Final Thoughts

I’ve been home for over a week now and I still can’t wrap my head around how much these past four months have meant to me. There truly is no better time to travel than in college. With no permanent responsibilities or a full time job, there is more freedom at this point in my life than ever. I am incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to Europe and I’ve made memories to last a lifetime.

Meeting people from many different cultures is a unique, eye opening experience. Each person I met has their own stories and advice to share, which has added to my opinions and opened my mind to new ideas about the world. So, I will offer one piece of advice about traveling: be open to meeting new people, you never know what gains could come from those interactions.

With each new experience comes new lessons to be learned, and I wouldn’t trade a single memory I made abroad for anything; however, I wish I would have known:

How to bargain at the Florence leather markets – Confidence is key. It will also save you lots of money.

How to meet locals We met so many amazing people around the city by simply being friendly and adventuring outside of the touristy areas.

Souvenir shops close on Sundays – When traveling on the weekends, it’s easy to leave souvenir shopping until the last day, but don’t. We learned this tip quickly.

Trust your gut on the simplest of choices – If the price for transportation is too good to be true, it just might be.  If the restaurant looks sketchy, it probably is. And if the sellers around the touristy areas hand you a bracelet for ‘free’, its definitely not free and you probably ditch him.

Research before traveling Obviously you know where you’re going, and often times how you’re getting there, but it will save a world of stress to plan out the smaller scale activities (Stay, activities and points of interest, transportation to and from activities, and so on).

No duffles – Backpacks or rolling bags are the easiest for traveling, trust me.

Be aware of your surroundings – Tourists are easy targets and Americans are easy to pick out by our clothing and loud voices. If you’re aware of the people around you and your personal belongings, you shouldn’t run into any issues.

Pictures don’t do justice – Take time to look up and enjoy the view with your eyes. Mental pictures and memories of those you’re with are just as valuable.

Adjusting back to the United State’s culture:

It has taken me about a week to fully overcome my jet lag. It’s odd jumping back into normal American life after living abroad for several months. I’m more appreciative of what didn’t come easily in Italy (free water at restaurants, grocery selections, cars for easy transportation, streets without sellers walking up to tourists, etc.), but I’m already missing what we’re not used to in the US (everything in walking distance, amazing/natural food, gorgeous views around every corner, relaxed culture, and so on). I can confidently say studying abroad is one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I would highly recommend the opportunity to anyone considering traveling during college.

I want to thank you all for reading my blog and keeping up with my travels these past few months. I received many great compliments and feedback, which has meant a lot to me. I hope you gained something from my posts and enjoyed everything I had to share as much as I enjoyed reflecting on my journey.

LdM Clubs

Lorenzo de’ Medici (LdM) is the name of my school here in Florence. When I’m not in class or out exploring a new city, LdM clubs are a fun way to get involved.


Cooking Club

I was able to prepare and enjoy five different Italian appetizers, main dishes, and desserts. Each Thursday morning for five weeks, my friend Lauren and I (as well as the other students in the club) met with an LdM chef who walked us through preparing these dishes. Each class, we were required to bring our LdM apron. We entered the kitchen with everything set up for us: ingredients, utensils, spices, and the recipe to follow. Our chef, Enrico Sassonia, and his assistant were great. We had so much fun making traditional Italian dishes throughout our first club sessions that we signed up for another round of cooking club, which allowed us to make three more dishes.

A quick look at the dishes I was able to prepare:

  • The first dish, called Mozzarella in Carrozza, is an Italian appetizer comparable to mozzarella sticks. They were loaded with mozzarella and super delicious.
  • The next week, we made Ribollita soup. This is a traditional bread-thickened vegetable soup and unique to Tuscany.
  • Strudel de Mele (apple strudel) was fairly easy to make and so good. It came out of the oven flakey and golden brown, which we topped with icing sugar.
  • Panzerotti Ripieni e Fritti is a fancy word for the second appetizer we made, which is basically the Italian version of a pizza roll. They were amazing.
  • Schiacciata alla Fiorentina is a traditional Florentine cake. Similar to a sponge cake, we filled the inside with homemade whipped cream and a mixture of sweet ingredients. My favorite part of this dessert was getting to decorate the top with powdered sugar and the Florentine symbol.

Here are some of the pictures I took throughout my weeks as a chef:


Zumba Club

In an attempt to get ourselves up and working out between all the gelato, pizza, and pasta we’ve been eating, Lauren and I decided to sign up for zumba club. Us two, along with six other LdM students, were able to participate in the club each week. Our instructor, Henrik, is a full-time zumba instructor so he did a fabulous job throughout the semester. We began the classes learning steps to Puerto Rican/Venezuelan type music, which was extremely difficult and not at all our type of music. Throughout the semester, Henrik began to play more pop songs by European artists, and by the last few sessions, he also had us dancing to songs by Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, and so on. We will miss zumba club as it was something we looked forward to and a great way to brighten up our Mondays.

This photo was taken on our last day of zumba class, but was missing a good chunk of the students who normally came. We had also just ended the class, so excuse our sweatiness.

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Zumba club

Photo Journal Pt.2

Spring Break: March 26 – April 2

Berlin, Germany | March 26-28

Ireland | March 29-30

Amsterdam, Netherlands | March 31-April 1

Brussels, Belgium | April 2

Valencia, Spain | April 6-10

Split, Croatia | April 14-17

Florence, Italy | April 20-28

Sorrento, Italy | April 29-May 1

Rome, Italy | May 6

Spring Break

Feeling adventuresome, my roommate Lauren and I put together a full schedule for our week off from classes. With plans to travel to four different countries, we began our busy journey in Berlin.


Berlin, Germany

A city full of rich history from the time Hitler came to power. We downloaded Rick Steve’s Berlin City Walk audio tour and learned so much about the city. The tour took us a few hours but was highly informative and I would recommend it to anyone traveling in Berlin.

The Brandenburg gate was originally built to separate west and east Berlin. It has now become a symbol of unity and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Berlin.

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Visiting the Brandenburg Gate

The tour led us through many historical sites in Berlin, a powerful one was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews. Numerous cement blocks that seemed to go on forever reminded us of a maze. Our audio tour had us imagine the cement blocks as if they were tombstones filled with bodies. The atmosphere was quiet and eerie as we walked through the maze of blocks.

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Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

One of the most interesting places we went was the Berlin memorial wall. The original wall, which separated the east from the west, is still partly preserved. In the middle of the memorial was a wall of faces of those who died attempting to cross the wall. Being in the very spot where the wall once stood and the amount of history that once surrounded it set off an indescribable feeling.

Berlin Wall memorial

Ireland

Our first stop in Ireland was a huge landmark in a small town on the western coast. On the cloudy day, the green Cliffs of Moher appeared brighter than ever. One of my favorite trips from my travels thus far.

Cliffs of Moher

In Dublin, the Guinness Storehouse proved to be a fun stop for a rainy day. This self guided tour taught us about the ingredients in Guinness, how it’s made, and how to properly taste and pour the perfect pint of Guinness. We ended at the gravity bar, which was solely made up of glass windows that overlooked the entire city of Dublin.

Guinness Storehouse tour

Gogarty’s bar, on Dublin’s famous Temple bar street, was one of our favorite night life experiences of Dublin. This traditional Irish Pub has a touristy flare; live musicians play Irish music as tourists fill the bar with beer, singing and dancing.

Gogarty’s Irish pub on Temple Bar street

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Being the (1940s) history fanatic I am, our first stop had to be the Anne Frank house. I booked our tickets a couple months out and for good reason, the lines to get into the museum grew increasingly long throughout the weekend. I was able to tour the secret annex the Frank family hid in for two years during the time of the Holocaust. The audio tour led us through the house to the bookshelf that was once used as a hidden door. We continued up the steep stairs into the annex and explored the many rooms. An extremely eye opening experience and easily the coolest museum I’ve ever been in.

Anne Frank house – Narrow building, fourth from the left.

Seeing the locals traveling around by bike inspired us to rent bikes for the weekend. We hesitantly started on our own. The locals are crazy bikers and move extremely quickly in all directions along the confusing bike paths. We eventually got the hang of it and biked throughout the canals, into Vondelpark, through the museum square and outside the main city area. The next day we took a bike tour and learned all about Amsterdam’s history. It was a pretty cool way to see the city!

Traveling as the locals do

Brussels, Belgium

No trip to Belgium is complete without picking up some chocolate. Mary’s is hands down some of the best chocolate I’ve had.

Delicious Belgium chocolate

Belgium waffles!! Our sole purpose for visiting this country. Of course, the chocolate, fries, and beer weren’t a terrible addition to this quick stop.

Belgium waffles

Although not the most relaxing spring break I’ve been on, it’s easily one of my favorites. I checked many places off my bucket list from this week abroad.

Photo Journal

Florence, Italy | January 31 – February 08

 


Venice, Italy | February 11

 


Verona, Italy | February 12

 


Interlaken, Switzerland | February 16-19

 

Prague, Czech Republic | February 23-26

 

Fiesole, Italy | March 3

 

Florence, Italy | March 2-6

 

Paris, France | March 10-11

 

Naples, Italy and Capri, Italy| March 18-20

 

Florence, Italy | March 20-25

Coastal Cities

Naples, Italy

Best known as the birthplace of pizza and for the archeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Naples was an interesting historical stop. Chase and I decided to visit the ruins of Herculaneum, which much like Pompeii, was heavily damaged due to an eruption from Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. It was incredible to see these structures still standing after so many years.

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Herculaneum city remains
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The top of Mount Vesuvius appears in the background as I stand next to the town of Herculaneum
Of course, a visit to Naples is not complete without pizza. Pizzeria D’Angeli treated us to some traditional Neapolitan pizza and it was so delicious, I forgot to take a picture of my pizza before I dug in.

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Margherita pizza from Naples

Capri, Italy

Located an hour off of Naples’ coast, the small island of Capri contains some of the most impressive views I’ve ever seen. With only a day to explore the island, Chase and I fit as many activities into our day as possible. A chair lift up to the highest mountain point of Capri offered amazing views and a unique experience.

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Views from the chair lift
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An breathtaking and relaxing ride – for those not afraid of heights
Capri is well known for some of it’s rock formations; one of them being the Arco Naturale (the other is the Faraglioni). It was such a cool sight to see, the pictures don’t do it justice. The water visible from under the arc shows a bright blue color in this picture that was even more vibrant and magnificent in person.

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Arco Naturale
Advice to those thinking of vacationing in Capri:

Highly consider visiting in the summer time – Majority of the shops and activities are closed in the winter and spring because it is not tourist season. Although a relaxing trip, we didn’t get an experience of the island in full swing.

Check into seeing the Blue Grotto – One of Capri’s hidden gems, It’s lucky if the tides and winds are low enough for the Blue Grotto to run. Unfortunately, we were unable to experience this the day we visited, but I’ve heard it’s amazing to see the water illuminate in the cave at night.

Look into airbnb and bed and breakfast stays – there are quite a few in Capri and we really enjoyed our airbnb as well as the friendly company of the owners. (The B&B we stayed in here)

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Elegant shopping street in Capri

Eiffel In Louvre

Ooh la la! A trip to Paris was at the top of my list of places to visit while traveling Europe, and for good reason. Paris has so much to offer, from its many extraordinary landmarks to the unique cuisine, I am so glad I had the opportunity to experience this magnificent city.

A couple of my roommates and I stayed at The Generator hostel. The building was a little ways outside of the city center, but located right next to the tram station and was easy and cheap to get around Paris. Once we arrived in the city, our first sighting was the Arc de Triomphe. Honestly, I had no idea what this arc was or why it was so special. I later found out it is one of the most famous landmarks in Paris and has a unique story tied to it. In short, this arc was ordered by French Emperor, Napoleon in 1806 to honor the French army. After the army had conquered most of Europe and took a victory in Austerlitz, Napoleon declared, “You will return home through arcs of triumph.”

Arc de Triomphe

 

As my roommates and I walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées (main street in Paris), we stumbled upon the first ever Laduree bakery. World famous for their amazing macarons, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try some (even if the line was out the door). There are so many flavors and most all of them are delicious. I picked out a chocolate hazelnut and a coconut with lime and both flavors were to die for. Other flavors my roommates raved about: pistachio and salted caramel. I think it’s safe to say we all highly recommend trying a macaron from Laduree.

Macarons at Laduree Paris
The original Laduree, one of the world’s best-known bakeries (specializing in macarons)

 

Our next stop, the Louvre. We were in luck because Friday’s after 6 p.m., the museum has free entrance to persons under 26 years of age. Inside the museum, it looked as though we had entered a mall. Escalators and staircases lead in every direction. Underground walkways connected the pyramid structure to the buildings surrounding it, which is where the museum galleries exist. After roaming around the main areas of the museum (and getting slightly lost in one of the wings) we made our way to the Mona Lisa painting. Displayed on it’s own wall deep into one of the exhibits, the painting was much smaller than I imagined. About 30 in. by 20 in., everyone crowded around the famous portrait, which made it difficult to take a good look, and a decent picture.

The Louvre – It’s more difficult to take this basic picture than one would think
Entrance to the museum
Attempting (and failing) the Mona Lisa smile

 

Around dinner time, we all followed a friend’s recommendation to a local French restaurant. I felt a little adventurous and decided to try the escargot, a typical appetizer in France. Escargot is simply a cooked land snail. It tastes pretty salty and has a tough, gelatinous texture that was most likely doused in butter, garlic, and whatever the green sauce (shown in the picture below) is. I surprised, not only my family, but also myself because I actually enjoyed it. I recommend giving them a try!

Escargot – the green substance is the part that is eaten

 

We lucked out with a gorgeous day on Saturday as well. The first place we visited was the Palace of Versailles. To our disappointment, the line to the entrance was insanely long so no one felt like waiting to enter the palace. We later found out that even though the line looked like it would have taken hours, it actually moved pretty quickly – so if this situation ever arises, it’s good to know the wait is worth it. Instead, we walked around back to view the Gardens of Versailles and were impressed with what we saw. The gardens existed a farther distance than my eyes could see, beautiful grassy designs surrounded the various pools of water. Realizing it’s only the beginning of spring, I could only imagine how gorgeous the gardens look with everything in bloom.

Palace of Versailles
Garden of Versailles
The largest garden I’ve ever seen

 

In disbelief we hadn’t been to the Eiffel tower yet, I was antsy to get there. We made a stop right before the main area of the tower to get crepes, which was a mistake. Although they were good, we were told later that crepes sold at the stands surrounding the tower are amazing. We walked around the base of the Eiffel and across the bridge to a building known as the Trocadero. From there, we had incredible views of the Eiffel tower and took the majority of our pictures. Exhausted from our constant travels, we decided to buy champagne and some snacks and relax on the Champ de Mars (a public green space located in front of the Eiffel tower). This was debatably my favorite part of the trip. I was extremely content relaxing in the sun, attempting to fathom the fact that I was in Paris, sitting in front of the Eiffel tower and drinking champagne. Once the sun went down, we had dinner at a close by restaurant, then went back to watch the the tower sparkle. Once it gets dark enough, the tower sparkles every hour on the hour, for five minutes. It is one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen and is completely mesmerizing to watch. If I ever get the chance to visit Paris again, I would take the elevator up to the top of the tower at night as I’ve heard it is an incredible experience.

The Eiffel Tower, beautiful from all angles
Pictures from the Trocadero building
Some of the roommates posing in front of the Eiffel tower. No, we did not plan to wear our jean jackets.
Champagne beneath the Eiffel Tower
Eiffel tower lit up at night

I only wish I had more time to experience everything Paris has to offer. I hope one day I will be able to return to explore more of this beautiful city.

Czech It

When I booked a trip to Prague, I had no expectations for the weekend. Aside from the infamous John Lennon wall, I knew nothing about the city and what it would have in store for me. Friends and blogs highly recommended a trip to this city, so my roommates and I decided to take the advice.

Prague’s colorful streets and beautiful architecture displayed on each building is nothing to look past. Every street we turned onto offered a new array of buildings, which made the city one of the more unique places I’ve been to so far. Not only does Prague contain a pleasurable aesthetic, many of these buildings are extremely old and rich in history. A local tour guide named Chris took us on a two-hour expedition around the city. He was extremely knowledgeable about everything to do with Prague, starting from hundreds of years ago up until today’s time. I was able to jot down some key pieces of Prague’s history as well as a few medieval stories I found to be quite interesting.

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One of many colorful streets in Prague

Interesting piece of history: German forces in 1939 surround the Old Town Square – some buildings remain still intact. The tall castle looking building shown in both photos is called the Church of Our Lady before Týn.

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The famous Astronomical Clock tower is a huge tourist point. Every hour, the tiny doors on either side of the sitting statue open up and apostle figures rotate around inside the tower.

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The clocks themselves – on top is the astronomical dial and the calendar dial is below. According to Chris (our tour guide), legend says the Prague Councillors loved clock master Hanus’ clocks so much, they didn’t want him to make the clocks for any other city. So, the Councillors burned his eyes until he went blind and cut off his tongue so he couldn’t tell anyone how to build one. He rebelled by jumping to his death, down the clock work. This destroyed the clocks and for decades and for a while, no one was able to fix them.

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Pinkas Synagogue, a holocaust memorial site. After being closed to the public after Soviet invasion of Prague, the museum was reconstructed and reopened in 1995. The Old Jewish Cemetery sits just behind this building. On the tour, I learned this cemetery was built in twelve different layers since land in Prague was scarce. Because of this, the cemetery is a few meters higher than the streets and is said to hold 12,000 tombstones.

Our next stop was a self-guided tour of the Czech Beer Museum. In the exhibit, there were many rooms filled with information on ingredients found in beer and how it’s produced and packaged. Multiple displays of hundreds of beer bottles and caps lined the rooms. In the center of one of these rooms is a table with eight various flavors of beer seeds for tasting. I tried three kinds and most of them tasted awful to me – extremely dry and bitter. After exploring the museum, we headed into the pub area where a man filled beer glasses with the first (out of four) kinds of beer. One of the darker beers had a slight caramel flavor, but I was only able to contently finish the first. Although I’m not much of a beer drinker, I enjoyed this experience and it was fun to sit down with my roommates for an hour or so and relax.

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One of the many displays found in the beer museum

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It’s no secret who the beer drinkers in this picture are… and aren’t

The Prague Castle was an amazing sight to see, with free entrance as a bonus. Once past the gate, there is a short walkway that leads into a huge open square. One of the first buildings people can enter is the Church Of Our Lady Before Týn. We were able to view the west end of the church and it was absolutely incredible. Intricate stain glass was built on each panel of the surrounding walls as well as the front and back of the church.

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Church Of Our Lady Before Týn inside view

St. Vitus Cathedral church provided stunning views from all angles

St. George’s Basilica at Prague Castle

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One of many entrances to the Prague Castle sits high above the city. This picture is taken right outside the castle, showing a breathtaking view of Prague.

Of course one can’t visit Prague without making a trip to the John Lennon memorial wall. The trek to the wall and our experience there was nothing but a tourist trap. Most tourists in Prague flock to the well-known landmarks, which made traveling from place to place quite difficult. We reached the John Lennon wall and it was filled with inspirational quotes, lyrics, names, and symbols related to Lennon from tourists throughout the years. A local guitarist played Beatles music as tourists came and went, creating a friendly and inviting atmosphere.

The entire wall – not as big as I had imagined, but a unique landmark to see in person.

The roommates and I enjoying the nice weather

 

Lastly, but surely not least: The Trdelnik. My roommates and I referred to them as “turtlenecks” during the weekend for lack of a better pronunciation. For no more than 120 Kč (koruna – Czech’s currency), these heavenly sweets are a great purchase. 1 Czech koruna = 0.039 USD, which means a trdelnik can go for anywhere between $2.34 – $4.68. Trdelnik’s are served as a cone with ice cream, whipped cream and strawberries, etc. or a cylinder-shape with cream, Nutella, chocolate, etc. filled on the inside. The dough is wrapped around a stick to be shaped and cooked golden-brown, and is covered in sugar, nuts, and various candy toppings. Finally, the spread or topping is added and it is served warm. A melt in your mouth dessert.
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The process of making these sugary treats

The trdelnik in one of many forms. Although I wouldn’t choose ice cream as a filler again, it sure was just as delicious as it looks.

Alpine Adventures

This past weekend, my roommates and I ventured to Switzerland – home of Swiss cheese, Swiss chocolate, Swiss Army knives and of course, the Swiss Alps. My trip was filled with incredible views and adventures. The small town of Interlaken sits far down in a valley between two lakes (Brienz and Thun), with the Swiss Alps surrounding the area. The Youth Hostel we stayed in is bunk bed style like most, the view from our window showed a large mountain with houses placed along the Aare river. The free breakfast was delicious and we were in a decent location, although a little far from the downtown area.

A forecast of rain and fog throughout Friday put a damper on our plans, but we still went exploring in our rain coats and umbrellas. The water was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Minerals from the mountain tops flow down into the lakes and river, creating crystal clear water in a vibrant turquoise color that is safe to drink from. Our guide told us it was the prettiest color she had ever seen due to the weather.

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My roommates and I exploring on a foggy day

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View from the hostel

After our nature walk, my roommates and I walked into the downtown area to check out the shops and restaurants. We visited the Funky Chocolate shop everyone raves about and I had the best, richest hot chocolate of my life. This quaint shop offers chocolate making lessons, which is pretty cool, but we decided to spend our time drinking it.

Swiss hot chocolate tastes as good as it looks

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The rain couldn’t keep us away from swiss chocolate

The word “free” was all I needed to see to sign up for the next adventure – a walking tour around Interlaken and the neighboring town. On this walk, the guide gave us some background information on the town and took us to some of his favorite spots. The tour turned into a short hike up one of the mountains, where we visited Alpine ibex (mascot animal of Switzerland), saw some amazing views of the city, and filled our water bottles straight from the glacier water streaming down the mountain. I really enjoyed this tour and have learned that whenever its possible for a local to give advice, a tour, etc., take it. The locals will know the best places to eat, visit, and what to do around town.

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Every town in Switzerland has their own sign, we were able to explore both of them.

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There are endless activities to try in Interlaken, whether its skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowshoeing, hiking, and so on, any activity would be amazing. My activity of choice for the weekend: Paragliding Interlaken. The bus ride up to the takeoff point only took fifteen minutes and a short hike. The guides laid out their parachutes and hooked us in, then with a few quick steps and a running start, the wind took the parachute and we were up in the air. It was absolutely incredible and better than any view from a mountain or plane window. Paragliding is special because flying through the air, above the towns and lakes, and through the mountains gives an overwhelming sense of being free and courageous at the same time. Sebastian was my guides name and he was great, very friendly and funny. During the flight, we skimmed the side of the mountain and came just feet from the tops of the trees. The parachute caught an upwind numerous times, keeping us in the air longer, which allowed for more tricks. Sebastian even let me steer the parachute on the way down doing a move they call “the rollercoaster.” Twirling around in the air, I all of a sudden found myself sideways and we were spinning upside-down and I was loving every moment. The landing was easier than I could have imagined, we basically just started walking in mid air and the ground eventually met our feet. Throughout the fight, Sebastian took pictures and videos of my flight making for a great keepsake.

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Sebastian and I getting ready for takeoff

Somehow, he trusted me enough to let me steer

On Sunday we were given an odd amount of time in town before our bus left for Florence. With less than half the day to explore, we had enough time to buy souvenirs and re-hike the trail from yesterday. This time, we walked past the Ibex cage and a couple of us were invited inside. I was able feed them bread pieces and walk around their home. All fourteen of them followed us around the cage, getting a little too close for comfort. This was a neat experience not typically offered to tourists and goes to show that meeting new people while traveling has its benefits.

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Freddy the ibex outside his home on the mountains

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Attacking me for more bread

People say when spending full weekends traveling abroad, it’s nice to come back to Florence. I agree with this; however, this weekend was different and I was very much disappointed to be leaving. At my list of top places in the world, Switzerland has made its way to the top and I hope to find time in my future to revisit this beautiful country.