Homecoming: Seville

It’s been a little under a month since my brother and I returned from our Europe excursion to revisit my home away from home, Seville.

It’s been very difficult to write this because reflecting on it triggers the sense that this experience is over.


 

The first thing I can say that made my heart warm was how much Matt loved the Spanish cuisine. Anything and everything he tried with an open mind and loved pretty much everything we ate. … Except for an unfortunate dish of tomatoes.

(Side note: don’t go to restaurants around the Cathedral, they are tourist traps. I knew that, but somehow got sucked into a restaurant that was advertising vegan meals, since we craved greens or something that wasn’t salted ancient ham or fried fish.)

We nearly gasped when we saw a vegan restaurant, and we were so happy we ordered a big salad for the two of us. Matt sat there, all excited to eat something sustaining and good for his body, but boy did this dish do nothing but disappoint.

We saw the server come out from the kitchen with literally, I kid you not, about 12 thin sliced tomatoes with a garnish and vegan cream cheese. The cream cheese is great, and most who know me know how much I appreciate healthy vegan food, but 18 euros for sliced tomatoes just seemed absurd. The best part? I got to eat every last bit. My brother took one bite and nearly convulsed.

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I mean, he was just not eating that. I laughed extremely hard as he tried to contain his hunger as I sucked down enough vitamin C, vitamin A, and biotin to last me the week.

After that, we naturally had to get a second lunch because well, Matt didn’t eat anything.

We had heard great things about this little bar Bodega Santa Cruz which is in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, the neighborhood directly behind the Cathedral. It was exactly what we needed. Hundreds of tapas for max 4 euros a piece.

We had our eye on the paella and some small montaditos (little sandwiches) with the famous tortilla de patatas (egg and potato casserole-type thing) or aged jamón ibérico (super old, salty, delicious curated ham). So delicious. Be sure to come here if you’re ever in Seville. The bartenders are sure to make you laugh and feel at home, and that’s why I come back to this great place. When you’re here, everyone’s family.

 

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Check out some of the other amazing dishes we had in Seville and where they can be found:

Empanadillas [2(little empanadas) found in Mercado Lonja del Barranco

This market has everything you ever need to taste in Spain available at your fingertips. Croquetas (fried pureed cod with potatoes or any other meat/cheese), empanadas, paella, wine, beer, you name it, they’ve got it. This is your one stop shop for all things tasty for an affordable price.

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Tortilla de Patatas [3€] found in Mercado Lonja del Barranco

Tortilla de patatas is the Spanish omelette made with eggs and potatoes, sometimes it can have onions included. This place that sold enormous slices like this one below had green tinted ones for a spinach omelette, a black tinted one for Octopus’ ink, and a red one for a pepper infused one. The orange-looking dip is salmorejo, another famous Spanish dish that is a cousin to gazpacho, but a thicker, creamier version.

Matt practically lived on this. He had it for breakfast and an early dinner snack every day. It’s that good.

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Croquetas [5€] found in Mercado Lonja del Barranco

These little bites of heaven are famous tapas throughout Spain and are breaded and fried purée of pretty much anything minced with potatoes. I ordered the ham croquetas, which had finely chopped ham bits with potatoes and sometimes egg covered in breadcrumbs and fried. The inside can be of cheese, just potatoes, veggies, eggs, fish, etc. These are a staple in Spain!

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Montaditos [1€] (little sandwiches) found at 100 Montaditos

100 Montaditos is a place where dreams do come true. 100 tiny sandwiches, which all come with a side of chips, are at your disposal for 1 euro. That’s it. They even have gluten-free beer and bread options! If we weren’t really that hungry, but wanted to munch, we went here. And they even had salads for under 4 euro if you were recovering from a carb overload. This place is amazing. We need these for the late nights out because it’s a little portion and you won’t regret eating it in the morning because they’re so tiny and cute.

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Paella [5€] (spanish rice with seafood, veggies, and/or chicken)

You can never go wrong with paella, ever.

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Food wasn’t all we loved, but it definitely was a big part of our happiness.

A highlight we both vividly remember was the climb up and down the Cathedral. A change in perspective makes appreciating an innately beautiful place that much more meaningful. Seville was beautiful on the ground looking up but the view from the bell tower of the Cathedral was simply jaw-dropping. The 34 ramp climb was well worth it.

The experience is interesting. You leave the main Cathedral and these views

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…to the dark and dim hallways that lead up to the tower. You’ll climb a few stories in a very dark environment to find a crevice of light that increasingly climbs with intensity as stories rise.

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…Until you eventually reach this….

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…then THIS.

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Totally awe-inspiring.


I showed Matt where I studied and he was amazed. I’m still dumbfounded by the mere fact I was able to call this place home for a blip in my life that felt like an eternity while I was living it.

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We spent one night watching the sun set along the Guadalquivir River. We sat at the edge of the river, with our feet almost brushing the surface of the tranquil water. I showed Matt Calle Betis from a distance and how the colors of the buildings were purposeful, to indicate to sailors where certain produce should go. Now it’s a bar hopper’s paradise. Pretty cool and now it makes for an excellent photo opportunity.

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It was when we were here where I started to feel something other than joy and nostalgia, but a touch of sadness and reflection on my time spent here. I sat in this same place with different people who truly made my experience the positive one it was. Without the people I studied abroad with and the luck I had in having such an incredible group, I might not feel the same way about this place.

That’s how I feel about most places I visit. The people are the largest part of the culture that determines how I feel. The intensity of my experiences are measured by the spectrum of people I encounter. This may have large in part due to the fact that I crave to hear stories from people and that I feel most complete when I feel that I have truly connected with someone on some level. I am a social person by every means of the word. It makes sense that travel is addicting for me due to the fact that I get to meet different people of all walks of life but who somehow always have a common ground with you in some way shape or form.

Sitting in this exact spot I sat with the small group of unique individuals that forever changed my life, felt odd. It was really touching to revisit this place, but in some way it didn’t feel complete just in this one spot. It was a ritual we all did together, and since I was there without them, it made me realize how much my experiences are shaped by the people my life’s path crosses with. But the beauty is, my feelings towards all of those people were so true, so real, that I am capable of having those deep feelings upon simply sitting in one specific spot in Seville. To feel something so profound is tough but also something I am extremely thankful for. It just means study abroad was the absolute best it could’ve been for me and I was lucky enough to meet the people I did.

Sharing it with my brother flipped the sadness to happiness, for I looked at his face and the small smile he had appearing and I just hoped that this trip made him realize that we live in such a small bubble and seeing more than what we’re comfortable with will surprise you in the best ways possible. It will give you fulfillment you didn’t know you were craving or needed.


Matt and I had a great time together, and I feel incredibly lucky to have the relationship I do with my two brothers. To be able to travel without killing each other is a blessing in itself. This was a trip I will never ever forget, and part in because I got to share an enormous part of passion and love for Spanish with someone I love just as much and even more.

Thanks for an unforgettable trip, Matt – it wouldn’t have been the same had I’d gone alone. You made this trip!

 

 

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Lagos

I had the great privilege of visiting the Dona Ana Beach in Lagos, Portugal a year ago while studying abroad and it was one of the places I remember vividly due to its jaw dropping view.

Naturally, it was a necessity to bring my brother to a place people only dream of on postcards and BuzzFeed videos. This is THE place to be.


DAY ONE:

10:10 AM: Train departs from Lisbon. We were in 2nd class high speed train, which was great. Bathrooms and comfortable seats, what else do you need? (WiFi would’ve been nice, but it wasn’t working, so instead I caught up on the much needed zzz’s I needed.) 

We only had one transfer to the regional train in the Algarve, Portugal. The anticipation was building, I could feel it.

3:10 PM: Arrival in Lagos. We popped right out of the train station and the sun was blazing. The temperature difference from Lisbon to Lagos was now apparent. Beads of sweat collected on our foreheads, but that just meant it was time to hit the beach.

The next struggle we had to overcome was finding our hotel, but I booked Hotel Marina Rio because of it’s incredible location. It’s right over the bridge of the marina, which is a few steps away from the train station. Even better, it’s backyard is the bus station which would take us to our next stop, Sevilla. Sounds like a not so great atmosphere, but it was. Our hotel overlooked the hundreds of docked boats and the stunning water.

(With the affordable lodging price, you get a continental breakfast, a clean room – really I almost slipped on the newly waxed floors! , air conditioning, and a place to recharge. It was perfect. Would highly recommend this place to anyone heading to Lagos.)

3:30 PM: We dropped our bags and slipped into our bathing suits and SLATHERED every inch of our bodies – I knew I would be a lobster come the end of the day.

TIP: If you’re an international traveler with limited data or no international phone plan, make sure to use your Maps App that comes with your smartphone, it is a lifesaver. While it doesn’t let you look up specific paths to places, it will let you see your location on a map and if you zoom in, can see all the attractions. All you have to do is create that magic blue line that connects point A and B. It’s like an interactive map but you’re the driver. 

I used my maps app to navigate, which helped, but of course, they aren’t always 100% accurate. So, speaking to natives at a nearby bar was a necessity unless we wanted to wander in blistering head for another hour. They were kind, and responded respectively to me attempting to use Spanish as a common language. There was clearly a language barrier, but I followed their inflection in their voices and the direction they pointed and off we went.

I felt the salty breeze about a few hundred feet from the bar and I knew we were close. I remembered this feeling. It’s the kind of breeze that leaves a sea salt scent people now pay for in beauty stores in form of a lightweight spray.

50 more feet – inches away.

After following the labyrinth of cobblestone streets, you turn a corner and BAM. This stares you right in the face.

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Matt’s exact words were: holy s***.

Yeah, that’s real.

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You can imagine our happiness to see something so flippin’ beautiful.

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A year later, it still takes my breath away.

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We made our way back after our skin started screaming from the heat – and the walk back was much easier. The town of Lagos is much like most of small cities in Europe: full of life. Everyone is drinking a beer or a sparkling wine over a small meal, or tapas. We watched people, wondered where they came from, what their story is, and ate whatever we could get our hands on.

That night, we started to feel the effects of acclimating to high heat indexes. We were wiped out. We stayed in for a bit only to venture out at night to get a sorbet. Crema di Gelato satisfied every chilling, fruity craving I had. The gelato and sorbet is made with local ingredients, which is an added plus to the cheap price of 2 euro. Turns out you can buy a scoop of happiness.


DAY TWO

6:55 AM: Ew, I never wanted to get up this early on vacation, but I wanted to get a proper breakfast in before hitting the road for my favorite place on earth, Sevilla.

The continental breakfast didn’t disappoint, not even a little bit. The spread of sliced meats, cheeses, fruits, breads, and coffees were good. There was more than enough and we took some fruit and nuts for the road.

8:00 AM: We took one last look from the roof of our hotel before making the long 30-step walk to the bus station.

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What a sight, and the silence that came with is was refreshing.

8:30 AM: Strapped in, ready for my real homecoming – we were on our way to Sevilla.


 

 

Lisboa

I needed a homecoming, not an escape. I needed something familiar, something comforting in the midst of the post grad chaos. I craved Europe.

This time, I took my brother in hopes to spark a sense of enlightenment and really open his eyes as to how study abroad changes the course of your life in the best way possible. You have a home away from home, a place wrapped with memories only you hold, and it’s the best feeling to return to familiarity no matter the stage of life you’re in.

Contrary to this, I never got to go to Lisbon, Portugal while I studied abroad, but I had heard nothing but positive experiences. That’s where our story starts.


DAY ONE:

3:04 PM: We finally made it to our hotel in Lisbon after a three hour delay from the states.

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Surprisingly, the metro in Lisbon was pretty easy to navigate. It reminded me a lot of Washington, D.C.’s metro with its color coordinated lines with clearly marked signs as to which direction the train directed. Super easy and was helpful after such a long flight. It’s safe to say we collapsed after finding our beds. 

After awaking from a 3 hour hibernation, we made the most of the night ahead of us. 

We took the metro to the Baixa metro stop. First, we got sucked into the tourist trap of the Santa Justa Elevator that takes you to an overlook of the entire Lisbon city. 

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Tip for future travelers: approach the elevator from the hotel around back, not from the bottom of the hill, but rather, the top. This way, you avoid the €5.10 fee. The overlook from the hotel is just under €2. (The €5.10 fee includes the overlook – you just get to ride up the old historic elevator which makes you question why you put your life’s hands in such an old piece of metal.)

But, to be honest, you can’t really put a price on that view. We stayed and watched the sun hit the beautiful white buildings capped with red and pink hues from all different angles, changing by the minute as the sun set, and created picturesque scenery. 

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From there, we walked down the hill to find this little vegan restaurant tucked away in Baixa-Chiado region, called Organi Chiado

The menu was limited, only a few items for starters, entrees and desserts. But this was probably the BEST meal we had in Lisbon because of the quality of food this place served. Matt had the bean burger which came with a salad and roasted vegetables. I had the salad which had fresh oranges on top and a scoop of sticky rice in the middle of the plate. I’m not sure what kind of seasoning they put on their veggies, but WOW vegan never tasted so good. 

Our bill came to a cheap €20 for these two entrees, a big liter of water, and a beer. And we were fully satisfied.

Miles on foot: 5.7 


DAY TWO:

We said we would wake up early to workout the night before, but we all know that most definitely did not happen. The jet lag was so real.

9:30 AM:  We hurried downstairs to catch the last half hour of complimentary breakfast. It was worth the crawl out of bed. Our hotel, the DoubleTree at Fontana Park, served one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. Fresh fruit, pastries, eggs, tomatoes, cheese and meat platters, and even chia seed pudding (yes, really!) Breakfast came with orange juice, any kind of fruit infused water you can think of, and coffee, coffee, coffee

(For those health conscious, this site offers limited gluten-free options and there’s very little that’s dairy-free, but you can easily go buy things you need at the grocery stores around town or cafés that charge as little as €3 for a breakfast.)

10:30 AM:  Pç. Figueira to take Tram 15E to Belém. Belém is about 6K away from the city center of Lisbon, and it’s about €1.45 for a ride. (We found the only people who actually paid were the tourists, since it’s a machine operated ticket spot inside the tram, not an actual person, but hey we paid because I believe it would return us some good traveling karma.) The ride was bumpy and filled with charm – just about 30 minutes.

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We got off at the Monasterio stop, and enjoyed the view of the majestic building, but opted not to go inside, since several schools decided to take field trips today. 

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We popped into a small café and I had my first European espresso on the trip – wow I forgot how good it was. (€1.50)

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We then walked along the river for some time, which was beautiful. The marina was stunning, and each boat docked had its own personality. 

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We continued walking towards the Torre de Belém, and we stumbled upon the funniest tourist trap ever.

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It looked like a bunch of outdoor exercise equipment, so Matt and I checked it out. There was no one using this stuff and we soon discovered why. The so called “exercise” machines were just ways to embarrass yourself voluntarily. The machines had weird names too, like “the surf,” which made the person using it look like they forgot how to use their legs. There was another one that made you look like you were bull riding. It was pretty hysterical. Matt tried most of them. I laughed. And laughed.

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(If you’re in Lisbon, you MUST get these custards — to die for.)

The walking and sightseeing and blistering heat created a mean recipe for hunger. One of the only things I like about social media is people give you recommendations about places they’ve been to and give you the best feedback when traveling. A great inspiration of mine, a young 20-something traveled Europe for a year while she taught English in Spain and she just happened to know of the BEST food in Lisbon. Turns out, Tu e Eu was a hole in the wall at the top of a steep cobblestoned hill a hike and half away from our lodging, but it was well worth the trip.

Our waitress welcomed us warmly, attempted to speak the broken English she could through her bright teeth as she beamed in her green cloth apron with her hair loosely pulled back behind her ears. She gave us the best tapas, including sausage and an egg over easy, a mixed pickled salad, spinach, and the softest rice I’ve had. This place had about four tables total, and an outdoor terrace, but it was a place filled with good times. The walls are inundated in black marker scribbles from customers all over the globe who thanked the owners for their kind hospitality and some even wrote memories they had in this tiny restaurant.

Places like Tu e Eu is what makes traveling worthwhile. It’s not the touristy things, it’s these small experiences, the people. The culture. The willingness to learn and soak in the new tastes and to appreciate all walks of life.

Miles on foot: 8.6


 

 

 

City of Stars & Hawaii

Hi friends,

I know, I dropped off the face of the earth for a few months. Truth is, it’s been a crazy couple of months, filled with a sense of wonder, uncertainty, and excitement as my last semester in college comes to a close and the next step is still undecided. I’ve still been traveling! Just trying to take a step back from social media and really BE in the moment.

But, I’m back. This last big trip of mine was one to remember, for it was in a place I never thought I’d make it to in this life: Hawaii. Perks of studying abroad: having friends in all time zones. My best friend who recently came into my life lives there. We met studying abroad and surprisingly, our friendship has flourished even more being 5,000 miles apart from one another. Go figure.

If you know me, my favorite thing about traveling is meeting people. That’s the selling point for me. So, as you can imagine, meeting Alya’s parents was a field day for me. Even better? They live in Pasadena, CA. Perrrrfect. I mean, could have a cooler friend? She’s from Cali and goes to school in Hawaii. What. A. Dream.

LA really is the city of stars, it’s a magical place and after just seeing the musical La La Land, the Hollywood sign and Observatory meant so much more to me. (If you haven’t seen this film yet, you need to drop whatever you’re doing now and go. I’m serious. Like now.)

My time in LA was limited, short of two days. We went to the Huntington Library & Gardens and stepped through different botanical greens and I got to see Gutenberg’s first print ever in the museum – pretty cool to actually see the history you’ve studied your whole life.

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I mean how cool is it to see the first book printed by the printing press in person?!?!img_7727

No matter how much I see when I go away, what amazes me more is the great conversations you have with people. My favorite part of the LA trip was having dinner with Alya’s parents and brother, for meeting the people who shaped my best friend was touching and truly special.

We hopped on a flight together to Hawaii after 48 great hours right outside of LA, and when we approached the border, I peered out the window and saw a glistening isolated green piece of terrain that made my jaw drop. I really can’t even put the correct words to it, for no word or picture does this place justice. It is like a different planet. (And the best part is, it’s still our country!)

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Can’t beat that killer view sky high.

We did so much in Hawaii. And, it’s that much more special when you have someone to show you around and know where the best local spots are.

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Hiking was one of our favorite pastimes. It is so peaceful and the little treasures nature has tucked away for you just a few miles in the volcanic woods is priceless.

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This was one of the many things Alya had me eat, and apparently if you have their logo tattooed on you and you show it to them, you get lifetime discounts. Man is Hawaii cool.

The highlight of the Hawaii trip, was of course the breathtaking views like this one:

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Or this one:

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But, it was this one that left me speechless after a dark hike up a mountain at 5 a.m. we were rewarded with this stunning view that will forever be engrained in my mind:

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No filter needed.

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I mean, come on. It looks like a watercolor painting.

I remember Alya asking me if I was alright because I was so silent, but the truth was I couldn’t believe my eyes. There’s no other description for my feelings. I mean, how could something so simple that happens every day be so beautiful? My thought is, where ever you are in the world, if you’re ever doubting anything or feeling low, get up when no one else is, walk in the dark, and be woken up from the sun’s rays. It will make you feel more alive than ever. It’s a powerful experience always and from a mountain top, euphoric.

I was spoiled to say the least on this trip. Alya’s sister, Kiah, works on a crew ship and we had the privilege of joining her for several trips on this stunning boat. To just be on the water, out in its vastness, is such an incredible feeling. You’re alone, taking in the beauty of the island from a new perspective and everything else is just a Jimmy Buffet song. It was perfect. Perfect.

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I mean, pretty crazy that stuff is real.

We visited Pearl Harbor another day and that was an interesting experience. You think that history doesn’t emotionally affect you, but when I stood in front of all those names and saw where the Arizona had sunk, I felt something deep in my core. What a day in history. What an incredible thing to be able to honor those who fell for my ability to stand.

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All in all, this was one of the best trips I ever bought for myself. Again, it all comes down to who you meet, and how that can alter your choices long after that. Because of my choice to go to Spain, I met Alya. Because of Alya, I visited Hawaii. Because of the people I met in Hawaii, including Alya’s friend Randy who just relocated to Washington, D.C., I continue to smile and giggle at all the funny things life throws at you and how so much of it is truly a blessing.

Thank you, Alya. For your friendship and hospitality means more than words can express. Thank you, Sevilla, for giving me her friendship that has survived a five hour time difference. Thank you, universe for allowing me to travel. It’s been nothing but beneficial.

 

Cheese Curds & Precious People

A change of scenery is what I needed. People asked me, why Wisconsin? And I thought, why not?

My friend Rose from high school was the reason I visited. I had a place to stay, great company, and excited to see her home away from home for the last three and half years. Madison, Wisconsin was exactly what I needed in November. It was a nice change of pace, and my favorite part was meeting people – no surprise there.

I took an ExpressJet to MSN, Dane County Regional Airport, a small, quaint little place. There were only a few dozen other people around, making finding my way around very easy. I went to touch up my makeup since I had fallen asleep on the flight, leaving my eyes half-shut and pieces of black mascara stuck on my face. A facility staff member spoke to me with a glimmering smile and comments about the forgiving warm weather the day gave. This was my first impression of Madison and I thought, here’s a piece southern hospitality in the north.

The cab driver was a character. Just fifteen minutes from campus, he managed to explain an entire elaborate story about how one of the star football players requests him for rides around town, and he does it, for a small fortune. He says, “futbawl is ah big thang here” and “we treat them players like family, I tell ya.” I had a feeling I’d like this place.

We pulled up to the art building, where I saw Rose emerge with a distressed tee and dark wash jeans, just as she always had before. I hadn’t seen her in quite some time, and she hadn’t changed a bit. She brought me to her art room, and she was in the middle of finishing work in the dark room. She’s talented, and when I say that I mean REALLY talented.

It was chilly the first day I arrived, but by the second day it was so cold I thought I needed a face mask. Regardless, walking around the adorable town of Madison was a treat. The view of the white Capitol was perfect contrast with the clear blue sky that day. We explored, had ice cream in 30 degree weather, and indulged in fried cheese over laughter that left us breathless.

There’s something really cool about seeing your friend of so many years in another environment, one you’re not a part of, and to see them with different eyes. I had only known high school Rose, and to see her here, it’s an interesting and funny feeling. It’s pretty cool when you mix chapters of your life and friends from different times in your life. And Rose’s friends, they surpassed any low expectations I had.

Katie was the first I met. Rose and Katie lived in an artist haven of an apartment. It was cute, full of character, and pieces of their artwork pinned here and there on any blank space of wall you could find. Katie is sweet, naturally beautiful with a touch of elegant edge. Claire I met over a dinner of cheese curds. For a girl who says she lives on ice cream and these bits of fried goodness, she looks unbelievable. Claire’s the kind of girl you want to be trapped on a deserted island with. She makes you laugh, compliments you when you may need it, and has this energy about her that you can’t help but be positive. Later that weekend, I met Amy, the blonde haired bombshell with artwork to set feminist values to a new height. Truly inspiring and not to mention, has a stellar sense of humor. Then there’s Jocelyn, a cross between Amy Adams’ subtle shyness and Rachel McAdams pure beauty. She’s motherly, warm, and so beautiful. Rachel, the quiet one according to Rose, made me laugh harder than anyone that night. Abbie, the effortless beauty, was the sweetheart who welcomed me with open arms. And Lindsay, she’s my spirit animal. She swears by The Office. That says it all. (They even let me be in their picture for friendsgiving – if that’s not love I don’t know what is!)

People are who I love. And from the few I met that weekend, it’s safe to say I’ll need to return one day.

***

Click for YouTube Link

 

 

Mount Mitchill

I’ve come to be quite spontaneous in the last year. Granted, I still love planning, it gives me a sense of satisfaction and control. But, the excitement of choosing a place to travel to, the day of, well, there’s nothing quite like that feeling. That’s what I’ve been doing. Every Friday, I don’t have class and I take full advantage of that. I pick a place, anywhere from 15 minutes to two hours away, that I can travel to by day’s end and then: I just go. It’s nice. It’s my time. I don’t have to wait on anyone else’s schedule, and I learn more about myself every time I go on one of these getaways. This time around, I’ve found that pulling over to get a killer picture isn’t always the safest thing to do in traffic, but once you see pictures, I think you’ll agree it was worth it.

So this past Friday, I picked Mount Mitchill. There are lots of places where you can see the New York skyline, and this is one of them. In addition, the drive to the overlook is stunning. The drive is through Navesink harbors, filled with massive boats, then it changed to the crisp autumn leaves with rich reds and maroons, leading me to the breathtaking view. Getting there is always half the fun. On my way there, I must have stopped maybe four times just because I thought, I can’t get this shot from inside of my car. So, I’d find the closest place to pull over, and then walk, with my wide lense camera, GoPro, and phone in hand. And yes, it’s always worth it. I climbed a steep hill, crossed on coming traffic on a thin side walk, practically froze because of the temperature difference with high altitudes, and probably more things that are escaping my memory – all to get a picture. But it’s funny, because now, just looking at those photos taken two days ago, I laugh at the struggle to get the right shot, to manipulate the lighting, but overall, the feeling of pure bliss I feel every time I do so. (Hence the name of this blog.)

Mount Mitchill is like any other overlook, however, this one wasn’t crowded. The difference that makes is enormous. I stood there, regretting forgetting my jacket at home, but wrapping myself in my own arms and watched boats go by which looked like ants from so high up. I got goosebumps on my face from the brisk wind, but again, it was all worth it. It’s a type of medidation for me to step away just a few towns over from Monmouth, to get away from the college bubble I live in, and remind myself of what I love most, seeing things that test my senses and encourage me to learn about more than just what I’m comfortable with. It’s my happy place, wherever I find that’s totally detached from what I’m comfortable with. Strange, right?

Then, I come home and relive those moments indefinitely from my GoPro videos to photographs. And that indescribable feeling is what keeps me going back to visit new places week after week.

It’s interesting to reflect on think how far I’ve come in the last year. I used to get nervous about going to new places, and I still do, to some extend, but I crave adventure, no matter how small, for one sole reason: I get the same blissful feeling everytime I go. You can’t mimik a feeling that intense. All I hope for is that people reading this make an effort to find beauty in the smallest things and to seek adventure – it’s the best investment, even if it just a 1/4 tank of gas, you’ll ever make.

University of Maryland

Crab cakes & football, that’s what Maryland is known for. Coming home is always a great feeling, but now, I get to come home and experience college with him. I can’t even begin to remember how long I’ve waited for this.

University of Maryland is one of those campuses college movies are made of. If I envisioned what college should be like, I see University of Maryland. The enormous, green campus of greek influenced architecture with enormous white columns that overwhelm every brick building to the sculptures of Testudo, the mascot – I mean that’s college. Walking around the campus with my little brother was a coming of age experience. I started to feel older, but I was so excited for this stage in his life. It’s a new beginning, a new start, and four years that shape who you are.

The fab five was all together this past weekend and we had loads of fun. It’s such an inexplicable feeling to have an unspoken, strong bond between siblings and parents. I’ll never forget when I was younger, I would tell mom that I hated how much I fought with my brother. She said, just wait until you both get older. Well, it’s safe to say moms are normally right. The three year age gap closed over time and now he’s the first person I turn to for anything.

This past weekend, we celebrated Maryland Men’s Soccer victory, rubbed Testudo’s nose for good luck, walked around the beautiful campus, almost fainted of head exhaustion in the nosebleeds of the football game, and volunteered to help fight hunger in the local area – all with laughs and smiles in between.

The fab five – Bill, Mar, Matt, Pete, and Jen – we’re something special. My greatest moments in life have been with these people, and to say that, well, I’m beyond blessed.

 

The Big Apple

Monmouth is an easy 1 hour and 15 minutes away from New York. Why I never took advantage of it before? Probably due to the same excuses we all tend to make. We’re too busy, too tired, and we don’t have time. Time. We never seem to have enough of it. The funny thing about time is it’s really all yours. You decide what you fill your time with. Yes, there’s things we should do, things we have to do, but we often say we “have” to do something, when in reality, that’s a stretch. I’m a firm believer that doing things which make you happy on a daily basis, make your “have tos” bearable and more enjoyable. Making the time for these getaways is how I stay sane and live fully and happily.

This time, I had the great pleasure of exploring with Nicole, a beautiful person who gave me comfort just through her smile in all of our Spanish classes together. She’s the perfect person to travel with. She can make any situation light and carefree, two things you need when you happen to make a wrong turn in cities like these.

That being said, we got lost, a few times. But, we came across so many little characteristic places of the city we would have never seen if we had our heads glued to the GPS app. We explored so much in four short hours.

I hadn’t been to the city in a year, and I forgot how distinct the sounds were, how there was nothing like the sounds of New York City. When we got off the train, we slowly walked up the stairs, where I could see just a beam of light, giving us a perfect day of 75 degrees and a light breeze. You couldn’t ask for a better sightseeing day. As we approached the top of the stairs, my ears focused on the echos of the taxi horns, the screeches from tires, and whistles from pedestrians. It was like the subway led you to a place unlike any other, of bustling people, of insane drivers, and passionate people all in this one city. Amazing.

Our first stop: Little Italy. This is exactly what I thought it would be, and I mean that in the best way possible. Lines of family owned Italian restaurants, all competing for the same customers, and the only way to get them to sit at your cute place is to charm the women from afar, adding that Italian touch we all love. The adorable place we chose had the sweetest waiter, I mean his eyes practically sang a slow ballad.

Then we headed over to a corner street stand selling my favorite Italian food: cannolis. These are my kryptonite. I never buy them because they’re crack. And Little Italy, wow, you make a mean cannoli. My taste buds had a field day with this one.

After slowly sinking into a food coma, we walked around the city, got lost and found a pretty marble globe. We reminisced about our separate experiences in Spain, feeling that life is made simpler there, or somehow they redefine living – Europeans really take time to do things that make them feel alive; it’s not the day in and day out Americans tend to get wrapped up in.

Afterwards, we went to see the 9/11 Memorial – Ground Zero. We were looking for it, couldn’t find it at all and as we were caught up in trying to read the directions, we made a turn and boom – there it was. The One World Trade Center, the tallest building in the city, took my breath away. I stood there, in disbelief that something so beautiful was created from devastation. New York rebuilt their soul. Ground Zero, which has a north pool and south pool honoring those lost on that nightmare day, made me feel things I wasn’t expecting to feel. It’s a beautiful thing to see hundreds of people visit this monument daily, all respecting of those heroes, and all come together to dedicate our much valued time to this profound experience. To choose to spend your time here, that’s touching. The architecture, the water, the color of the memorial, the entire aesthetic appeal – It. Was. Perfect.

We ended our visit in Eataly, a little Italian market catering to every sense. Everything was handcrafted, fresh, and took me down memory lane. Food is really interesting that way. You taste one thing, in one place, and that specific food, no matter where you have it, where you have it, the taste will bring you back to that first memory. The cannoli I had took me back to Easter Sunday, sitting, waiting for the gates to open to let the Pope into Vatican City. That ricotta filled goodness does all of that for me – incredible.

New York City always leaves me breathless (probably from all the walking) and amazed. There’s always something new to try, something new to eat, and something new to see. It’s a wonderful place with magic unlike any other city. New York, I’ll be patiently waiting for the day I get to return to experience your blinding lights & beautiful noise.

 

 

Asbury Park, New Jersey

Just 4.7 miles from campus and you’re in a new environment filled with music influence, hippie feels, and eccentric art. Just 4.7 miles changes my perspective. Just 4.7 miles I find a photographer’s paradise.

I was itching new scenery, a new place. Who knew 4.7 miles from home there would be a an artist’s haven, a place filled with soul and character, a place different than the same sights I’ve been seeing day in and day out for the last three weeks. I crave visual stimulation, people watching, new experiences. I crave the unknown. Thankfully, so does Ishita.

Ishita is my suitemate from freshman year, a very talented little thing. She’s all of five feet but filled with passion, fury for dance, and love like no other. She has a way about her I wish I could capture, which I tried so hard to do through the lense of my Canon EOS 30D.

Asbury Park’s boardwalk is filled with dozens of beautiful murals all evoking a different sense of our modern culture. Some explore the monochromatic power of the color black, while others burst in vibrant neon color. Each open to its own interpretation, each ready for judgment, and each ready for hundreds of cocked heads and open eyes.

Just 4.7 miles and I feel entirely different. The fresh, salty air gusts up and over all the buildings so you still get a taste of the ocean up on the boardwalk and behind the art infested walls. Feelings thankful for these hidden treasures only 4.7 miles away, imagine what I could find 9.4 miles from home…

National Harbor

The best advice anyone gave me was to not wait on anyone. In this case, I mean do not wait on anyone to fulfill your imagination, your sense of wonder, and your curiosity to see new things and to simply, travel.

With the end of the summer approaching, I got an itch to do whatever whenever I could to attempt and see those places that triggered nostalgia. I wished to see those places that I remembered vividly as a child, but never revisited. This was my chance.

Just like that I found myself driving up 295 and landing in waterfront beauty, the National Harbor.

This place is an interesting one. It’s a cross between the salty feeling waterfront gives you and the comfort of quaint boutiques and good food. It’s a wonderland for your senses and very small in retrospect. You can stand on the long pier, listening to the calm water, the bubbling from fish and the small splashes from birds eating the scraps of bread thrown on the water. It features a giant sculpture, “The Awakening” which is a five piece work. The pieces are anchored in the sand, creating the illusion the man is arising from the ground up. It’s got every type of food there, a strip of authentic and classy restaurants are just a few steps away from the water – you can’t beat that view.

My favorite is the giant ferris wheel that let’s you see the city from a birds eye view. If you look close enough, you can make eye contact with some poor guy stuck in traffic on the beltway.

What I think is most curious about this place is that it’s just plopped in the most unexpected place. It’s right off the beltway, but doesn’t feel that way whatsoever. It’s truly remarkable how water drives so much business, so much beauty, and recreation.

I did what I do best: roamed. I had no where to go, nothing to do, and no one to see. I love that. There was nothing I HAD to do, I could walk at my leisure, stop and take a picture, people watch, really breathe and be aware of everything that surrounded me. This is what I live for. These in touch experience that let you escape the reality of every day day in, day out life. I wasn’t even there for that long, but when I left, it had felt like I went on a little vacation. It frees the soul.

As I start my senior year in college, I am determined to have more experiences similar to these. I go to the beach as often as I can here in West Long Branch, even if it’s just for a few minutes. It clears the mind completely and is a nice break from every day life. There’s hundreds of places I still want to visit, but I can start with places I haven’t seen in New Jersey. Anything can be made an adventure, it’s all about your frame of mind.

The hardest part about this year thus far has been the complete readjustment to reality. Sometimes I feel like what I am doing at school isn’t fulfilling my creative muse. I luckily, am very fortunate to be taking a creative writing class and study of rock n’ roll music, really allowing me to think in different ways. I crave challenge. I crave new experiences. I crave personal growth. I crave travel because it’s been the single thing that’s given me all of that and more.

Here I am, enjoying what I have left of school, yet always looking for that first flight to well, anywhere.