Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Anything Could Happen

As disappointing as it is to announce, for all of you still following my blog because my mom wrote it in the sky before I left (loveyouMom), my adventure abroad has been cut several months short. My plan was to stay in Germany through the end of the year while traveling Europe and working as an au pair between escapades; However, we all know that few ventures ever go according to "the plan". But that's what makes this curve ball they call "life" so gripping (cue forced optimism at having to leave dreamland here), agreed?

Long story short, after scuffling and parting ways with my German host family, I ran into some unexpected visa issues which quickly sent me packing and prematurely boarding a 767 back home to the good old US of A, cutting my European party far too short. And though I can't help but feel wildly dismayed and (understatedly) defeated at having to stifle the flame of one of my countless dreams, my heart is so full. Full of amazement and happiness and love and thanks. In just a few short months, I was able to see some of the most beautiful places the world has to offer, inhabited by some of the most beautiful people. I was able to embrace the way other cultures indulge in life and immerse myself in the undeniable grace of people that is present no matter where you drop your anchor. And despite the outcome, wasn't that my whole purpose in moving across the ocean (reference "traveling helps you encounter compassion" spill in my first post here)?

After all, sometimes things just simply do not turn out as fruitful as you had imagined. And, oftentimes, even the people and events that once promised to be so dazzling and fascinating can burn you and let you down, but, most certainly, the scars left behind by lessons learned are worth the unexpected heat. Lessons about trusting recklessly and what you stand for and how to appreciate people that don't so willingly appreciate you. These are the things that grow your humanity and these are the things that make your life divinely rich. 

So, my trip may not have gone according to "the plan", but I am a firm believer in fate when paired with hard work and the Golden Rule and will happily play the hand I am dealt knowing that something greater is on the horizon (i.e. a job, please God). So, again, to my future frustrated self who will inevitably reread these posts for cheesy nostalgic purposes: don't stop taking risks and don't ever stop churning out the bucket list because anything could happen. xoxo.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Viva La Vida

Oh, Barcelona. There is so much to be said about this lively Spanish city. There is no rest for the weary in Barthelona (as it is pronounced by the locals) and I'm pretty sure you have to actually be nocturnal to lead the Spanish lifestyle. Visits here are marked by very late nights (or very early mornings, whichever phrase you prefer) and after a few days adjusting to the Spanish clock, it's hard to tell when the day ends and when it begins. Lunch is at five, dinner is at eleven, and breakfast is whenever you manage to open your tired eyes around noon. The Spaniards are no stranger to a good time and it's hard to escape their fun-loving values in Barca, but let's be honest, who would ever want to? 

If life in Barcelona isn't enough alone, add on the fact that the city is amazing. I think Barcelona is somewhat of a microcosm of several things I love: language, the ocean, distinct architecture, the ocean, and stifling heat that makes it feel like home. I would mention the mojitos, but I think that falls under the "life in Barcelona" category. The vivacious Spaniards color their city with shades of liveliness as vibrant as the mosaics that paint every building and park and will have you desperately wanting to learn their feisty language as soon as you leave. And when you get tired of gazing at the unique sights that give the city its character, you can simply drool over all the beautiful people that inhabit España. You won't tire of seeing those sights, of this I am sure.

Brittany and I left Barcelona-bound from Munich for the weekend last Thursday and after a longgg day of traveling, arrived at our hostel just off of the well-known stretch, "Las Ramblas". We scurried to get ready for dinner, and after being warned several times by our waiter for ordering drinks at 8 pm, we learned that we were about four hours ahead of the city's schedule. Needless to say, we did not make it until 6 am that night like the resident club goers. After getting acclimated to the timetable, we spent the rest of the weekend exploring the city, visiting recommended restaurants and clubs, and relaxing on the beach. Our best investment of the trip was purchasing hop-on/hop-off bus passes, as we were able to see the city while taking the occasional siesta between stops. Intensive sight seeing is virtually impossible after keeping up with the nightlife in Barcelona. We did, however, manage to see the famous Sagrada Familia, the Olympic Stadium, Park Guell, Las Ramblas, and every American girl's favorite European tourist attraction: Zara. Gaudi's ever-present, and ever-eccentric work, also deserves mentioning as it is displayed proudly throughout the city. You can't help but marvel at the zany work and wonder how he was elected to construct such abstract architecture, but props to Barcelona for embracing the crazy. Major cool points. Last but certainly not least, my personal favorite sight (next to the Spanish men) was seeing the city from the top of Montjuic on our bus tour. It was a gorgeous view of the expansive city and a great ending to our last day.

After meeting a variety of international travelers, consuming countless cups of coffee, and soaking up all Barcelona has to offer in just a few shorts days (including the blazing sun), we boarded our flight back to Munich against our will with tired eyes and heavy hearts. Back to Zurich I go with yet a new adoration for yet another European country. Hasta más tarde. xx.

 From the top of Park Guell. Gaudi's work, of course.

Port of Barcelona 

Barceloneta beach- taken far away in attempt to keep from picturing topless señioritas. Sorry boys. 

La Sagrada Familia in all of its construction glory... I guess you kind of have to use your imagination here. 

My favorite view from Montjuic, as mentioned in the post.

Palace of Montjuic 

Brittany standing in front of our sweet ride. The ultimate tourist's dream.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Stop This Train

Sorry in advance for the length of the next two blog posts, but I have just finished ten days split between Munich and Barcelona and this will be a well deserved recap of one crazy week and a half. I'm currently writing this on my train ride from Munich back to Zurich and if it weren't for the scenery outside of my window, I would be fast asleep due to Barcelona exhaustion. I'm getting too old for this. 

I traveled to Munich to visit one of my good friends from UGA, the best of the best alma maters, and we spent the week reliving college Munich style. I showed up on Brittany's door step last Friday and we didn't waste anytime celebrating our reunion. She is a fun-loving person so I'm not surprised to feel like I just survived spring break in Europe at the end of my trip. Luckily, my new friend from Dusseldorf (reference past blog post) was also in Munich visiting her boyfriend, so we were all able to spend some quality time together in Bavaria. Highlights of Munich include (but are not limited to): massive bier gartens, a rich history, cheesy obazda, Mike's Bike tour, and men clad in lederhosen. My personal favorites, however, were days spent at the Englischer Garten and Dachau. 

The Englischer Garten is something else. It's bigger than Central Park and it is chock-full germans and tourists alike- all bicyclers, sunbathers, day boozers, and nudists (and lots of them). I owe one of the most comical sights I have ever witnessed to the Englischer Garten on my first full day in Munich: a man, probably in his 50s, with hair down to his waist walking through the masses of sunbathers while eating an ice cream cone and wearing nothing but flip flops. If ever there was a moot point, it is surely a nudist wearing shoes. People's reactions to the unabashed nudists here clearly differentiate tourists from local Germans- especially the modest Americans. Public indecency aside, the Englischer Garten is beautiful and it's the perfect place to spend those sparse sunny days in Germany with good friends and lukewarm bottles of Helles. 

On a more somber note, the other treasured part of my München excursion was visiting Dachau. You spend your schooling days constantly learning about World War II via textbooks, but there is no other feeling like visiting a concentration camp, and there are certainly no words to describe it. It took roughly two hours to get through and I had overwhelming chills the entire time. Knowing that you are standing on the grounds where hundreds of thousands of innocent people lost their lives is, most simply put, the most humbling experience in the world. It's impossible to wrap your head around the fact that one vile person could be the cause of such devastation and, even more shocking, that so many people could fall under a command so inhumane. If you ever get the chance to visit a concentration camp, make the effort. One visit will teach you more than any textbook ever could. Life changing kind of stuff that, if nothing else, will teach you to be thankful for just being alive. And rightfully living at that.

Though I have already been living in Germany for a couple of months, visiting Munich was a different experience. Bavaria is such a culture rich place and the Bavarians are very proud of their heritage, it makes for a great combination. I really loved Munich and who knows, I may be back sooner than I originally thought as I have just quit my current au pair job. Talk about a change in plans- but that story is for a different day. Stay tuned for a Barcelona post. Missing you all and a big thanks to BHop for being my German hostess with the mostess. xx.

The Englischer Garten

Soaking up some rays by the river with Brittany and Lara. And some Helles, too.

The New Town Hall. This building is incredible.

Next stop: bier garten for a masse.. Or two.


Surfers on the river in the Englischer Garten. Very cool.

Friday, July 5, 2013

One Big Holiday

As days have become more and more routine in au pair world, incessant blogging just doesn't seem as necessary. Trust me, you can only hear so much about the fabulous day-to-day life of being a live-in nanny before you think it's a joke that I spent the past 4.5 (I'm hanging on to that .5) years in college prepping to spend my current days ironing and dusting. The days have become increasingly standard and as a result, I find myself shocked by how quickly the time is passing. The life of an au pair becomes less glamorous with each day I spend weeding the garden, but the novelty of living abroad is still as shimmering and lustrous as it was the day I arrived. That's how I know every frustration, no matter how trivial, is worth this experience. Fortunately, I have the month of July off while my host family is kicking off their summer vacation around France, and what a reminder it is not to complain about my time here.

My first stop during my solo month in Europe is Switzerland. I arrived here two days ago and I already feel more rejuvenated. I'm staying with my brother-in-law's sister, someone I consider family, so it really is a true taste-of-home experience. And for the love... thank goodness. Europe is wonderful, but it is so relaxing to be able to speak candidly with someone who shares the same culture. I'm learning a lot while adjusting to the German lifestyle, but it can be somewhat exhausting because of the stark contrast to American (more specifically, Southern American) customs. All this to say, being greeted in Lachen by a big hug from a familiar face and a warm Southern accent was the perfect fix for my cultural barrier induced disorientation. It has been a few days of catching up, comparing cultural differences, and, most importantly, speaking English with someone without the fear of miscommunication. The perfect start to my vacation from my staycation.

Lachen is located just outside of Zurich and reminds me a lot of where I'm living in Dusseldorf in that it is a very quaint and quiet little town. The locals would say it's small, but I find it very endearing. Switzerland is absolutely breath-taking. We are anticipating sunnier days, but even in the overcast haze, the scenery is stunning. It's water and mountains as far as the eye can see with accents of old farm houses and beautiful churches along the way. It's amazing to me how different and varied the landscape in Europe is, yet it is consistently extraordinarily gorgeous no matter where you find yourself. The magnificence of the panorama of Switzerland cannot be captured or justified by a picture, but expect to see many more of my attempts before I have to say good-bye to this majestic place.

Additionally, my excitement for being able to spend Independence Day with a fellow American should not go unmentioned. Though there were no fireworks, hot dogs, or over-served Americans clothed in pride, it was nice to pay respects to the greatest country around with someone who sympathizes with the honor and privilege of calling the States "home".  Plus, our July 4th celebration was somewhat stifled due to ringing in the holiday a little too hard the night before- but the red wine was festive, right? I mean, it's only the most important birthday celebration of the year (next to yours of course, Nanc).

I hope all of you had a patriotic Fourth of July celebration with lots of good American traditions and even better company. Happy late 4th to you and yours from across the pond and endless thanks to all of those American heroes who serve and defend our great country! Freedom is precious. xx.

Our view at lunch the first day. I love these colors. 

Casual awkward solo shot #1, included for your entertainment. And to show off my most treasured purchase so far in Europe: American flag scarf. Happy 4th, Switzerland! 

Overcast and pretty. 

This sunset.

 View from lunch with Sydney on the second day, is any view a bad view?

Awkward solo shot #2. Lachen is across the water in the distance.

Last picture from lunch, I promise.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Postcards From Italy

This past weekend, I traded in domestic boot camp to visit the country that has held the number one spot on my destination bucket list for as long as I can remember: Italia. Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert and my Intro to Italian course at UGA, I have had a mental image of how vibrant Italy might be and, as expected, Rome did not disappoint. The infectious affinities of the Italian culture for all things food, wine, history, and, well, love make this country everything. And then some. The people are beautiful, the authenticity is beautiful, and the language alone is enough to steal your heart. No words could ever do the magnitude of the Eternal City justice, but I will say, Rome is in a league of its own. Its history is as vast and intricate as the monuments and fountains that occupy each countless piazza and its stunning beauty washes over you in a thick wave of astonishment as you step off the plane and stays with you long after you have polished off your last bottles of vino rosso.

The flight to Rome proved to be pretty remarkable in itself while passing over the Netherlands and the Alps before reaching our final destination adjacent to the bluest water. I am quickly learning that seeing cities from the plane window is one of my very favorite things- and to think that I hated flying with a passion not too long ago. When I wasn't glued to the scenery below, I spent the flight listening to the Swedish couple sitting beside me tell me all about their most recent excursions on the West coast. Listening to Europeans talk about their vacations in America is another one of my favorite things, especially those that possess a passion for traveling like this particular couple. I don't even know what their names were, but I feel certain that I will never forget them. It's the people you meet on the journey to the destination.

Once I landed in Roma, I met up with some friends from home (I was so lucky to be able to spend my time there with them and was beyond thankful to see some familiar faces) and we hit the ground running. We spent the large majority of our time sightseeing and the rest of the time was spent indulging in the other more delicious aspects of the culture: pizza, wine, and gelato. I saw the phrase "Italy is Eataly" while we were there and, seriously, truer words have never been written. Oh well, when in Rome, right? I bet that phrase never gets old. Our first day was dedicated to visiting the unparalleled sight that is Vatican City. I could go on for days about the incredibly detailed artwork that blankets every ceiling and wall and the Sistine Chapel, but those are just things you have to see with your own eyes to believe they are even remotely real. That phenomenal. Other notable, and predictable, stops were the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, the Arch of Constantine, the Pantheon, and last but certainly not least, the Trevi Fountain. Tourist points. I would love to say that it's the gorgeously sculpted detail or the hopelessly-in-love-Italians that gather around it at all hours of the day that make me such a fan of the Trevi Fountain, but those are given traits for every square inch of the city and don't do much to differentiate locations. Maybe it's watching everyone make wishes as they throw their coins in the fountain, or maybe it's the pictures they take of themselves in the process. Nonetheless, all of these instances have the Trevi Fountain on my list of Roman favorites.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to soak up all Rome has to offer in just a few short days, but, fortunately, this is more than enough reason to visit again. The captivating beauty of the city and its antiquity paired with its vivacious people give Rome an energy unlike any other. Just like everything else I love, Roma was hard to leave. This may have been my first trip to Italy but I know it won't be my last. Ciao, xx.

View of the Alps from the plane. Unreal.

 I love everything about this picture.

 View of the city from the Spanish Steps

 The Coliseum, of course.

Just one of the millions of pictures I took of the artwork in the Vatican. There are no words. 

View looking up in the Pantheon. The opening in the dome is its only source of light. It just so happened to be sunny and raining while we were there, seeing the rain fall inside against the beam of sunlight was really awesome.

The beloved Trevi Fountain. The legend is that depending on how many coins you toss in, you are promised a prompt return to Rome or to fall in love. How many did I throw in? Probably not enough.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

New Faces

Another week has come and gone in the blink of an eye and I'm starting to think that these precious 8 months might pass a little more quickly than expected. I have to say, the highlight of my week was finding Mexican food in Germany right before my withdrawals kicked in. Just kidding. It was probably a tie between that and partaking in my first ever badminton game with a handful of veteran players. All of my friends are laughing at this thought, I'm aware, and that's okay because I'm laughing too. Allow me to take this moment to preface the details with the biggest understatement of the century: I am probably the least competitive person on the planet. Really, I don't think I could be less competitive if I tried. Anyways, you get the point and can probably imagine the excitement I felt after receiving my invitation to join in on this badminton game. Luckily, the invitation came a week in advance so I had a few days to come up with the most ridiculous worst case scenarios in my head. I have always been an over-thinker and trust me, it's more than overrated. Apparently I can commit to moving across the ocean to a place I have seen only via Google images with less apprehension than it takes for me to commit to playing a simple game of badminton (which, by the way, I learned is a pretty intense sport after watching the die hards at the court). I make no sense to me sometimes. And you know what? It was fun. So add that to my checklist of accomplishments and leave my athletic ability out to the side.

Jokes aside, the real highlight of the week for me was meeting a fellow au pair today who is also from the U.S. (a southerner as well, to be more exact). In my search for all-things-English, I have been researching international church services and successfully attended my second one this morning. Finding and attending these services have become weekly tasks that make me feel very independent in a place where I have to be taught how to do everything before I even dream about attempting something on my own- even down to making coffee. What, you can read German? Feeling helpless is an unfailingly frustrating thing. So this morning I set out to visit the second church on my list, only I got so wrapped up in writing down tram stations and departure times that I forgot to look up how to actually get to the church from the final stop. Typical fashion. With a heart full of faith, I decided to follow a crowd of passengers off the train and into the woods hoping that they were headed in a similar direction. Because when in doubt, follow a crowd of strangers in to a sketchy looking wooded area, right? Okay maybe not, but I got lucky today. The church is set back in thick greenery (shocker) and is an international church comprised of a congregation representing over 20 nationalities. Oddly enough, in this extremely diverse group, I conveniently met a 23-year-old Raleigh, NC native who just so happens to live a stones throw away from my host home (AKA my new friend). There totally is a god. Though my host family is nothing but wonderful and welcoming, I am so happy to have met someone I can relate to on more of a 20-something-American-living-abroad basis. I think I will stick with this church, second time's a charm here.

Happy Memorial Day weekend- I'm so jealous of the lake picture gallery that is my Instagram feed this weekend. Something about being able to see your breath outside when it's nearing June just doesn't seem right. xx.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Silver Linings

Today is my first official day being homesick and I have to say, I lasted two weeks more than I thought I would! Now, put those judging looks away and don't pretend like you don't understand what I'm talking about, you LaGrange people. You know you spend your life dying to get out of that Varsity Blues town and then you somehow manage to miss it when you're away. At any rate, I'm attributing this homesickness to the weather that has been incessant rain for the past two weeks. I came prepared to experience more rainy days than usual but holy December in May, where is the sun? Clearly I'm not in Georgia anymore. Yes, there have been definite desirably sunny days, but they have been few and far between and most of the time it rains off and on at seemingly set intervals throughout the day. However, the greenery and flowers that run rampant after the rain has subsided make this cold Spring weather worth enduring.
[*Side note: there is a perfect life lesson in all of that rambling and it is not wasted on me. Actually, go ahead and reread until it sinks in- your life will thank you later on down the road for embracing that lesson early. The rain is always worth enduring.]
To conclude, I have been informed that this constant dreary weather is not typical for this time of year here and hopefully this, like my homesickness, too shall pass. Soon.

In other (more comical) news, I had my first German driving lesson today. Mmhmm.. I'm coming for you, Autobahn. Since arriving here, I have learned that the Germans are without a doubt more fearless drivers than Americans, hence my confusion at the nonexistent speed limits that are not posted at your convenience. Huh? Me too. I feel like most everything in Germany makes my head spin these days (large emphasis on the metric system here- as if I didn't hate numbers enough already). Anyway, I digress, back to the driving lesson. Any of you who know me well also know that I ask one thousand too many questions at any given chance, so after asking for the fifth time: "You mean there really isn't a speed limit?", I got this response: "Yes. If you decide you want to go 100, you go 100, if you decide you want to go 120, you go 120, and then if you are in a big hurry maybe you just decide you want to drive as fast as the car will go." It took me a hot second to make a mental note of this new information and then I just nodded my head as if to reply, "good talk, I'm in." Talk about governmental trust. For all that, I will say this, if I were to ever hypothetically get hit by a car, I would want it to be a fabulous German one.

Finally, I am proud to admit that my limited list of accomplishments has seemingly doubled this week. Driving, check. Conquering the tram system, check. Making my first friend, check. Mistaking "off day" as "shopping day", check..... Just kidding, that one can't happen again. Things are looking up. Lots of love to the States. xx.