#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. 


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. 

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. 

A little bit of Lagos…naturale beach included.

I think if I have learned one thing so far on this trip, it is that I am basically the only person who can fall asleep after drinking an espresso. I have done it multiple times by mistake. I am not one to nap when I’m at home in the states, but traveling is pretty exhausting and I don’t get a lot of sleep most of the time. 
Lagos was perfection. A typical beach town with flea market type booths all along the walkway, little shops for beach bums with boat, kayak, and surf lesson offers. The day I arrived, I found my hostel rather quickly as Lagos is a very small town. The hostel was nice but not nearly as nice as the pictures. It was subpar compared to its reviews but the location was divine, as the rooftop had a view of the water. The woman at reception showed me my room and pointed to the top bunk, to which I asked if I could have a lower one as I was the only person checked in so far. She basically told me that I could, but that it would complicate things and be more effort than she was willing to put in… so she wouldn’t change it. Kind of a little odd. She could have just said someone had already requested it and would have avoided being an asshole.
The hostel was swarmed with 18 year old German students on holiday. They were there for a school trip before they graduated and they basically took over the kitchen and common areas. As I was sitting in the living room with my phone, another girl was looking for the light switch to turn them off. We got to talking and her name was Liya, from Russia but previously living in the states. As we got to talking, I realized we kind of had a lot in common to an extent, and we got along really well. We agreed to go on the boat tour the next day together. She seemed more adventurous than me but Lisbon really exhausted me so the kayaking trip was out of my price range and my energy level. I could also feel myself getting a bit sick, as I was losing my voice and had a little bit of a cough. 
The next morning I did not feel any better but decided to go exercise for a bit. I ‘ran’ hardly and did a good amount of squats before heading back to the hostel to shower. I found Liya and we went out to the supermarket and did some other shopping before we were off to the boat tour. The boat tour was a small boat that sat a maximum of 8 people. It cruised in the Atlantic and we were shown every beach, each with its own little story. We got up close to the rock formations and floated under natural archways. The water was clear, turquoise blue. We peaked inside of caves and saw the “chimneys” or the giant holes that led out to the top of the caves which led in sunshine. The guide referred to it as Swiss cheese. He pointed out one beach as a “naturalist” beach and we saw a naked man walking along. It didn’t seem that far from the main beaches and Liya and I agreed to go there after the tour because we were going to head to the beach anyway. 
After the tour, we looked at the little fleamarket type booths once again and made our way to find the nude beach. We were not sure how far it was but it didn’t seem like that far away from the main beaches when we were in the boat, but little did we know, it was a pretty long trek. We walked along the cliffs until we reached a private road, walked along the main road, and then made our way back to the cliff edge until we were almost ready to give up. We stood along the edge to see if we could see any nude people on any nearby beaches, but the one beach closest to us was not visible. There was a man walking up towards the cliff we were on and I knew that by asking where the nude beach was could end well or not. So I asked. And he said “Ooh yes! It’s right here! It’s beautiful! Just go around and down there.” 
We followed his directions to basically a non-existent, steep path. We literally had to climb down rocks until I questioned whether it was really worth it. Liya convinced me because we had made it this far and at the point we were, we were really only a few steps away. And then we were there. The nude beach was pretty empty, just two couples, one creepy solo guy, and a family!? 2 adults and 2 kids, all nude. The tour guide earlier had said that it was not a family beach, so it was a little surprising, but it is Europe after all so I can’t be surprised. We walked over to an empty space while the youngest couple there looked over at us while we set up. The woman watched us as if she didn’t believe we were actually going to get nude, but little did she know, we did. It was nice, it was freeing, it was sandy, and it was totally worth the trek. The little beach was beautiful and as the sun started to go down, the beach started to clear out, and the last thing we wanted was to be stuck there with the creepy guy that kept staring. He even moved closer to us when other people had left. 
We went back, showered, and went out for dinner at a restaurant that was supposed to have the best burgers around, got a drink, and I turned in for the night. 
Lagos was a beautiful, beautiful little place. A typical beach town without a board walk and I’m glad I was able to make a friend to share the experiences with. 
Off to Sevilla… more on that later.

Not quite on my own, yet…

While I certainly didn’t expect Florida weather in Ireland, I definitely didn’t imagine it to be as cold as it is. I packed mainly for the other countries I’m going to, because the weather there will be at least 70 degrees, and will probably reach over 100 in certain parts. I certainly do not take the warmth of the sunshine for granted after being here for only a few days. 
I landed on a bright and sunny Thursday. With only really two hours of sleep, not even that, I was exhausted as soon as I got to my cousin’s house from the airport. I showered and napped for only twenty minutes before heading back out for a walk with my cousin’s wife and two grandkids of theirs. We walked down to the water, the kids played on the rocks, and we strolled over to the James Joyce Tower/Museum and walked along some narrow stairs up to the top. 
After that, we headed for ice cream from the famous Teddy’s before I finally got an Irish SIM card and connected to some real data. That night we had steak, potatoes, vegetables for dinner, and finished off with wine and cheese later in the evening. 
The next day we went to Longford after I strolled to town for a flat white and a little muffin cake thing; my cousin and I stopped for lunch on the way there before meeting my third-ish cousins. And then more third-ish cousins. And then some more. It was a long day of jet lag and exhaustion, and way too much food and tea. I had no idea tea was so popular in Ireland, and I also had no idea how much it makes me have to use the bathroom…every single hour. Now I understand the man who once handed me the mug where I work (as I’m a waitress) and said, “tea makes me potty every place.” I thought he was just being weird and old, but seriously, it does. Every evening ends with wine and cheese, and those are two of my favorite things. 
The following day was a day for Guinness, but only after a flat white and a chocolate croissant. You’re probably wondering what a flat white is; it’s basically a cappuccino. A shot of espresso with milk. We took the Dart into the city center of Dublin and walked our way through Temple and Temple Bar. The campus is absolutely beautiful and I love the streets of Temple Bar. I walked nearly 10 miles that day. Guinness was definitely a tourist attraction; when we first walked in on the first floor, the line was moving at a glacial pace. We went up each level and ended in the Gravity Bar floor, where we saw a seriously stunning view of the city and mountains. 
The evening carried on to a restaurant / bar / wine cellar that I cannot remember the name of, and lunch ended with a flat white before heading back to Dun Laoghaire. My cousins were headed to see an opera so I was on my own for the evening, I found a nice “gourmet food parlour” down by the water and had some sliders, a glass of wine, and a large piece of fudge cake that even I couldn’t finish. 
Of course, I have been on Tinder as a 22 year old traveling female in hopes for recommendations and things of that nature, but none of my conversations have amounted to anything beyond wondering what the hell some of the phrases mean. Later on, when I’m really exploring “alone” I hope it will amount to good recommendations and conversation. Either way, here is my Irish-English slang dictionary. 

Class = cool. That’s class. 

Bad means good. 

Craic. Pronounced crack. People ask, what’s the craic? Or, that’s good craic. Apparently, it means fun. I thought people were asking for crack. Sorry, I don’t have any. 

Another guy said, if you’re free, lets grab a scoop. I said, a scoop of ice cream? Sure! Apparently, it means, let’s grab a drink. Sorry, what? Can you still buy me ice cream though? 

Grand. Everything is grand. That’s grand. 

Cheers. Here, I am paying for my meal. They say cheers. Cheers cheers cheers. But you don’t say cheers when you clink your drinks together. So. 

Do you fancy an ice cream? That’s a little more obvious.

Today, a Sunday, the day before I leave Dun Laoghaire and carry on to Cork alone, I fell in love with Ireland under the sun. It finally warmed up, to a measly 60 degrees when you’re in the sun, but I finally was able to take off my rain coat and only wear a shirt and a sweater. My cousin took me to a beautiful nature path and we explored by the water as well. The ocean looked stunningly blue green. I had never really seen the ocean from such a high point, and it was hard to not fall in love. 

And tomorrow, as mentioned, I am off to Cork for two nights. I will be visiting Kinsale for an afternoon, but beyond that, I just want to accustom myself to the hostel life. It will be my first hostel I will have ever stayed at, and I can’t say I’m not a little nervous for it. I just hope there’s hot water. At the same time, I’m ready for it more than anything else. The real part of my trip is now about to begin. No obligations. No schedule. Each day will be totally up to me, not that it wasn’t these last few, but I can only rely on myself. 
Cheers. 

waiting is the hard part

I’m sitting in bed, watching The Office, in my last hour of being home. I wasn’t really sure how I would feel in these final moments.

I’ve never been away from my family for an extended period of time like this. I’ve never been that far from the comfort of my own home. I think this is the hard part – being here, knowing what’s about to come, but not being there quite yet. This small waiting period counting down the actual beginning of my trip is grueling. Making sure I have everything, worrying about forgetting something. Goodbyes are weird. It’s not that long of a time, but it’s the longest amount of time for me.

I feel overall excited, blanketed with a sheet of nervousness and topped with a small combination of fear and sadness, but even with all of that, my mind can only focus on the future and what I have to look forward to. I have been planning this trip for over six months, and now it’s just a matter of living out all that I have planned. Getting from place to place. No expectations. Just living each day. I am yearning to be there, to start. Waiting is the hard part.