Where do I begin with Athens? It was the city that had an encore return, so it was an extra special city to me. You should never give a snap judgment only minutes after stepping foot off the bus, but I did. At first, I was not a fan of Athens. That was a gravely unfair assessment of Athens, a city I had only seen for a few minutes. My opinion of Athens would soon change in the coming days.
The day to hit Athens running came, and I was so hoping my eyes would be opened to the beauty I had yet to see. Based on the area the hotel was in, I had assumed Athens would be just like every other large city I have been to. Once we got to the city center, I changed my mind. Athens was simply a diamond in the rough.
Before I jump ahead to my favorite parts of Athens, let me back up to how the first official day in Athens began. A city bus tour drove us through the town, and one of our two stops was to an Olympics Arena. There is no denying my love for the Summer Olympic Games, so to see where they were held in their homeland was something that had my fandom in full swing. From there, we were bussed to the Acropolis, the high point of the city. The ruins atop the hill were of the Parthenon. The guided tour there was nice, but not my favorite. Hey, you cannot like them all. When the guided tour portion of our stay at the Acropolis finished, it was time to make our way down the same way we came up. I did not truly know what slippery marble was like until I met the ruins of the Acropolis. Coming down from the top made me look like an uncoordinated baby horse trying to walk for the first time. The last thing I needed to do was fall and break every bone in my body.
A celebration was in order upon reaching the bottom without injury or incident. We treated ourselves to slushies, and even if our victorious accomplishment was not as worthy of our indulgence, us enduring the Greek heat at high noon was. I have never been so happy to see a shade tree in my life. If the views from the Acropolis does not take your breath away, the heat sure will.
The group gathered in the city square before breaking off into free time. The square was a busy place that day. A former Prime Minister of Greece had passed away the day before, and the funeral service was going on at the main Orthodox Church. The attendance of the funeral overflowed from the church, and the military formation overtook the Church’s grounds. It is not very often that a person gets to encounter a funeral of a high-profile person from another country.
Our free time took us to get lunch and gelato. Between a long morning tour and the heat, we were on the verge of being hangry. That had to be remedied before the rest of the day could be lived in enjoyment. The task to shop held our attention for the rest of the day. Athens has a great shopping district. We even made new friends with a jewelry designer and his employee. The hospitality in Greece is abounding. They sure know how to treat a person and make them feel welcome.
The two guys who befriended us gave us each a bracelet as a gift. The bracelet has the iconic good luck symbol of Greece with gemstones on it. I have worn mine every day since I received it, and I do not plan on that changing. They invited us to come back to the jewelry store for coffee, so we obliged when we returned to Athens in a few days. Just as we said, we kept our word and met them for a late morning cup of coffee. I also did some last-minute shopping while I was there.
Athens was the place we stayed the longest and visited twice. I truly felt at home there, and the people we met only made it harder to leave. And to think I only saw a fraction of the beautiful city of Athens, makes me eager to return. After spending parts of four days there and still having a remainder of unseen territory puts into perspective how small we all are in a vast world.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2017
I am finding I make a home where ever I go. Even though my stay in Delphi, Greece was short, I felt like I had been there a lifetime. Delphi is such a quaint town with small shops to keep me occupied for hours. All of the store owners treated us with such kindness. The hospitality spilled over to a select number of travelers who did not fit in the hotel we were supposed to be housed in for the night. The upgrade to apartment suites did not hurt my feelings one bit. It was a beautiful and relaxing stay in Delphi.
Guided tours are sometimes a hit or miss on these trips. I want to enjoy them, but some tours are information overload. Not this one. The A+ tour award goes to Delphi and their preserved ruins. Our tour guide did an outstanding job drawing me in and holding my attention. We were invited to sit around on stones and listen to her tell a story. It felt as if we were transported back in time to the ancient days of Delphi.
One of her stories hit the topic of free will. Hearing of this subject from a Greek perspective and historical context made me feel enlightened. We have the great responsibility to take our life and catapult it to the highest level of success we are willing to chase. While the competition of early Greek days fell between neighbors and families, the race of our success should be contained within ourselves to challenge us further. Statues of those days were placed on the land I was standing on to show wealth and status, and the next person who came along would put a bigger and grander one next to it. A little healthy competition never hurt anyone, but then I wonder what the factor is that is fueling our passion without it. We have the free will to decide what kind of life we will have and the path we will take. No one can make those decisions for us. The passions of our heart will guide our way to build the future we are willing to work for in life.
As the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day,” the same concept can be applied to the ruins of Delphi and my life. Spending that morning on the grounds of the ruins made me think about my life’s journey in a different way. Every time I get the chance to travel, the urge to book another trip grows even more. I used to think my future as just including my family and my career. Now, I am desperately trying to figure how I can incorporate meaningful travel into my future. Meaningful, you ask? Yes, meaningful travel. I do not want another vacation to say I was able to go someplace. To travel means to fully immerse yourself in the culture and collect experiences, rather than souvenirs. And that is the type of travel I am chasing.
The journey I take as I travel gives me hope and brings me joy. I leave a piece of my heart in every city I visit. And where ever the heart is, that is my home. My journey of free will and traveling the world is turning out to make a strand of my home in pieces.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2017
I have countlessly uttered the phrase “when in Rome,” but for the first time, it meant something in contextual actuality. Rome was one of the cities I was most looking forward to visiting. Rewatching The Lizzie McGuire Movie before I left made me even more excited to scout out some of the locations from certain scenes from the movie. I may have even Googled to see if the gelato shop that was visited existed. Spoiler alert: it does not exist. Alright, enough with my irrational fandom of a fictional person and her storybook tale of a trip to Rome. I will get on with my story.
My own Roman experience started out at the Spanish Steps. The way we took brought us to the landing at the top, so we had the easier task to come down, rather than climbing the stairs. While coming down should have been easier, in theory, the slipperiness of those steps was something else. I could officially say my stay in Rome was off to a good start.
Trevi Fountain had been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember knowing of its existence. It was next on my unofficial free-time itinerary. Walking around the corner and seeing it for the first time made me giddy with my childhood fantasy coming true. Even in the overflowing crowd, I felt like the only one there, as I stood there with a dreamer’s heart pouring just as the fountain.
As we roamed the streets, I heard music, but I could not see where it was coming from. I thought it was odd that an opera singer would be performing on the street and somehow managed to have an accompanying piano there too. It dawned on me to look up above me to the open windows of the apartments lining the streets. Moments like these made me appreciate the little characteristics from each city even more. It is not every day that a person can hear Italian opera from a private rehearsal from the street below.
The day was still in its young hours. To preserve our energy for our afternoon tours, we grabbed a quick lunch, made a stop for gelato, and headed to the park. It may seem odd just to go the park when you are in Rome, but this was not your ordinary park. Sure, there were benches and nice walkways, but there was so much more. We saw four-wheeled buggy bikes, so the obvious thing to do was go rent one and ride it too. It was hysterical, and I am sure I did more laughing than pedaling. Who knew the park could bring such a memorable experience as this one? If someone had told me I would be riding a four-wheeled and four-person bike in the middle of a park in Rome, I could have thought that person had lost it.
Our meeting time marked an end to our bike rides. Phase two of the day took us to the Colosseum and the Forum. The tour was informative, and to walk into the arena where gladiators once walked was hard to comprehend all the rich histories. The tour ended, and before we headed to a group dinner, we made a quick stop at the Pantheon. I was not sure what I would be walking into, but the interior of this former Roman temple was stunning.
There was one last stop before we could meet for dinner, and that was in a square with another fountain. This is where we took our first group picture with all sixty-six of us. That photo was the million-dollar photo. Our lead professor and the reason we were all there had one of our tour directors snap it, and her reaction to seeing how the picture turned out said it all. To see my professor's tears of joy and happiness made me misty-eyed. In an instant, her hard work and dedication to her students were captured in a single photo, and a moment in time will forever stand still. I owe much of the adventurer I am today to that special lady, and she will forever be a blessing to me for making experiences like this one possible.
The day was still not over. Usually, by dinner time, I am at my day’s limit, and this day in Rome was no different. The scheduled time to leave the city to return to the hotel was still an hour away from dinner’s end. While some still had the energy to chase all over, I was happy to seal my day with people watching from the comforts of a bench. Nightlife came alive as the sun went down, and I could not help but sit by a fountain and do nothing less than do as the Romans and let my heart make a wish.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2017
I fell in love with a city I had just met. We arrived in Florence around lunch time, and we were given a guided tour of the city. The tour guide reminded me of the party planner from Father of the Bride and my flamboyant English teacher from high school. The best welcome to any city is a guided tour, so on free days, it feels like I know where I am going, even if I do not.
Street performers can easily be found at any corner in Europe. I will always stop to listen and throw a Euro or two in their case. Coming back from the group dinner, we saw a man playing Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence outside the baptistry in the city center. I get lost in the musical moments anytime I hear the magical chords being played. Music is the one thing that can be enjoyed without needing to know the language and goes without needing interpretation. Every street performer has a story, but only through listening to their music will it be told.
Our second day in Florence broke with sad news coming from Manchester. When I came down to breakfast, CNN heralded the news of the attack, and my heart sank. I knew this could have happened anywhere in the world and at any time, but it put into perspective how quickly something can happen to anyone, anywhere.
My free day began after breakfast. Not having a schedule was a nice change of pace. The game plan for me and my little group was to get as far as we could before it got hot and then work our way back to the hotel for some quiet time in the afternoon. I loved the feeling of being lost in a city and wandering the streets away from the city center hub-bub. Being away from the tourist traps and main attractions made finding myself and the hidden gems of Florence even sweeter.
We had a map of the city, but it was determined it would only be for emergencies’ use. As we wandered throughout the streets with no destination in mind, we stumbled on a location that overlooked the city. The tiered lookout points gave panoramic views, and I had to pinch myself to make sure I was not dreaming. While I had the option to go all the way to the top, I chose to stop at the middle tier. I was perfectly content sitting on a bench under a shade tree and taking it all in. It felt as though I belonged there all along, and I was spending a morning enjoying a city I loved.
As we made our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a nice restaurant. It was in a square, and I could not help but notice an increased presence of law enforcement and military personnel. A replica of the Statue of David that stood in the square looked different from the day before. On this day, he had a Union Jack flag grasped in his hand and a black band for mourning on his upper arm. As sad as it was, I was encouraged to see a neighboring country show support and solidarity in a time of crisis.
The afternoon was quiet back at the hotel. It gave me some time to journal and reflect on the trip so far. I even squeezed in a quick nap before the second part of the day took us to Pisa after dinner. This was an added quick trip that was planned last minute by our awesome tour directors. They went above and beyond our expectations to make sure we got the complete experience.
A bus ride to Pisa gave me even more time to think and reflect. The day spent getting to know Florence was a day I spent finding another piece of myself. I knew going into another study abroad trip, I would learn new things, but I did not know I would learn this much about who I was becoming. As the bus was nearing Pisa, I concluded that I was undoubtedly going to return home having grown as a person.
The sun was setting over Pisa. The scenic backdrop could not have been better for taking pictures. The goal of this trip was to not stick out like a tourist, but that is nearly impossible when we were all lined up taking photos trying to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I mean, I could not help myself. I also took this opportunity to snap some pictures of the church, baptistry, and tower. One of my favorites is of a rosy pink bonnet perfectly perched on a post in front of the tower. As I was gazing at the Leaning Tower, my hand brushed up against the hat’s fabric; I was startled at first, but I soon saw a photo opportunity when I saw that perspective.
Dusk fell upon us, marking a close to our visit to Pisa. The pleasant surprise of an added stop made it feel like I had lived two days in one. Both cities made me never want to leave. Florence stole my heart, and I will forever hope to return to the city where I began discovering the identity I never had.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2017
I had a countdown going for this trip since day four-hundred-and-something. To say I was excited to go on my second study abroad trip was probably the biggest understatement of the year. With everything going on in my life this school year, it served as a good distraction to force myself to forget about the trip, as hard as that may have been. Once the school year finally ended, I changed gears, and all I could think about was being in Italy and Greece. It still did not seem real to me that I would soon be embarking on another trip of a lifetime.
Packing is never fun, but I knew the sooner I packed, the better it would be. So, if I forgot something, I gave myself time to remember it. I made piles and an assembly line for myself as I ironed, folded, and packed everything. Looking at my living room floor, it looked excessive, but I knew what I was doing. And just like that, and a week early, I was all set. My suitcase and Vera Bradley bag were ready to grace their way to the airport.
The day leading up to my departure date went by as slow as molasses. It seemed like no matter what I did or where I went, time stood still and only minutes had passed. It felt like I had put a full day in, but it was only noon. I knew going to bed and trying to fall asleep was going to be a challenge. When that time finally came to force myself to sleep, the only option I saw was to watch a movie, and as juvenile as it may be, my pick was The Lizzie McGuire Movie. All of my childhood dreams came flooding back when the opening song started playing. To think that the next day would mark the beginning of my stay in Italy made the nostalgia of hoping to follow my dreams to go just as Lizzie McGuire did, made my seven-year-old heart happy. I also knew my chances of meeting a pop-star-look-alike was slim, but I could still dream. And with the closing song, “this is what dreams are made of,” I drifted into my dreams and awoke to the day I had been waiting for.
Friday finally came. I took my time getting ready because I knew it was going to be a long time before I would be back and showering in my own shower (what a luxury). I threw in the last couple of things in my carry on that I could not pack ahead of time and did one last sweep through the house just to make sure I had not forgotten something. My dad loaded my bags into the truck, and we left to go pick up fellow travelers to have our last American breakfast together. After a lovely morning, we set out for the airport. My excitement was mounting.
To see sixty-six people board a plane who were all going to the same place and for the same reason was incredible. Our first flight got us to Frankfurt, Germany. We landed early in the morning, so when we got to our gate for the next flight, I found myself a seat, and I perched myself there like a zombie during that layover. There is a picture to prove my zoned-out existence. I never said traveling was glamorous or excessively exciting at four-something in the morning.
The journey to this travel experience began on Friday, but the real adventure began the minute we landed in Venice on Saturday. Having been to Venice before, I was looking forward to picking up where I had left off. Venice was and is as pretty as I remembered it. Seeing Venice literally in a new light made my heart happy. The first day in Venice made me worry because of the weather, but the next day brought nothing but sunshine, unlike the previous trip.
During some free time, I was sitting on the steps around the perimeter of St. Marco’s Square. The pigeons are fearless there. A sweet, older gentleman was throwing bread to the area I was sitting in, but at the time, I could not see where it was coming from. My friends and I were still oblivious from our tiredness. We finally caught the man in the act, and we all got some good laughs. The man and his wife have probably done this friendly bird banter a hundred times, but to have this pigeon invasion at our feet was a good welcome to Venice.
Our group tour gave us the opportunity to hit the common places a tourist must see while on an abbreviated stay in Venice. Being back at the Doge’s Palace felt right. Even though much of what I saw was a repeat, it amazed me when I realized how much still seemed new to me. A city guided tour added a new experience for me in Venice. It took us through the winding alleys of the city, and I saw parts of the city I have never seen before. As much as I hated juggling a whisper box and my camera all while maintaining my ability to pay attention, I did enjoy the history of every city, but I am getting ahead of myself here.
A trip to Venice would not be complete without a ride on a gondola. It could be considered a sin to visit a city known for its canals and not hop on a gondola, driven by a gondolier, and see the city from the waterways. It was so relaxing, and it was a perfect seal on our days in Venice. Venice is a place I could visit every year and not get tired of it. There is so much to see, and it is impossible to see everything in one visit.
Since it is nearly impossible to maneuver one person’s luggage through the narrow ways of Venice, let alone all sixty-six of our luggage, we stayed in a town just out from Venice called Jesolo. We were in walking distance to a beach with a pier. On our last night, some of us decided to walk down there to snap some photos of the sunset. There is something so relaxing about walking in the sand and having waves from the Adriatic Sea wash over our feet at sunset. The following morning was a chance to see a Venetian sunrise to perfectly pair it with the previous night’s sunset. It was also our time to bid Venice a farewell.
My time spent in Venice was only the first stop of many on this grand adventure. I do not claim to have seen it all, but I hope to someday. So, look out world.
©Inquisitive Perspectives 2017