The Paradox of Vacation

49/90 days.

More than half way through.

It would have been a boring summer.
I would have taken a class or two. Maybe three. Probably as many as I could have. I would have worked the same schedule. Lived in the same routine. My “summer vacation” would have been a week between the end of my spring semester and the beginning of the summer semester. It would have been boring and miserable and hot in the Florida summer sun and humidity. The tourists would have been frustrating and the roads would have been cluttered and at a standstill for more hours of the day than anyone would ever want.

I don’t miss what I’m missing back home. But in a weird, unexpected kind of way, I’m looking forward to being back to it. Not the summer time of Navarre, but I’m looking forward to the fall semester. To working. To earning money. To working out 5 days a week. To being back in the same routine. To sitting on the beach, reading for hours until sunset. To academics, believe it or not. Challenging my mind in a different kind of way. I’m glad to be missing out on the tourist trap of a summer vacation in the panhandle of Florida. But I never expected to be looking forward to being back home and living the same boring life.

Maybe it’s because I have so much of my degree left to complete. I think part of it has to do with the fact that I’m excited to finish my BA so I can come back here and live somewhere in Spain for good. So I can start a routine there instead. So I can weekend in France and take a short flight to Ireland when I’m craving a taste of nature.

I’m not done here yet. I still have less than half way to go. I have a lot to see. And I’m looking forward to it all immensely because each place is different than anything else I’ve seen. I was talking to one of my best friends, Casey, about this today, and he said, “A long adventure like this is what you need to appreciate your day to day life. And your day to day life is what you need to appreciate an adventure like that.” The paradox of vacation. Who knew?

#NoRegrets? My first and last Contiki 

#NoRegrets? Maybe just a few.
Contiki was a whirlwind to say in the least. I can’t believe how fast two weeks have flown by. The motto of Contiki is No Regrets – a good one, but I definitely regret not looking into the cost a bit more. The only thing that is actually included with Contiki, out of 14 days, was breakfast, accommodation, transportation to and from each city, and 4 dinners. The rest of the dinners, tours, boat tours, and other cool shit you saw me do, were not included and posed a high price. I opted in for most of the optionals the first week, and opted out of most the second week because I was already hundreds of dollars over budget because of dinner, alcohol, taxis back from clubs, and probably too much gelato to admit. That’s all my doing – but I definitely didn’t budget enough, especially because some of the prices of the optionals had gone up since I saw them first. The boat tour up the Almafi coast originally said 48EUR, and when it came time for it, it was 60EUR. That’s close to 70USD. 
Wifi on board. More like, your first ten minutes of Wifi is free and then you have to pay for the rest, that burns out quick. I paid over $11USD for 288MB of data that seemingly disappeared after barely using it. I even kept my phone on airplane mode and suddenly it wouldn’t let me log back in. 
7 countries, 14 days. More like, 4 countries with a few stop overs. We had literally 10 minutes at a bathroom station in Bosnia, 2 hours for lunch in Montenegro, and because there was an optional dinner in Split, we had about an hour in the town itself. No one forced me to do the dinner and go to the hotel right away… but I still did. For something called “Adriatic Unearthed” I felt a little jipped at the whole “unearthing” concept. Our hotels weren’t exactly central, so going out required a taxi. If you didn’t do the optionals, you were either stuck in town, or stuck at the hotel with not much to do. So in total, without the airfare flying into Europe, I spent over $2500 for two weeks. That amount of money would have stretched me a whole lot farther if I had done the two weeks on my own, but it wasn’t all that bad. 
I met amazing people. I can honestly say I think I made friends I will stay in touch with for years to come. I made friends who really lived up to the #NoRegrets feeling that I was able to be completely myself with. I got drunk and wandered and yelled in the streets of Rome with two girls I had barely known at the time. I created inside jokes that I will look back at and laugh at. I did the traditional tourist thing in each city that I wouldn’t have spent money on otherwise. Everything was organized and I didn’t have to worry about getting anywhere for two entire weeks. It was a lovely break from organizing, despite spending more time than preferred on a bus. I fell in love with places I never, ever would have imagined. Ljubljana is one of my favorite cities I have been so far and Contiki brought me there. The tour manager organized a cheap little boat tour around the small town. I don’t want to discredit the tour manager here, either, I mean we are friends on Facebook, but he really did go above and beyond to make this trip more tolerable and easy for us guinea pigs. Another place I never would have imagined going was Albania. The second we crossed the boarder and our tour manager was giving us some insight into the corruption of this country, I was pulled towards it. Drawn to it. I know with all of my heart that I will go back to that bleeding, corrupt country to further explore it. So it wasn’t all bad. I found my “places” in this world and I fell in love with them. I don’t regret my experience with Contiki at all, but by the 3rd to last day, I was pretty done with it. I was ready to get back on my own. I was checked out mentally and done with spending money. 
Would I do another Contiki? Probably not. I like the freedom of wandering on my own and being in control of my own travels. Some people need the organization – but I prefer to organize on my own. It wasn’t all bad, it just wasn’t for me, and it was just too damn fast paced. I need more time to let cities sink into my skin. I need more time to feel and enjoy. I need more time to fall in love and explore. 12 hours in foreign places just isn’t enough sometimes. I give myself two nights in every place while traveling alone, two nights at LEAST, never just 12 hours. I need more time than that. 

What I miss, what’s next…

When I look back at the last month and a half of solo travel, I find myself thinking of some places more than others. It’s as though my heart and mind can’t let go of these places. My time is booked, there’s so much more to see, but I’m already longing to go back to Sevilla. I miss the beautifully narrow side streets and relaxed way of life. It was touristic, but not too touristic like Rome or Barcelona. It had the perfect hint of magic that I don’t think everyone in this world could detect. 
I didn’t just fall in love with this place, though, I fell in love with the people; I was lucky to have spent some of my best nights on my trip here. I felt at peace in this city. I felt like I didn’t have a worry in the world amid the 38-40 degree weather (Celsius). 
Even though I’m longing to go back to places I’ve already been, I am really excited for the next month and a half and what the rest of my plans hold. Today I will fly into Marseille, my first French city, and will be staying in a hostel at the top of a hill by the port. From there, I am staying at a small French B&B in Brignoles, on a vineyard, and the owner has actually offered to pick me up from the bus station rather than have me walk. I am very excited for my one night’s stay here. From there, I am moving onto Nice, where I am meeting Marissa, a girl I spent a lot of time with in Ireland, and together we are going to Genoa, which holds Europe’s largest aquarium. I have never been to an aquarium before, and I could not be more excited to witness its wonders. I will spend one night in Bologna before I travel to Kos Island! 4 nights in all inclusive resorts in paradise all on my own. I couldn’t be looking more forward to some peace and true relaxation before I head back to Rome for a few days of solo exploration. 
I will be writing a post about my Contiki experience soon. Au revoir! 

Feelings while crossing borders

It’s easy to be in awe of the drastic change when crossing an invisible boarder into a different country. The language, the music, the landscapes all change. I definitely felt that entering Slovenia from Italy. 
A few days have passed since then and I wish I could remember what it actually looked like upon arrival without looking at pictures – but I remember one thing for sure. I fell in love with Ljubljana. I know I have said that about a few places since I’ve been traveling, but this place was so different. Walkable but not crawling with tourists. After coming from some of the biggest and most popular cities in Europe, I was accustomed to people begging in the streets, vendors aggressively approaching you while dining, trying to sell you selfie sticks and scarves. But not here. I didn’t feel like a tourist here, obligated to purchase things. Education in Slovenia is free, for everyone, so everyone was highly educated and spoke very good English and it was surprising and comforting. I knew nothing about this country or this city upon my arrival, all the information I discovered was by my tour manager, Aryan, who educates us on most of our locations over the two week tour. 
I just crossed the border to Albania from a lunch in Montenegro. As we are traveling with 50 people on a coach bus, border patrol can take a very long time when crossing borders. Our tour manager got off of the bus to talk to the border patrol and attempted to bribe them with 10euro, to which the Albanian border patrol responded by asking if they were receiving the same payment as well. The bus driver ran off with a 6 pack of beers and we were through almost immediately. Hilarious what a few beers and 20euro will do.
Now that I am in Albania, I feel… different. I feel something for this place that I didn’t really know anything about. Aryan explained to us that it wasn’t that long ago that this country was horribly controlled by communism. Rations were a real thing. And that wasn’t that long ago. I live such a privileged life and I almost don’t even know it. I always knew the realities that people in other countries faced but I wasn’t ever actually in it. I never saw the results. I never understood. I feel connected to this place. More than I ever could have imagined that I would. And I want to come back. I want to find an opportunity to do so. 
I’m writing this as we are driving to Tirana. I am surrounded by farm land and mountains and a lot of half finished, if not abandoned buildings, along with seemingly a lot of corruption. But I think that’s what adds to my interest in this place. How different it is. And how I don’t even understand the differences. As I travel I realize how little I know and how much I want to know. How much I want to learn about so many places. And I keep making mental notes of how many places I want to come back to, or sped through too quickly. I know I’ll be back to some of these places… I know that for sure. 
Traveling and seeing so much only makes me more excited for my future. I want to do so much and I have so much time to play with once I finish my degree. This trip might be more about eating and enjoying myself but I’m just setting myself up to come back and do something serious for myself. I know I’m going to be restless. 

Why have I been hiding?

It’s been interesting to see and experience me coming out of my shell to the extent that it has over the last month. At home, I’m not really the most social person in the world, and I’m completely ok with that. My introversion gets the best of me and being busy doesn’t help. Nervous to say the wrong thing or come off as weird. The fear of being judged. But here, on this journey, there is no fear of that. I talk to people. I start conversations. I get a feel for people and who they are. My sense of humor, need for adventure, my willingness to have fun and let go and be completely myself, it’s all there in full force. 
I’m kind of wondering where I’ve been. Why I’ve been hiding. Why the actual me disappeared in the first place. I guess adolescence took away a lot of my fun, crazy personality and turned it into awkwardness and fear. I never wanted to be the annoying one and I knew that maybe when I was 11 or 12 I didn’t know how to balance being fun. Always living with the thought that the people who were in my life would get sick of me. And it’s sad to say that sometimes they did. But kids are assholes.
I still come off at first a little more quiet. Or I just take a few conversations to get to know more. But I’ve heard more than once “you seem like a lot of fun” or “I can tell you know how to have a good time” and that’s such a weird switch that I’m not used to. Where I grew up I rarely went to parties, or went out, or was always on guard or apprehensive to actually have fun. But that’s when I was 14, or 16, or 18. And now I’m traveling Europe alone and I don’t dare to second guess a good time or doing exactly what I want. 
I used to think about how I was a slightly different person with different people. It felt like I was living to be who they wanted me to be, or with some people there wasn’t that pressure at all, so I was always just me. But it never felt consistent. Always some part of me being suppressed or hidden away. Some saw the real me and some saw a slight variation of it. Less sarcastic. Less of a sense of humor. The more I figure myself out, the more I can let myself unwind. 
I don’t think I’m afraid of being me anymore. 

Ramble and Reflection

I guess some mornings after you go out in Barcelona you wake up at 8am when you only went to bed less than four hours ago. I have a nasty cough and I knew that going out last night would not be good for being sick but I wanted to go out in Barcelona at least once in my 4 nights here. Today all I have planned is to do laundry and visit Sagrada Familia. 
I think I planned my trip well in a sense that I am definitely ready for my Contiki tour to start. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s basically an organized tour for 18-35 year olds. So for two weeks out of the 13 that I am traveling, I won’t have to worry about a single thing in terms of transportation or accommodation. I think it will be relieving to give my mind and body a rest from the stress and always being on alert. And I’ll be in some really amazing places, too. 
I think if I want to promise myself anything for the rest of my trip, it is to write a poem each day, and to take at least an hour everyday to reflect – no cell phone, no data, nothing. Paper and pen. I think I really missed out on that these first few weeks but I am happy that I have been taking the time to write on here. 
I’m sitting on a balcony at my hostel on a cloudy day. The sun is poking through the clouds, shining its light on me and the balcony, but it keeps disappearing. 
I have learned a lot about myself so far on my trip. I don’t have to spend time with anyone that I don’t want to and I think that is refreshing. Sometimes it can be a little awkward to try and get away from people and to purposefully isolate yourself. Some people don’t understand and consider it to be weird or rude or offputting, but that’s just me, it is who I am. Sometimes you meet people you can’t wait to get away from. And I know that sounds kind of mean or unaccepting but I don’t think everyone is designed to click with everyone all the time. I do my best to understand people for who they are and what they have experienced but I struggle to resonate with people who refuse to learn about themselves. People who cannot grow from their experiences. A lot of the time that isn’t their fault. They just haven’t read enough. Or haven’t been low enough to have to crawl their way out of a hole, fingers bleeding. People are often shaped by what they experience but if they don’t understand how or why they are the way they are then they can’t better themselves. 
Sometimes you get caught up in other people’s twisted games or immature behaviors and you want to ask the universe why did it have to be me? There never is an answer to that question. So the only thing to do then is to move on. 
Sometimes you meet people who you feel like you have known for a long time. I am playful, I joke, I can be sarcastic and an asshole, some people don’t enjoy my humor and others only know how to enjoy it without interacting with it. But sometimes you meet people who can give it right back to you without it being uncomfortable. The banter is organic. The conversations are honest. It is the people like this that I have met along this journey that have made it all worthwhile. To serve as a reminder that… there are people in this world who will make you feel like you belong without even doing it on purpose. And those are the best people. The ones who make you shine. And the ones who make everything worth it.
I am officially one month into my trip. I can’t believe how fast time has flown by. Two more months to go. 

I didn’t want to leave Sevilla 

I feel incredibly lucky to be in such beautiful cities. Every place I go is more beautiful than the last. Something different to offer, different to see, more to fall in love with… Sevilla is no exception. Sevilla is definitely the most beautiful city I have been to so far. The bus was over four hours with a pit stop and my hostel was only about ten minutes from the bus station. I walked on the main roads and made my way to the narrow streets of the historic district of Sevilla and fell in love. The architecture on every building, even the main roads, was beautiful. I was pretty exhausted upon my arrival in Sevilla, but I was also starving. 
I got settled into my room and one of the guys asked me and the rest of the bunk mates whether we were hungry, so we all decided to go out to eat. The guy who asked brought a ukulele along with him to travel and I soon found him to be unbearably annoying. No offense to him, I just don’t get along with 28 year olds who act like they’re 12 and require constant attention. The girl I was with was from Belgium and we got along very well, and this was my first taste of Spanish tapas so I wasn’t going to let some annoying, immature, ukulele playing Canadian ruin my meal. 
We all ate. I ordered manchego, olives, and grilled octopus, along with a glass of Sangria. The food came out all separately and it was exactly what I wanted out of life in that moment. I came back to the hostel and took my very first Spanish siesta that lasted a few hours and I was out cold. When I woke up, my Belgium roomie was not in her bunk so I wandered off to buy some clothes to better suit me for the weather. Because Sevilla. Is. Hot. I knew it was going to be hot, and the temperature really was not that bad in comparison to Florida, but going from Ireland to Portugal and then to a drastic increase in temperature was almost too hot to handle. 
I changed my clothes and ended up walking to the river for sunset. The bridge was beautiful at night and the park was covered with the same purple trees as Portugal. I walked along before making my way back to the hostel while waiting for the pub crawl to start. The pub crawl that night turned out to be canceled because not enough people signed up so some people from the hostel just went to the tapas bar next door for drinks. 3 euro wine and 1,30 euro beer. No complaints from me. A group of us ended up going elsewhere. This was the night that I learned how heavy of a pour the Spanish do for liquor… in a big class, nearly half of it was gin and half of it was tonic. No 3 second pour. It was 9. Some US college student attempted to hit on me and tried awfully too hard, sorry pal, so I went back to the hostel to sleep. 

The next day was the free walking tour that started around 10:30 and was supposed to last for about three hours. The huge group was divided by language and just about everyone in my group was paired off or apart of a family except for one guy. He turned out to be from Switzerland and working towards being a doctor. We chatted throughout the entire tour that took us to the Cathedral, a castle, the walkway across from Tirana, and ended at Plaza de Espana. We took a 30 minute break at one point and the Swiss guy got to watch me spill ice cream all down my shirt like a four year old. I claimed it was hereditary because seemingly everyone in my family has a problem spilling shit down their shirt when they’re eating. We agreed to get tapas afterwards and we shared garlic potatoes, sliced tomatoes, olives, tuna with roasted red peppers, and goat cheese. It was exactly what was needed after a long, hot few hours of walking. 
We were going to go to the Cathedral but the line looked dreadfully long so we passed and agreed to meet up later at Plaza de Espana or for a drink. I went back to the hostel, showered, and got ready to meet my penpal Manu that I have been talking to since October. He was actually my first penpal from a website that a friend had recommended. Exams are approaching in Spain so I was surprised he even had time in the first place but after all, I was in Sevilla. We met in Plaza Nueva by my hostel before heading over to PLaza de la Encarnacion where the “mushroom” was located. It is basically a big structure and you can take the elevator up to the top for a cool view of the city. Sevilla looked beautiful even at night, and the prettiest buildings were all illuminated. After that, we went for cheap beer and cheap food and drank and talk while I slowly lost my voice more and more. I had done a lot of talking that day already, and with a nasty cough, my voice was only getting worse. I ended up meeting with the Swiss guy from the walking tour again for a drink after Manu and his friend had to turn in for the night. It was definitely a perfect day in Sevilla. 
The next morning was hotter than the last, but I knew that I wanted to go to the Cathedral and climb up the tower, so I waited in line and got drenched with sweat. There is nothing weirder than the feeling of sweat dripping down your back and into you’re buttcrack. That’s all I’m saying. The Cathedral itself is the largest gothic cathedral in the world, I think. Rightly so. It was stunning. The ceilings were so high and the organs were the biggest I’ve ever seen. It was so easy to get lost in there. I’m not entirely religious so my main motivation was the tower. It was over 30 “flights” high but there was no elevator nor stairs. There were ramps. Apparently, back in the day, rather than walking up the ramps or creating stairs, donkeys used to pull people or be ridden up the tower. It took a bit to climb up to the top, especially because I kept getting stuck behind old people. Why do people love to stop in the middle of narrow hallways? Or walk directly in the center? People… 
The view from the top of the tower was really cool and you could get up on any ledge for a different view. Some of the views led into the courtyard, some were just of the city, or other parts of the cathedral itself. After the Cathedral I went back to the hostel, got made fun of for my rapsy voice, and then headed to get some Gelato before I showered. 
For dinner I treated myself to some Spanish tapas with a gin and tonic. I know, weird combination, but I was not in the mood for beer anymore. I ordered the gin and tonic and the waiter brought the bottle and a glass to the table. He filled my glass, a large glass, half way with gin. As he was pouring, I asked if he was trying to kill me because he didn’t stop for at least ten seconds and he just laughed as if it was totally normal, while dramatically shaking the bottle up and down to make more come out. He put the tonic on the table next to my glass and when he realized how much he actually poured he grabbed the tonic and started pouring it, laughing. “I don’t want my boss to see!” He exclaimed before he walked away. A fifth into my gin and tonic, I was drunk. I didn’t plan on eating any bread, but I soon realized I needed it with my cheese, ham, and mushrooms, and even put the rest of the bread in my purse like the grandma I am to save for later. After, I ordered dessert and got a 5 layer chocolate mousse cake thing that was drool worthy. I wandered back to my hostel and found my friends while they laughed at how drunk I was from only a single (triple) drink.
Later on I went to Plaza de Espana aftr the sun had set because the tour guide told us that it was beautiful at night and he was totally right. It was magical. Part of Star Wars was actually filmed there but that wasn’t something I knew. I had a random stranger take a picture of me in front of the magic and found my way to where all of my friends were on the pub crawl. The pub crawl was pretty unorganized but I was just happy to have found my friends and get another drink. I had another gin and tonic with an insanely heavy pour before we headed to a different bar, and another, and another. At the last one, I actually got carded. ID’d. The only one. I seriously must look 16 years old to get carded in Spain. 
After the last bar, most of us wandered back to the hostel while drunken food was made before we went outside, loudly talking / yelling / laughing. Most of us headed up to the roof top to smoke before I turned in for the night. Though this explanation of the night was a little vague, it was probably the best night I have had out in my entire trip so far. I will never forget Sevilla or the people I met there and I couldn’t be more excited to return.