Posted in Travel

All Adventures Must End

Wow. Has it really been four weeks since I’ve sat in a classroom? My calendar tells me yes, but my brain tells me no. Time really does fly when you’re having fun! But, I actually am really excited to get back to Lancaster and have some familiarity in my life for a bit. It’s just plain stressful to live out of a backpack and always be on the move.

However, my last few days of adventure ended in a wonderful place. I love Greece. I love everything about it. The food is incredible. Everything is super cheap. There’s sunshine. And warm weather. So, it has been glorious.

IMG_4776

 

I got to Athens at about 9 in the morning on Tuesday. This gave me enough time to figure out the airport transfer bus, find my hostel, and get checked in. By the time I got to my hostel, I was already sweating from the 80 degree weather. My body has been stuck in rainy England for far too long, so it was shocked at the sudden change of pace. At the hostel, they had a little suggested walking path of the sites, so I plugged those into my phone and set off on my own little adventure for the day.

IMG_4757

The first place on the map (after enjoying a delicious pita wrap) was to go to the Acropolis Hill. Normally, it’s like 20-30 euros to go here and a variety of other archaeological sites, however, because I’m a student in the European Union write now, I got to go to all of these sites for absolutely free! It was glorious.

 

I made a few friends along the way, as I asked a few different people to take my picture, because I’m tired of taking selfies. The site itself was so cool and from the top of the hill, you could see all around Greece. The stones were really slippery though, so make sure you wear high-traction shoes if you ever go! I may or may not have slipped and almost fell about ten times…

 

I spent a good amount of time wandering around and enjoying the sunshine, but I also wanted to learn more about the site, so at the end of my wandering, I went down the hill to visit the Acropolis Museum. It was really cool and it gave a lot of history behind why they built the different buildings and all of the Greek god stuff that the Ancient Greeks believed in. Next up on my tour was second lunch, so I had an amazing Greek salad at this little cafe I found near the museum.

IMG_4796 (1)

After that, I went to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which was included in the archaeological sites ticket.

 

The next part of my day was the only thing I paid for here in Athens, tour-wise and it was probably one of my favorite things I did. (Granted, it was still only 2.50 euro entry) I went to the Panathenaic Stadium, which was the first stadium to hold the Modern Olympic Games, the only stadium in the world made of marble, and the location of the largest attendance of a basketball match in world history (Over 80,000 people!)  There was an audioguide included in my tour, so I learned all sorts of fun facts, but I won’t bore you with all of those. Instead, I’ll just show you the awesome pictures!

After that, I was starting to get really tired from another early morning, so I wandered back to my hostel by way of the National Gardens, and some cool shopping streets. I enjoyed Greek gyros at a little restaurant before heading back and crashing for the night.

IMG_4846.JPG

On day two, I really was in need of the fun facts about the city, so I took a free walking tour. The guide was fabulous. We went back to many of the sites I had been the day before, but I actually got to hear the information about them. For example, we met at Hadrian’s Arch. What I didn’t know about this, is that this is the same Emperor Hadrian who also invaded England and built the Hadrian’s Wall on the border of Scotland that I visited a couple of months ago!IMG_4800

Then, we got to see the famous guards do their shift change, as they guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and got to take some pictures with them.

IMG_4862

I think my favorite part about my entire experience in Athens, however, was getting to see Mars Hill (And stand on it!) It’s the place where Apostle Paul made his first speech about Christianity, and where he was presenting his case before the judges in Athens (Acts 17). It was just a wonderfully surreal experience to stand where he once stood and set the basis for the reason the story of Jesus was able to spread.

IMG_4870

My last day in Greece was spent catching up on some homework and just kind of relaxing, as I was very anxious to get back to Lancaster by this point. And now here I am, safe and sound back at school and it’s time to start studying for exams!

Thanks again for all of the extra thoughts and prayers you’ve sent my way these past couple of weeks! I appreciate it so much!

Advertisements
Posted in Travel

Rome-ing Around

I have been on the road for almost four weeks now and I can tell that it’s time to get back to familiarity, because I may or may not have broke down crying on a coach bus today. Don’t worry, I was just frustrated with language barriers and I ended up in the wrong location and wasted a whole afternoon. It’s fine, though. I’m safe and so that’s really all that matters. But, I didn’t start writing this post so you could hear about my tears. We’re here to talk about Rome. And Rome-ing is what I’ve been doing…

After I caught my train at 3 in the morning last Saturday, I ended up in Rome around 9 in the morning. This gave me enough time to find my hostel, store my luggage, and make a plan for the day. After doing some quick Google searches, I decided that I would visit the Colosseum and Roman Forums and then do a free walking tour in the afternoon.

This was a great plan, and I had an awesome day. (I did wait about an hour to get into the Colosseum, but it was spectacular). And now I can check off a second Wonder of the World viewed this year!

Entrance to the Roman Forum was included with my Colosseum ticket, and it was so worth it. I could have spent hours wandering through all of the ruins, and it was really surreal to see. However, I was trying to catch a walking tour at 4, so I only had a few hours to wander. It also kind of looks like a giant junk yard, except it has super cool historical significance.

IMG_4573

Here’s the view from the top of one of the hills in the site. Also featured are my new kicks, since I lost 2/3 pairs of shoes I brought on this journey. May they rest in piece. Next up was the free walking tour. I know I have mentioned it before, but let me just reiterate. I love free walking tours. I get all the fun facts I want from super enthusiastic guides and I only have to pay what my budget allows.

We visited the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum, and Colosseum again. I also got a lot of info about the city in general and some weird facts and traditions. For example, you’re supposed to throw a coin in the trevi fountain, over your left shoulder and you will return to Rome. Throw it twice, and you’ll find love in Rome. Thrice, and you’ll marry your Roman love. I threw one coin. And took a selfie with Trev.

IMG_4681

That pretty much finished up day one as I was exhausted from being up so early, so I grabbed dinner, went to bed early, and rested up for day 2. On Sunday, I got up early and went to the Vatican, since it’s free entry on Sundays. The museum and Sistine Chapel were closed, but I went inside St. Peter’s Basilica.

Also, unknown to me before this day, was that the 23rd annual Roman Marathon was happening. It was so fun to be a part of watching the race, because the whole city had a buzz to it, and there was music and people everywhere in the streets. Kind of makes me want to run a marathon some day. Except for the 27.2 mile running part. (Or 42 km, as they were tracking it here)

IMG_4680

I didn’t really have a plan for the rest of the day, so I spent it just wandering through the streets, enjoying the crowd, tasting gelato, and soaking up the glorious sunshine. I did manage to see the Pantheon and wander into a few more churches before the day was over, though. By the end of the day, though, I felt like I had seen everything that I wanted to in Rome, so I decided to find a beach to go to on Monday.

I choose to go to Anzio, because it was only a 40 minute train ride away and there was no additional connections. It was an okay choice, because the beach was nice, but absolutely no one spoke English here. So I did end up pretty frustrated. Yet another day I almost broke down in tears. I don’t know why, but it is so utterly confusing when you know people aren’t understanding you and so I kind of end up shutting down and not wanting to ask any questions or say anything. But regardless of frustrations, it really was a beautiful little town. I just wouldn’t really recommend it to anyone else.

But alas, as with everything, you have to fail a lot before having success. So is the story of my life and the saga of my travel journeys. Feeling really ready to get back to England… (where English is spoken and Mikaela is understood)

IMG_4692

 

 

 

 

Posted in Travel

Brought Low to Live Large

I started to write this blog post about my travels to Rome, but I only got one paragraph into it. I thought that I needed change the direction of it. Since I’ve been traveling solo, I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect on my life and I kind of think I need to share some important stuff.

So, first of all, I recently reconnected with an old friend from high school. I had never told her how much she has inspired me and how much she meant to me. But I never told or showed her that properly until recently. And as I was typing out this message to her, some messages from 2009 came up on our chat. I reread them and I was horrified at the person  I was back then. But it also scared me, because I could still see glimmers of this person in myself today.

Another thing that got me thinking was when I uploaded some new photos to my Facebook page today. After uploading them, I decided to shuffle through my old photos, so I started from the beginning of my photos and flipped through. As I looked at them, I could remember the memories, but mostly, I remembered the feelings. I remembered how unhappy I was. I remember how ugly I always felt. Most of you probably know that I struggled with a serious bout of anorexia toward the end of middle school and beginning of high school. As I relived these images and all of the photos on my Facebook profile, I could remember the exact amount that I weighed in each of photo, because it has always been such an ingrained part of my life.

So you’re probably wondering…so what? What does this have to do with your solo travel time thoughts? What does it have to do with the person you are today? Well, here’s the thing. I think that my battle has always been this deep and innate fear that people don’t love me, they won’t accept me and I have this power to change that. If I’m skinny enough, pretty enough, talented enough, I can change how people view me. I don’t think I’m alone in this struggle, but let me just tell you. I could never make people love me enough. Nothing is ever enough to get the approval and acceptance that I crave, because people are human. And we weren’t made to be fulfilled by humans.

See, I can preach this to myself all day long. And some days I do get it right. I know what the right answer is. I know the answer is that we’re created to be fulfilled by God. But for so long, I still struggled with this concept, even though I knew God and I knew the right answers for how to make myself feel better. So I guess this time has given me so time to reflect. I’ve still messed this up so much while over here, if not more. Being displaced has cause me to feel more insecure than I ever have in my life and I definitely searched for this fulfillment through humans again, to only be let down again.

Yet, this time has also made me feel more confident in myself than I ever have before. This time has truly taught me to rely on God at times, when I literally have no one around to help me out or listen to me. I have spent the past three weeks with no other humans that I know, but I’ve hardly felt lonely. I think this is because I know that I always have a Provider and Friend by my side. And I’m not saying this to be flowery or to say the right thing. Because I can’t do that anymore. I’m saying it because it is very, very real to me.

Growing up, being a Christian was the easy thing to do. That’s what everyone else in my small town did. So, like I said before, I’ve always known the right things to say and do to get people to like me. Going through high school, being a Christian was the way to do that. Yeah, I have always believed in God and trusted in Him with my life, and that is enough. But, now I’m at this place in my life where being a Christian is not the easy thing to do. It’s actually the hardest thing. And, I’m actually really, really terrible at doing hard things. I don’t like to make people not like me. We’ve established this.

This craving to please people and answer my question of “Am I good enough?” has caused me to not always hold true to my footing, to say and do things that I don’t necessarily want to do or believe in, in order to please people and be accepted. But these past three weeks have been an incredible time for me. I know that if people reject me, that’s stupid. Because I’m an awesome person. Spending this much time with myself has caused me to fall in love with myself. And I don’t mean that in an egotistical way. I mean, I like my humor. I like wandering off the beaten path. I really love sunshine and flowy skirts. I love to smile and make people smile back. I would rather be in a garden than in a museum. I like the English language and I really love free walking tours. Yes. These are silly things, but the point of this is that I’m not afraid of rejection (right now, at least). I don’t feel like I need to put my energy into people that aren’t going to put energy into me, because I have myself. And I have a God who loves me.

So I publish this now, fully aware that this is largely based on feelings. I feel confident right now, that I can stand my ground and stick to my beliefs. Yet, I know I’ll mess it up again. Because I’m human. I’ll be attacked with my own thoughts and self-doubt again, because that is a lifelong struggle. But, I feel really great right now and the best part of this all is that the God we serve, our Creator, is a God of Grace. He wants to extend a FREE gift to us, one where we don’t have to be perfect. Because then we just need Him more. He knows that I’m a hot mess, but He smiles on me, because it makes me rely on Him more.

So, thanks for listening to my rant. I promise, I will write about Rome too. I just wanted to give you a glimpse into some of the things I’ve been pondering and learning over the past couple of weeks.

Posted in Travel

Disney Land on Canals

I’m on a blogging roll, so you may have missed my Pisa Post. (No, not pizza-I haven’t figured out how to transport Italian pizza to you all yet.) But, don’t forget it! It includes a wonderful tower, pizza, and Tuscan sunsets!

The next location on my [little-ha!] European adventure was Venice! Wow. This city was just a shocker from moment one. I arrived in the afternoon on Wednesday and walked out of the train station and was faced with a canal. Now, you would probably say, “Yes, Mikaela. You’re in Venice, What did you expect?” So, I guess this was a humbling experience, because I had been feeling pretty confident in my abilities to navigate public transportation lately and I have a pretty set routine of arriving at a place, walking to my hostel, and then figuring out what to do in the city. Not so here. Since my hostel was on a different ISLAND, I couldn’t just walk to it.

Insert Water Bus. It’s like a subway or a bus line, but on water. I should have been excited and awe-struck by this unique experience, but instead I was just stressed and utterly confused. On top of this, the Venetians were not being very helpful or friendly, but I did make it to my hostel after asking about 5 different people questions.

IMG_4428

By the time I got to my hostel, It was about 6:30, so I naturally thought it was time for dinner. However, after unpacking and settling in, I was in for another Italian surprise. That being, 6:30 is not quite dinner time. Most of the restaurants don’t re-open until then, so as I wandered the waterfront of my Giudecca island, I was fairly taken aback by the strange quietness and lack of people. Oh well. I just rolled with it and ate another pizza.

IMG_4387

The second thing I learned about Venice (or am I on 3 now-I don’t know), is that it’s VERY expensive. Not really a student-budget-friendly place, but you don’t really know that until you get there. It’s also just jam-packed with tourists. Fun Fact: The population of Venice is about 50,ooo people, but they get around 20 MILLION TOURISTS EACH YEAR. So, it really was a beautiful city, but at times, it also felt a bit like I was walking around Disney World, except it was on canals.

IMG_4400

So, because I’m me, and me is a nerd, on Thursday, I did two walking tours. Victoria and I had booked a walking tour and gondola ride for the afternoon, and because I was overwhelmed and didn’t know that much about Venice, I just hopped on a free walking tour in the morning.

IMG_4432

As usual, I’m so thankful I did. I learn so much about the cities that I go to, being able to just explore them with the locals. Yay for free walking tours. Like, they should have these everywhere, because I love them. Both of my guides were fabulous and took us to non-touristy parts of Venice while also giving a whole slew of fun facts about the city.

On both of the tours, they talked about St. Mark’s Square, which houses a Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, but we didn’t go to it, so after the tours were done, I headed on over to check it out for myself.

The tour guides also talked about the nearby islands of Murano, Burano, and Lido, so I decided that I would take advantage of my water bus ticket and go there on Friday. I started the morning in Lido, which is an island with a little beach. The beach was pretty dead in the morning, so I enjoyed a quiet walk and breakfast at a quiet little cafe.

IMG_4473

After Lido, I hopped on over to Burano. And just died. This was the most charming and beautiful and hidden little gem I’ve ever seen. It is known for it’s colorful houses and lace making. I could have taken a million pictures, but I’ll just share a few. I spent the afternoon wandering into the shops, admiring the beautiful lace and smiling because the environment was so beautiful.

The weather turned a bit nasty in the afternoon, as it started to rain, so I didn’t spend much time in Murano. Murano is known for its glass-making, and I did watch a cool demonstration and wander through some of the shops there.

I ended my day back on the main island, where I wandered past the “Silent Bridge,” got a classic tourist bridge photo, and tried black risotto (and didn’t take a picture of it). It was a great end to my Venetian adventure, and I retired early, because I had to be up at 3 am on Saturday, to catch my water bus and train to Rome. Still trying to learn Italian…

 

 

 

Posted in Travel

A Piece of Pisa Pizza

Sorry about my lack of keeping up with my travel blog over the past week. I was actually busy being a good student during the past few evenings and I was finishing up an essay that is due when I get back. I have another one that needs done, too, but I think it’s time for a break from that.

When I left you, I was heading to Dublin-which seems like forever-ago now! I think the Italian sunshine is giving me memory loss. But, it was nice to be back in Dublin again, because I was able to meet up with Tessa for the 3rd time! And it was a much needed catch-up after only having myself to talk to for a week 🙂

I left Dublin midday on Tuesday and headed for the land of sunnier weather. Ahh, Italy. I fell in love the minute I stepped off the plane into the 70 degree weather. I landed in Pisa, Italy, which was a perfect start to my Italian adventure. It is a small city, so I felt very safe and was able to relax and enjoy myself.

IMG_4304

Yes, Pisa is the Pisa that you’re thinking of-the city with the famous leaning tower. But, it also just has a wonderful Tuscan charm. Pisa is very small and very walkable, so I was able to get right off of the plane on Tuesday and walk straight to the tower. The tower itself is actually pretty small, and there isn’t a whole lot to it unless you pay the 16 euro to go inside of it, but I was a classic tourist and got my selfie and basic photo.

And yes, that is indeed me in a tee-shirt, because it was so sunny and warm. And of course since it was my first night in Italy, after seeing the tower, I had to have a pizza in Pisa.

IMG_4328 (1)
A Piece of Pisa Pizza, anyone?

To walk off the pizza, I took a stroll around the city in the evening and was able to enjoy a beautiful Tuscan sunset over the canal.

On Wednesday, I had a train at midday again, so I got up early and enjoyed a warm and refreshing walk strolling the streets of Pisa again before heading off to Venice!

Posted in Travel

Ireland Part Two

I really think I need to think about re-titling my blog something like, “The Chronicles of Mikaela’s Ruined Shoes” or something along those lines, because travelling around England and Ireland in the rainy weather has already trashed like three pairs of my shoes.

I just got a new pair of trainers before leaving on this trip and the bottom of them is already coming undone, because I’m terrible with footwear upkeep. But, I’m not going to bore you with complaining about my shoes, so instead, I’ll tell you where my shoes have been.

IMG_4216
Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

I left off as I was travelling to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Well, now I’m on a train back to Dublin in order to catch my flight to Pisa, Italy tomorrow. I seriously love the Irish trains. They’re comfortable and they have Wifi access! Yay, 21st century public transport.

On Saturday, I got to Belfast in the late afternoon and did have some time to explore a bit. I walked around Queen’s University and some botanical gardens. I also walked to Victoria Mall, which has this really amazing view of the entire city.

IMG_4184

Sunday was the real reason I was up in Northern, Ireland, though. I had booked a tour to Giant’s Causeway with a few other stops along the way. First, we stopped at The Dark Hedges, which is featured in The Game of Thrones series. I’ve never seen it, but I guess they were still cool trees.

We then meandered on up to Carrick-a-Rede and I was just blown away by the views here. This area is about 19 miles away from Scotland and you can see the Scottish coast on a clear day. It was not a clear day, although, the weather wasn’t terrible.

They also have a rope bridge here, which I paid 6 pounds to cross. Still not sure it it was worth the money, but the views along this coast are just absolutely breathtaking, and that was priceless.

After the stop here, we went to the main event, a visit to Giant’s Causeway. Again, I could have spent hours upon hours just walking here. This was such a fun tour, as the audio guide was complete with both the geological and Irish legend version for why these cool stones were formed. Humorously enough, I only remember the Irish legend version.

IMG_4237

After this week of rainy, windy, and cold Irish weather, I am more than ready to get to Italy and Greece for the remainder of this break! Until next time, Ireland!

Posted in Travel

When life doesn’t go according to The Plan

One of the main things that I’ve learned while studying abroad is how to be flexible. Things are never going to go how you expect, and you just have to adapt and go with the flow. I recently got to practice this skill during my spring break travel plans. Since we have four weeks of break, my friend Victoria and I had  made plans to travel around Ireland, Italy, and Greece together for 2 1/2 weeks. Well, things didn’t go as planned.

Sadly, Victoria got her wallet stolen in Prague last week and her passport was in it. Therefore, she’s not allowed to leave the UK for the time being. I was really sad that I wouldn’t be able to travel with her, but I decided since we had already booked hostels, plane tickets, and tours, that I would just go ahead and go on my own with our original plan.

So, here I am. On a train somewhere in Ireland by myself. I’m actually pretty excited for this time. I had been wanting to do some solo travel, anyways, so here’s my chance! So far, I’m really enjoying myself. The hardest part is not having a photo-taking buddy and someone to share laughs with. Also, it is a bit more stressful, knowing that I need to watch my own back all the time. So, I guess this just goes without saying, but extra prayers for safety would be appreciated!

Now onto the good stuff…What I’ve been up to for the past couple of days by myself!

After my mom left on Monday, I caught a train back to Lancaster to basically unpack, do laundry, and repack. Then, on Tuesday I was off to the airport to catch my flight to Dublin. And this actually worked out really well, too. I had been wanting to meet up with Tessa (high school friend) on her home turf, since she’s studying at University College Dublin. We met up for dinner on Tuesday night and walked around Dublin for a bit.

Then, on Wednesday, I got up and walked around Dublin by myself and then did the Guinness Factory Tour with Tessa before I was off on a train for Cork on Wednesday night.

Now, Cork was interesting. Victoria and I had been planning to stay with a family that she had known growing up. Now that she wasn’t with me, I didn’t know if this would still be okay, but thankfully, they were extremely hospitable and willing to put up a complete stranger for a few days and run me all around the Irish countryside. I am extremely grateful to the Spencer family.

I got to their place late Wednesday night and found out that they are actually an hour South of Cork, 2 km from the very tip of Southern Ireland. When I found this out, I just had to go and explore, so on Thursday morning, I got up and walked down the road until I found the beach. Boy am I glad I did, because I saw probably the most beautiful views I’ve ever encountered in my life! And it was beautiful & sunny out!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Now, our plan for Thursday had been to go to Blarney Castle, so I went ahead and did this too. It is right outside of Cork, so I was able to take the bus here. For those who are unfamiliar with Blarney, it is a famous Castle with a legendary stone. People come from all over the world to kiss the stone and it is supposed to bring you the gift of flattery. To achieve this feat, you have to climb up the winding staircases of the castle and lean over the castle edge to reach the stone.

Now, because I’m poor, I didn’t want to pay 12 euros to buy the picture of me kissing the stone, so I just took a selfie with the castle instead:

IMG_4079
Here I am folks, with a newfound gift of eloquence

So, the other cool thing about Blarney was that it had some crazy cool gardens to walk through on the castle grounds, complete with a fern garden. For a second, I forgot I was in Ireland, but then it started to sprinkle a bit and I remembered. After fern garden frollicking, I caught a bus back to their place and was able to have a nice dinner with their family.

IMG_4084

On Friday, Victoria and I had booked a tour to visit the Cliffs of Moher, so I went ahead with this as well. Unfortunately, Friday was not nearly as nice weather as Thursday. I think I got more of a taste of the typical Irish weather, complete with horizontal rain.

Now, because of the weather, I didn’t get very many photos of the Cliffs, but the view was absolutely breathtaking. By the end of the day, I was completely soaked and chilled to the bone, but I would definitely say it was all worth it!

IMG_4168

 

Please excuse the fact that I look like a drowned rat, it’s all part of the experience.