It’s been a while since I’ve posted due partly to the fact that I’m always busy doing something over here and also because I moved into a new apartment that doesn’t have Wifi. And yes, I thought this was literally the end of the world, and still kind of do- it’s funny the things we take for granted back home. In this blog I’m just going to give you a recap of all the places I have visited thus far.
My school had a trip to the Italian Riviera planned for us (Genoa, Portofino, and Santa Margherita Ligure) and afterwards a few friends and I traveled to Cinque Terre. Both places were beautiful. The architecture of the cities, especially those of Cinque Terre made you (well at least me) stare in awe. They also had some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. My favorite part of the trip though was the hike between the first and second city of Cinque Terre, it took us a little over an hour, but the scenery along the way was well worth it.
The following weekend I traveled to a region of Italy called Sardegna and we stayed in a town named Cala Gonone. Sardegna is one of the two island regions of Italy, and unlike any other area I have been so far it wasn’t really as developed so we got to see a lot of the natural beauty of the land. It also wasn’t as touristy so it felt like a more authentic Italian experience. This trip was the only time I had problems travel wise, however. We misunderstood our program directors when they were telling us about when we could take copies of our passports instead of the real thing so we only brought a copy. I don’t know how they let us fly out of Milan without a passport, but they definitely weren’t going to let us fly back in until someone shipped us our passports. We actually had to go speak to the police in the airport and they made the people let us board our flight since the airline was the one who let us fly over there to begin with without physical copies.
The last weekend before the first session ended I went to Barcelona where parents of a friend I had met in the program were staying. We went to Las Ramblas and the beach of course, but a majority of the time we went sightseeing with her and her family. What was pretty cool about when we went was that it was two holidays for them- the beginning of summer and also their patron saints day so they had a huge celebration down by the beach with fireworks. It felt like the entire city must have been there and it was a very cool atmosphere.
My summer program is set up into two sessions, each lasting approximately five weeks with a week break in between. During the week break I traveled with a friend of mine I met in the program, Jessica, to three different countries in Europe: Greece, Turkey, and Belgium.
In Greece we first visited Heraklion, Crete. Our flight left around 6 am Friday morning from Milan, so we had to take the latest train from Torino to Milan which got us there at about 1am. Then, we had to wait two hours outside to take a bus to the Milan Bergamo airport, which takes about an hour. Our flight was two hours, and when we landed we had to take a three-hour bus ride to Heraklion. The bit of information before this was really pointless for you to read, but I think it helps to explain to you how much I hated airplanes/buses/trains by the end of the trip. We were literally using one or a combination of them every other day. In Heraklion we visited Knossos Palace. I actually remember learning about this place in my art history class my freshman year of college. It’s so strange seeing things you’ve read about or seen in a textbook in person, it puts things into a completely different context and I really think it helps you absorb the history more. We took a guided tour through it (as we did for all the other cities/monuments we visited on the trip) and learned some pretty cool things about the Minoan civilization. For example, the were the first people documented to ever have a flushing toilet and running water system, and the Aegean Sea is named after one of their myths involving the Minotaur.
After Heraklion we flew to Athens. I think it’s pretty obvious we visited the Acropolis, but on our tour we also had a guided walk around the city to some of the main government buildings and other monuments. What I thought was interesting is that we learned all the metro stations contain mini-museums of artifacts and remnants from the old city because they are really the only places in the city they have been able to dig into due to all the buildings and stuff that had already been built. I loved visiting the historical sites in Athens, but it was a little to touristy for my taste. Maybe that’s just because I’ve grown so accustomed to my home city where there are really no tourists and a majority of the population doesn’t speak English. Which to me really gives it an authentic feel, even if sometimes it’s hard to communicate with people or figure out things travel wise (I had the hardest time today at the train station because no one spoke English and ended up not getting the tickets I went for).
Next destination on our trip was Turkey. In Turkey, we visited the capital city, Istanbul. I would definitely classify it as one of the favorite places I have visited so far. It was very touristy like Athens, but it just had a completely different atmosphere. I learnt about Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in my art history class and always thought it would be amazing to be able to visit the museum and was ecstatic when Jessica said she would like to go to Turkey and visit it too. It was amazing to be able to see the architecture and mosaics of these two structures and to learn about them as well as the Muslim religion on our tour. We were even able to find a decent price on a hotel that was literally a few hundred meters away from the both. The first night we were there we sat on the rooftop for about an hour and just looked at the view and listened to the Muslim prayer call that rang throughout the city from various Mosques.
After Turkey we went to Brussels. In my opinion there honestly wasn’t much to see other than the Atomium and mannekan pis. Our reason for going to Brussels was more for the food- waffles, fries, and chocolate. I tasted some of the best waffles I’ve ever had there and we went on our own little chocolate tour of the city. Including the free sample pieces many stores gave to us (and they would literally give you a whole piece of chocolate, whichever kind you wanted) we tried about 40 different chocolates from 11 different chocolate shops. The last one we visited was most interesting, it was called zaabar, and they experimented with using spices to flavor chocolates. I tasted chocolate with juniper berries, curry, fennel, allspice, and many others I can’t recall. Most of them were gross, but it was definitely a cool experience. We also got to watch them demonstrate how they make their chocolates.
I have plans to travel to Prague next weekend, and I’m going to a US women’s Olympic soccer game the following weekend! I’m beyond excited about the latter and will definitely post something later about it.