I’m officially home now, not jet-lagged, and readjusting to my schedule [or lack thereof] in America. I’m stuck at home, due to the forced self-quarantine after returning from a European country and I also cannot return to school [well I can but there’s no point since no one’s there] because school has been pushed to online learning for the rest of the semester. This whole coronavirus has absolutely shit on my senior year and I just want it to be over. I’m thankful, of course, that no one I know is sick and that I have adequate food, water, etc. [and toilet paper lol] at my disposal. However, I do wish I were still in Greece, just beginning my final week of teaching.
I miss Greece, I really do. I miss every single part of Thessaloniki, my school, all of it. I miss the everyday sunshine and I miss my balcony which gave me the perfect view of every sunrise and every sunset. I miss taking the bus to school even when it came 15 minutes late. I miss all of my students and I miss teaching them and talking to them about America and home and school and their home countries and literally anything and everything in between. I miss Thessaloniki. The city was my home for over two months and even though my time there was cut short I am so very appreciative of every single thing that it gave me.
I wish I could go back today. I’d hop on the next flight out of Chicago just to do it all again. I want to say goodbye to my students. I’m still heartbroken I didn’t get to. I wish I could drink one more frappe [I bought some coffee grounds to bring home but it’s not the same as from an authentic Greek café]. I wish I could walk along the seaside, smelling the salty air, feeling the wind in my face, while basking in the glory that is Mount Olympus.
Finally, I wish I could live alone again. It sucked while I was doing it, but I learned about myself and how to take care of myself which was more beneficial than anything else on that trip. I loved my cute little studio apartment with the smallest fridge and no washing machine.
Thessaloniki, I’ll be back one day. It might not be soon, unfortunately, but without a doubt, I’ll be back to see the White Tower, the Arch of Galerius, and Aristotelous Square, all while sipping on a frappe with a mediano amount of sugar, and eating Dolmathakias.
While making my way through some new European countries, I was able to make a visit to the Netherlands, specifically Amsterdam. I’ve always loved seeing people go to Amsterdam and share photos of the beautiful architecture, the canals, and more, so I KNEW I had to visit this remarkable city.
I, of course, did the free walking tour of Amsterdam. This two and a half hour walking tour took us all around the canal belt, taking in the sites that Amsterdam has to offer. Through this tour, as always, I found places I wanted to revisit closer, as well as learned a lot. I found out that Amsterdam was built on a marsh and all of the buildings are built on top of 20-50 tree trunks that were pushed 10 meters or so into the ground. That is why a lot of the houses and buildings are basically sinking and some of the facades are leaning in all sorts of directions. In order to get this whole ordeal fixed [the government goes around weekly telling homeowners which homes need new foundations], you have to pay a mere 250,000-500,000 euros and move out of your house for roughly two years while the tree trunks are pulled up and replaced with steel beams. No wonder this country is one of the most expensive to live in. I loved visiting, but I definitely will not be moving here anytime soon.
Of all the things I enjoyed in Amsterdam, the flower market was by far my favorite. There’s something about thousands of beautiful tulips and other flowers that just gets me going. Besides the tulips and tons of other flowers at the market, there’s also bunches of souvenirs available that I had to browse through. I found a few postcards, a tulip bulb in a box, and then a man gave me some fake tulips for free. It was very beautiful and definitely a top recommendation of mine if you do visit Amsterdam.
When planning my trip to Amsterdam something that completely slipped my mind was that the Anne Frank house is in Amsterdam. On the walking tour, we walked right past it and then talked about the history of it and how tickets sell out four months in advance [so obviously I will have to return to the city because I didn’t get to enter the museum or house]. I’ve been a huge fan of the Anne Frank Diary ever since I read it as a child and felt very connected to her as well because we share a birthday, so I’ve always wanted to see the house and learn more about her life. If you are planning on going to Amsterdam and have any interest in going to Anne Frank’s house, make sure you get your ticket in advance and be sure to be respectful of everyone visiting.
The canal belt in Amsterdam is what the city is probably most famous for. Following the canal belt is an easy way to not get lost in the city because if you pick a canal and follow it, they all lead back to the main river, the Amster river. On the river as well, you can see some of Amsterdam’s most famous architecture, tons of houseboats [which cost upwards of 1,000,000 euros just to buy the spot on the water… not even the boat itself], and a hell of a lot of bikers [in the Netherlands, there are roughly 2 bikes for each person and it’s the most common mode of transportation], that yes, will hit you if given the opportunity. I loved walking along the canal belt, seeing all the birds, greenery, families on bikes and walking around, cute dogs, and of course, all the homes that were tilting every which way. I could have spent days walking along all the thousand or so canals in Amsterdam if given the opportunity.
Something that I knew but had completely slipped my mind until I arrived in Amsterdam, was the amount of marijuana that people smoke there. When the hippies arrived in the 1970s, bringing with them all sorts of drugs ranging from weed to heroine to LSD, the government knew they had to step in. They saw that some of the drugs were killing people and others weren’t, so, they made drugs that were killing people like meth and heroine illegal, and they ignored the drugs that weren’t causing death or addiction such as marijuana. So, while marijuana isn’t legal in Amsterdam, it also isn’t illegal and the police just bat an eye at people smoking, eating, and buying any weed because it’s not causing harm to anyone. “Coffee shops” in Amsterdam are the hot spots to buy marijuana and there are roughly 90 locations that are allowed to sell it. So, if that’s your thing, head to any tourist destination or a coffee shop and enjoy a bit of weed if you have time.
The English reformed church is another place that I would highly recommend visiting. Located by the Begijnhof, the English reformed church is one of the oldest buildings in Amsterdam that hundreds of secular nuns used to live in and that women still live in today. You can walk through the courtyard and admire the statues and greenery while still being considerate of those who are living there.
All in all, Amsterdam was absolutely stunning and didn’t rain at all while I was there, so I lucked out 110%. I can’t wait to go back, buy some flower seeds and a ticket to Anne Frank’s home.
Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to Belgium for the weekend. After I found roundtrip airfare for $70 I knew I had to jump on this opportunity and take a visit. I’d never been to Belgium before, but I had a friend who visited last summer that absolutely adored the place, so I knew I had to visit if given the opportunity.
The first thing I have to say about this place, is, bring a damn umbrella. It didn’t rain on my first day, but it poured BUCKETS [after I had already styled my hair all cute to get a nice picture] so I walked around with a hat, gloves, scarf, raincoat on, but no umbrella, leaving the entire contents of my backpack soaking. Thank goodness it was my last day and I could allow my backpack to dry once I got home later that evening.
I’ve mentioned in other explore posts that I love free tours in big cities. Brussels was no exception. In Brussels, the city is divided into two parts: the upper city and the lower city. Therefore, Brussels has two free tours that run at different times of the day. The lower city is offered in the morning and the upper city is offered in the afternoon. I, of course, did both tours. The two tours combined offered everything I wanted to see in Brussels minus like two things which were kind of outside of the city, so I knew I had to do the tours. The tour guides were great, I learned a lot, and saw so many beautiful sights and got ideas for more places to go, so all in all, some pretty great tours.
If you visit Belgium, prepare to walk. Not only is the city on a damn hill but there is so much to see and it is spread OUT. Unlike some other cities like Sofia and Thessaloniki, which are cities that are in pretty close quarters, Brussels is very much all over the place which made me sure to get about 50,000 steps over the weekend. I definitely recommend gym shoes or at least shoes that you know you can do a lot of walking in. I wore some booties that I wear almost every day to school so I knew they were broken in and wouldn’t get blisters or have tired feet. Also, there are TON of beautiful parks in Brussels that you HAVE to visit. Lots of greenery, statues, fountains, and some very weird and interesting birds make for the perfect break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Belgium is known for its Belgian waffles and let me tell you, I have been so sad that I’m vegan for the sole reason of not being able to try these traditional delicious foods that everyone raves about. However, I managed to find a VEGAN, yes VEGAN, Belgian waffle restaurant and I almost cried. I knew I had to make a visit and ethically try a Belgian waffle in their home of Belgium. If I return to Brussels, I will be making another trip to #VEGANWAF. When I tell you, this was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in my entire life, I’m not lying. I got one waffle [more than enough] covered in chocolate sauce. There’s something about a warm waffle and warm chocolate sauce after just coming out of the pouring rain that really just… hits different. Also, the man who worked at the place was such an angel [and thought I was from the UK for some reason] and we chatted about Greece, summer, and Brussels while I enjoyed my delicious waffle.
This is something I’m soo NOT proud of. When I’m abroad I like to eat at traditional food and drink locations and try new things. However, I’ve been missing home, I really have. And sometimes when I’m homesick, I go to Starbucks. There’s something about an after-school Starbucks run with my little sister for a lemonade with no ice and a black tea lemonade that gets me reminiscing on my home and summertime and that’s what Starbucks always makes me think of. There are no Starbucks in Greece. However, I found a Starbucks in the train station in Brussels and an almond milk latte and vegan donut were just what the doctor ordered. I immediately didn’t feel homesick at all and was ready to continue traveling. So, if you’re missing home or American coffee, Brussels has you covered.
All in all, Brussels was beautiful. I would definitely recommend taking a visit, eating as many Belgian waffles as you want, and soaking in all that the city has to offer.
Hi all, It’s my last week here in Greece and I’m feeling two emotions: I’m beyond excited to go home to see my friends, family, dog, and eat good vegan American food. I’m also devastated to leave. I love all of my students and have made great friends while I’ve been here that I don’t want to possibly never see again. However, my time in Greece, for now, is coming to an end. If a Spanish teacher job opens up at Pinewood tomorrow or next year, you know I’ll be the first to apply because these students are just a joy and I love them all very much and will miss them dearly. However, I cannot wait to go home. Living alone in a foreign country has put me through the ringer [although I’m glad to have had the experience] and I wanted to share my experience and a little bit of advice I have to people who will move to a foreign country alone at some time in the near future.
Make friends! The best thing I did while in Greece has been to make friends. Making friends for me has been easy because most of them are at the school I’m teaching at. Meet people from your work or school or whatever you’re doing abroad. If neither of these work, download Bumble and pick the Bumble BFF setting to make new friends in any city you’re living in.
Get out and explore your new home! The biggest mistake I made during my first month and a half was not exploring Thessaloniki. I would come home from school, exhausted, watch Netflix, make dinner and then go to bed. It wasn’t until I realized my time in Greece is coming to an end that I realized I didn’t know the city at all except for a few places I’d been to while meeting up with friends. Even if you just google “fun, free things to do in _______” you can find tons of things to do in your new city.
Take care of yourself. Taking care of myself has been the hardest part about living on my own. Eating a bag of chips and watching Netflix all afternoon may seem like the best idea at the time but it’s really not. Getting up on time, going to bed early, going grocery shopping, doing my dishes, and cooking myself healthy food can be hard at times but it’s important that I do it. Creating routines and putting myself first during my time here has been absolutely important and very beneficial for me as well.
My last piece of advice about my time living in Greece is just to make the most the most of your time. It’s not every day or every lifetime that you can say you lived in a foreign country, even if just for a few months. Soak in every moment, try every new experience, eat new foods, and just enjoy all the moments, good or bad, because one day you’ll be back in your home country, wishing you were still living abroad.
When I first arrived in Thessaloniki, the first place I was told to visit was Sofia, Bulgaria. Just a five-hour bus ride from Thessaloniki which runs about nine times every day, Sofia is the perfect spot for a close and cheap, weekend getaway.
I will be honest, I don’t think I’d ever heard of Bulgaria before coming to Greece and if I had, I had no idea where it was on a map. This once communist country turned capitalist less than 50 years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Filled with history of the Ottoman empire, Roman empire, Turkish, Jewish, Muslim, Communist times, and more, there is enough history in this city to keep you there for weeks. Unfortunately, I only had roughly 48 hours to soak it all in.
I stayed on the outskirts of the city center which in many cities can mean long walks to any location you want to go to. In Sofia, on the other hand, it means anything in the city center you want to see is 15 or less minutes walking.
My first recommendation is to take the Free Sofia Walking Tour. This tour runs 3 times a day [4 in the summer] and hits over 20 of Sofia’s hottest spots. I did this walking tour on Sunday morning at 11am. I would have done the 6pm tour the night before but I wanted to see everything in daylight. Whenever I go to a new city I always check to see if they have a walking tour and try to do it the first day I arrive. This gives me the chance to see all the big sites, get to know my way around, and make a list of everything I still want to do on my trip.
Before I arrived in Sofia, I looked up all of the must-see sights when I visited. Only 3 of the sights I wanted to see weren’t on the walking tour, so I checked those out when I arrived on Saturday. I took a stroll down Vitosha Blvd [called this because you can see Vitosha mountain when walking on it] which is filled with restaurants, high-end shops, and more. I refrained from buying anything other than a snack because I wanted to save my money for the next day if I stumbled upon anything before during or after my walking tour that I had to have that wasn’t some designer piece I could [if I had the money haha] buy anywhere.
The sun set at about 5:45 so I made it back to my Airbnb at around 6pm to avoid getting lost in the dark. I made myself some pasta for dinner, wrote a bit, and then watched the one English channel on the TV. It was called Fine Living which turned out to mix of HGTV and TLC but from the mid 2000s. Still, I enjoyed a bit of TV in a foreign country as well as relaxing after my long day of travel and walking around.
Sunday morning, I watched the sunrise from my Airbnb, packed my bag up and was out the door for my walking tour. I left earlier than I needed to so that I had the chance to walk around Vitosha again and grab breakfast. I found this cute place called Vitamin C. they had a variety of [vegan!!!] smoothies, juices, homemade health bars, etc. I opted for this sunflower seed and peanut butter bar which was delicious as well as the Raspberry bomb smoothie which had the obvious of raspberries paired with lime, avocado, mango, spinach, and coconut milk. My only critique you may ask: NO ICE. I don’t know what it is about Europeans having such a stick up their ass about ice cubes, but they do. Still, my room temperature smoothie was delicious, and I’d definitely go again. After this, I stumbled upon a souvenir shop where I bought a few postcards and some rose soap [something Bulgaria is known for] before continuing my stroll to the Palace of Justice, where the tour commenced.
For roughly two and a half hours, I walked around Sofia with a group of 20 or so other foreigners and Dino, our tour guide. He took us to all of Sofia’s historic sites and enlightened us on the grand history of Sofia and all of Bulgaria. He gave us recommendations on food, sites, museums, and more, as well as a good time during the tour. I got to see every aspect of Sofia that I’d wanted to and by the end of the tour could maneuver the city like a pro. After the tour, I had a few hours before my bus left for Thessaloniki, so I grabbed a cup of coffee from Costa coffee, a Bulgarian favorite, and continued my walk through the various parks and monuments that I wanted to revisit or didn’t get as close to as I’d wanted during the tour.
All in all, Sofia stole my heart. Every other building is yellow [including the palace turned history museum, the Starbucks, and every other building I took a photo of], I lucked out with a beautiful weekend of sunshine and 60 degree weather [in FEBRUARY], and I enjoyed the best tap water I’ve ever had while embracing a 7000 year-old city and all it had to offer.
Have you ever been to a Balkan country? Which one?
Eep! I’ve officially been in Greece for two months! It’s crazy to me that I have one month more and then I head home and then I’ll head back to school for graduation. Honestly, I can’t wait to go home. Greece has kicked my ass and honestly, all I want is to be home, eating Chipotle and drinking Gatorade while cuddling my dog.
I got the flu [the entire school and I believe it was actually coronavirus that we all had because it was more similar with that than the flu so… I survived the coronavirus 😉 ] and kept my fever and cough for about a week and a half after. I completely lost my appetite which meant I was eating one meal a day which left me absolutely exhausted and going to bed at 6pm each night [and still waking up at 6:30 the next day just as exhausted as the day before]. Greece sucks when it comes to having comfort flu food. All I wanted [needed] was an orange popsicle and a yellow Gatorade and honestly, I think I would have been cured [my grandma always gave me popsicles and my dad gave me Gatorade when I was little and sick, and they worked like a charm]. Alas, Greece has neither [at least the nearest grocery store to me doesn’t which is the only place I could walk to when I was dying] so I had to settle for blue Powerade and quite possibly the worst strawberry popsicle smoothie thing that I’ve ever eaten.
My computer crapped out on me. My sweet MacBook is almost five years old and I knew she was on her last leg. Every time I turn my laptop on I do a small little prayer in my head that all is well and that she lives to see another day. A few weeks ago [right in the middle of my edTPA mind you] I turned my laptop on, and my keyboard and trackpad did not work. Only the power button worked. I turned it on and off countless times before shedding a tear that half my life and my entire edTPA was on that computer. Somehow, three days later, I turned the computer on again, and it worked. It’s been hit or miss each day but most days but usually, after shutting it off and turning it back on five or so times, I have a fully functioning computer and can get some work done. I would go try to get this checked out, but, with the lack of Greek I’ve acquired, I without a doubt could not manage in an electronic repair shop.
Finally, school is just hard. I love all of my students [they are the only reason I wouldn’t want to leave Greece if I’m being honest] and they love me as a teacher which is the sweetest thing but I’m having trouble with a few adults at the school that I’d really prefer not to mention specifically just in case somehow someone from my school sees it. Working with adults is harder than working with children and I’ve decided that department meetings will be harder than actually teaching in my future because adults are just so damn stubborn and close-minded and NOT open to change.
I’m currently focusing all of my energy on getting through the next month unscathed and unstressed.
Adjusting to Greece has been, in short, absolute hell. I love it here, I really do, however, I am struggling like no other. I spent my first 5 days alone outside of school with the exception of the three times that I spent with my coordinating supervisor. Every other time I’ve been to a new country I’ve been with people. This time, I’m completely alone. When I’m alone I retreat into my room, watch TV, play on my phone and sleep. And honestly, that’s all I’ve done this week besides the time I was actually at school.
I arrived Monday night an hour late. I was picked up at the airport at about 10pm. I made it to my apartment and talked with my host and supervisor for a while and was finally alone at 11:30pm. I unpacked a bit and fell asleep.
The next morning, I was picked up at 3 to go walk by the sea, explore my community and get coffee. I told myself I would explore on my own beforehand as well as go grocery shopping. I left my apartment for the first time at about 1:30 and went to a corner store nearby. I bought bread, pasta, lentils, etc. They only had nonperishables.
On Wednesday, I woke up at 3:30 and was awake until the following night. I was picked up at 8:30 from my apartment and we drove to school. I met at least 25 different people whose names I couldn’t tell you now. I then on 4 hours of sleep, had to observe 5 classes during the next 6 hours. I got home, cooked myself dinner and went to bed at 6:30.
Thursday I woke up at 1:30am and was awake, once again, until the following night. Never in my life has jetlag affected me this hard, or at all really. I watched TV and tried to go back to sleep, without prevail, until my alarm went off at 5:45 and it was time to shower. I drank an entire pot [10 cups] of coffee this morning and boy did I need it.
After school that day, I was told to get on the wrong bus and ended up in a suburb I’d never heard of [not that I’d heard of any of the suburbs in Thessaloniki] which was a 97-minute walk from my house. With no uber, lyft, or way to get a taxi, I walked to a shell station which had wifi, called my dad and sobbed. It definitely wasn’t a matter worth crying over but my sleep-deprived, caffeinated self needed a good cry. A woman who spoke perfect English came over, comforted me, and got me a cab home. I’m forever indebted to this woman. I got home this night, cooked dinner, and went to bed.
Friday morning was the latest I slept, waking up at a smooth 4:00am. I made coffee early that morning and got ready for school. Fridays, are my new favorites because I get to spend the majority of the day with the ELL teacher. Something about her is very comforting and I love being in her class. Friday evening, I took 2 Benadryl and went to sleep.
Saturday was really good. I spent the morning with the COST coordinator here at an open market [it reminded me of a market I frequented in Spain] and at a cute little coffee shop. I got to spend the evening with 2 former COST students turned teachers as well as another teacher from America. We got dinner and drinks and the whole night was a ton of fun.
Sunday was a day just for me. I woke up at 11 [thank the lord for sleep], ate breakfast [pasta because I ran out of bread and I forgot that shops are closed on Sundays], and relaxed all day. I could have explored, I could have done anything, but I didn’t. I finally did a bit of schoolwork and activity planning at around 8pm but all in all, I needed a day to relax and I’m feeling much better about my time here. Albeit I’m still anxious about everything and afraid the students hate me as well as unsure about how I’m going to teach using a curriculum I have no practice in, but hey. I survived my first week in Greece and if I can survive the week that I did, anything is possible.
Hi all! I want to make a final wrap up on Spain in writing, however, I’m also trying to work on my editing skills to hopefully one day run a YouTube channel. So, for now, enjoy this video of my Spain trip [while you’re on my channel check out my Peru vlog too 🙂 ]
Airports for me have become quite a solace. They’ve become one of my absolute favorite places in the world: sitting at a café, coffee to my left and a blank word document staring back at me. Airports have definitely become one of my favorite places to write and so if anyone wants to hire me as a travel blogger to make this a common thing that I can do…. Let me know ;).
I am officially done with my study abroad trip and am sitting in the airport, belongings attached to me, so I don’t become a victim of another robbery in my last few hours in Europe.
Today is absolutely bittersweet. Saying goodbye to 22 of my new best friends was absolutely heartbreaking. I saw these people 5-7 days a week for the past 2 months, shared secrets, made memories, and in the end, we became a little family. To now not see them at all for 2 months ??? I’m not 100% sure if I’ll survive.
One of the girls in my group remarked at how we were basically Glee [which I am finally able to relate to because I started watching it this past semester]. We all had our own lives in Athens, our own friends, our own homes, our own hobbies. However, we shared something. We shared these 2 months in Spain. Therefore, these 22 people probably won’t be integrated with our friend groups back at school, however, they are still some of my best friends and I cannot wait for our times together as a group when we return to school.
As I sit here, reflecting on my time abroad, I feel ever so cliché. This trip really did change my life. I have seen some of the most amazing sights, met some of the most kind and caring people, improved my Spanish in more way than one, and more than anything, step out of my comfort zone every single day.
I visited 7 cities, 2 countries, tried new things, learned to cook traditional Spanish dishes, learned to Flamenco [sort of], and got TAN. I’m so grateful for Spain and all that it did for me as a person.
I’ve been doing quite a bit of thinking recently. Not that I’m not always doing quite a bit of thinking, but more now than usual.
My study abroad time is coming to a close and as sad as I am to leave this incredible country, I couldn’t be more ready to get home.
Usually, I do not miss home. And to be perfectly honest I didn’t miss home until this past Sunday. On Sunday, as I was waiting and studying in a Taco Bell [yes of all places] in Madrid with some friends during our two-hour layover there, my purse was stolen. I always preach about safe travel – keep your belongings on you at all times, zip pockets, only carry the necessities, etc. Yet somehow I was the idiot I always talk about. As much as I’ve loved my time in Europe and all of the people I’ve met and things I’ve done, there’s nothing like having belongings stolen that makes me want to wrap myself in a blanket burrito and watch Netflix in my own bed with my dog.
Everyone and their brother is losing their mind over this, asking to help in any way they can, saying they wish there had been another outcome, etc. Obviously, I feel the same but that’s not the case and no matter how much we dwell on this, my purse isn’t going to be returned.
A few weeks ago, my new friends and I were talking and somehow the topic of holding grudges came up. One of the guys said that girls hold grudges far longer and far more severe than guys do. To which of course we all agreed. Over the past few weeks, I’ve noted this and realized how ugly holding a grudge makes you.
Yes, I wish my purse hadn’t been stolen and that I didn’t have to head back to America a week before I had planned and that I had been able to go to Ireland, Scotland, and England. I wish I could get all of my money, cards, inhaler, birth control, etc. that was in my purse. Alas, I cannot do any of that.
And honestly… that’s 100% ok. Everything in that purse is replaceable. The only thing really causing me any sort of grief is my inhaler as I have been relying on it here with all of the people who smoke in Spain. Besides that… I can get a new driver’s license, a new school ID, another pair of Ray Bans, new Chapstick, etc. None of that is important.
So, this Saturday I will be heading back home. Not all bad though. I get to see my dog a week earlier, enjoy a nice bottle of ice water, and reacclimate to the US before spending a long 10 or so days in Minnesota with my dad’s family.
Things we are doing in 2019: enjoying the little things. Things we are not doing in 2019: dwelling on the things we cannot control.
And in the wise words of every single person on my trip: No pasa nada, when in fact, everything is pasando mucho.