settle down for a good dinner and friends.  We went back to Noma to see our friend Thanos again and had another wonderful night of meeting new friends and drinking wine and of course, playing in the sea  How many people can say that they've drank wine and danced in the Aegean Sea?  We can.

We decided one of our mornings we had to get up and see the sunrise (our beach was located on the sunrise side of the island), we set our alarms for around 6ish, sluggishly dragged ourselves out of bed when it went off seemingly five minutes after closing our eyes and headed down to the beach. Boy was it worth it. The pictures below again are all from my iPhone, me and Nicole were also using our DSLRs so expect much better pics when we return. This might be my most magical moment of the trip thus far. It was exhilarating, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring all at the same time. Magnificient.

Santorini Sunrise - Gorgeous
I only use instagram and Leme for my picture apps. This was taken using the Leme app
As I sit outside in the breezeway of our hostel typing this surrounded by the traditional white stucco and blue of Greece, bright purple flowers trailing down trellis', and feel the delightful salty breeze float in lazily from the Aegean Sea I feel so happy and content.  I know that this is not the "normal" kind of thing people from my world do but who's to say what is normal?  Perhaps "typical" is a better word choice...  I feel blessed and proud that I took the initiative to go after what I wanted to do and that I was blessed to have the means to accomplish that.  Crazy thing is, is that everyone can do this.  Everyone.  With enough hard work and determination this could be a dream come true for you too.  I hope to be able to post a great blog soon to discuss more in depth cost saving ideas and the like.

Our final few days consisted of taking a bus to Fira, which is a large city on the island of Santorini (we were staying in Perissa Beach, a small village).  From Fira we were told there was a 2ish hour hike to Oia where you could see the most spectacular sunset.  Um, yes please.  We hopped the bus, arrived in Fira, was told about a specific castle ruin on an small part of the island that juts out where the sunset watching was superb.  We eagerly headed off.  Fira was amazing as it is JUST like the pictures you've typically seen of Greece.  In fact, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have a home in Oia perched on the side of the cliff in perfect view of the grecian sunset.  Huge mountain sides with white and blue stucco buildings jut out everywhere.  Stairs wind in a complicated maze throughout all the buildings that seemingly seem to be merely clinging to the cliff for dear life.  I'm not quite sure how all the people know where their friends and families are located as the homes, stairs, and pathways all looked extremely similar...  Our pictures from this place are absolutely incredible. 

**Those who read my blog by the way, should go and like Nicole Gagliano Photography on facebook.  She is one of my fellow travel buddies and takes amazing pictures, she will be returning to the States at the end of September and will be putting some amazing photographs up of our trip.  MUCH better than mine I'm sure :)

Hard to tell in this picture how big this really was but it was an old castle ruin, we hiked down the winding path and up the very top of that ruin.
On top of the castle ruin, you can see the sea wayyy wayy far below us
This hotel overlooks the water and sunset.  Infinity pool was incredible
We arrived to the castle ruin and decided to be extra adventurous and climb to the tip top of this structure, scary but absolutely worth it.  We had a couple of hours to kill before the sunset and therefore sat around talking and laughing as we waited.  Fog began to roll in and we became super nervous we were going to miss this famed, epic eventually cleared away (for the most part) just as it began to set.  Due to the little fog incident the sunset wasn't quite as big and brilliant as it typically is but it was still absolutely beautiful and was a great moment.  We popped a small bottle of champagne, took some pictures, and simply relished in the moment.  We hiked back once it was over, grabbed some dinner and headed back to our little home on Perissa Beach.  The rest of our trip consisted of more fun nights with our new greek family, Kostas (bar owner of Noma), Thanos, Machos, Mladjin (our serbian friend!), Anzi, Nikos, Giannis, and a few others.

This greek woman taught us how to dance in traditional greek fashion and gave us rose bouquets as well.  Opa!
Our favorite Greek beer
quick sketch I drew of Thanos
Dinner at tomatino with Thanos
On our last day in Perissa, me and Nicole headed off by ourselves to look into the price of tattoos on the island.  She had been discussing her plan to get one at every country she's been to in that specific language with something that was special to her during her visit.  I also began to consider the idea of getting a tattoo I've always considered in the back of my mind but had never been brave enough to do.  We found a place, I watched Nicole get the greek letters "Opa" tattooed on her wrist (which means, happiness or an elated feeling in greek), and I decided to go for it.  I had long ago decided on the word "agape" which just so happens to be a greek word..means "love" specifically.  However greeks have many words for love and I feel agape love is the most special of them all.  Instead of a more sexual love (which is "eros) or a platonic friendship love, it is an unconditional love.  One that does not waver and is good in every way.  Those of you who have read scripture will most likely recognize this word.  Many describe it as a "Christ-like" love.  I decided to place it on the outside of my left wrist.  It can be read when I move my arm to be parallel to the ground.  I love the simplicty of the word yet the power behind it.  Check out my facebook for a picture of it.  Another first in Greece!

Late that night we took a ferry over to the mainland on Monday night at 2am (9/17) with Kostas and Machos who do business in Athens too.  They spent the majority of their time on Tuesday showing us around and making sure we got the proper train tickets and stops, wonderful wonderful guys.
We went to the Acropolis and saw the REAL parthenon.  Very awesome and way cooler than our Nashville version ;)  The ruins were amazing and you better believe I walked around picturing myself and everyone else wearing togas, gladiator sandals, drinking wine, and eating grapes whilst the Athenian soldiers walked around in their armor and shields nodding their hellos with their big giant feather helmets on while all the while I'm humming "Go the Distance" (Hercules version of course) in my head.  Great moment.

We met Kostas brother that same Tuesday night (9/18) and had a great time eating and hanging out, from there we hopped a train at midnight to take us to the northern part of Greece where we had a flight scheduled to leave on Wednesday afternoon (9/19) to Budapest.  We have been sleeping wherever we can last night and this morning before we leave for our flight.  So train station, on the train (which was a cabin similar to the Hogwarts Express mind you!), and at the airport.  Not so terribly comfortable but we saved money on training overnight and not getting a room.


As you can tell, I truly fell madly in love with Santorini and will for sure make it a point to go back and visit.  It was absolutely wonderful and a perfect place to relax and let your mind go wherever she pleases.  Life is different there..time almost doesn't even exist, people spend 6 hours at a restaurant surrounded by friends and family long after they've eaten just to spend time with each other talking and sharing stories and not one person minds.  In fact the waiter and owner will most likely come join in as well.  There is something to how they live life that I will be taking home with me in my heart.  I am so sad to leave our greek family but am very excited for what is next!  Remember if you go to Perissa Beach on Santorini, visit Noma and say hello to Kostas, Thanos, and Mladjin for me!
Next we have Budapest, Vienna, Italy (many cities here), Spain?, and who knows what else?

Quote from the trip, "May the best of your todays, be the worst of your tomorrows!"

Adventures await, on to Budapest!


"The sky has never been the limit.  We have our own limits.  It's then about breaking our limits and outgrowing ourselves to live our best lives"