Friday, August 19, 2016

Away from Home... in London, Paris, & Rome

The highlight of 2016 by far was my 10 Day Europe trip in London, Paris, & Rome this past January. I decided that I wanted to travel during my birthday month last Summer, which gave me plenty of time to save up money and allocate my PTO accordingly. Through my most recent travels, internationally (London, Paris, & Rome) and within the US(Seattle, WA, Austin, TX, & NYC), I've discovered that even though travel is definitely a luxury, the experiences I've gained from being out of my element and thrown into an unknown, unexplored city (at least to me) is PRICELESS!

After extensive research, I purchased a 10-Day Europe trip to London, Paris, & Rome through CONTIKI. As mentioned in a previous blog post, this was my first time traveling internationally without my parents, so choosing a group where I could easily make new friends seemed ideal. (Note: My sister, Danielle, was there with me too, but I'm definitely looking into doing more solo traveling!)

Before I get into the trip itself, I can't not recognize these amazing individuals. I didn't realize it then, but these wonderful ladies whom I met by chance would soon become my travel family. (We still keep in touch and make plans to hopefully travel together in the near future.) I've said before that I get awkward and painfully shy at the most inopportune moments, but that never happened during my trip, mainly because of these girls. With them, I became more confident approaching and interacting with strangers and felt free to ask an exuberant amount of questions. 

The morning of my 1st full day in London, while I was eating my English Breakfast, my sister and I sat next to Marija, who soon after introduced us to Claudia, Marissa, and Michelle. (Pictured above clockwise from bottom: Claudia, Marija, my sister Danielle, Marissa, Me, & Michelle) Though we were from different parts of the globe (Austraila, Canada, Italy, Serbia, & the United States), we quickly bonded over our excitement of being in a foreign country and getting to see what London had to offer. We discussed our plans for the day then headed to the London Underground, making our way to Buckingham Palace to see the changing of the guards.

In the days after, we saw Big Ben, the London Eye, the Tower of London, the Tower Bridge, the British Museum, Tate Modern, King's Cross (Harry Potter's Platform 9 3/4). We even got to see a West End Musical! 

Though the day from England to France was uneventful for the most part, we took a ferry followed by a coach ride into Paris. On the coach, we passed by the spot of the Paris attacks from the weeks prior. It was truly surreal. 

I also really wanted to share my experience seeing fields and fields of Syrian refugees camping along the French countryside. It was heartbreaking to see so many people with nowhere to go. We even had check points along our route to ensure that no one had tried to stow away on our coach to Paris. Our tour guide shared that though they're technically not allowed to be where they are, the French government understands that they cannot go home and there's no where else to send them until the EU makes a final decision. 

Whenever someone asks me which of the three cities was my favorite, I always say Paris for many reasons. The first reason being the beauty of the city itself, followed by it's fascinating history, art, and architecture. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I had retained my basic "traveling" French from high school. I quickly became the translator for our group. Some of the girls had negative experiences dealing with Parisians, but once I intervened with a "Pourriez-vous me dire..." (Can you please tell me) attitudes immediately changed and Parisians who once claimed to not speak English could very clearly. I confidently asked for directions, ordered food, and translated between French and English for servers, bartenders, and taxi drivers.

I've been to Paris once before with my family, but returning as an adult was a completely different experience. Seeing the landmarks, taking the Metro, and roaming the streets without a map (because I knew how to ask for directions) was exhilarating!

Last but definitely not least, ROME! Though the city itself was not as architecturally beautiful as Paris, it was amazing to randomly come across ancient ruins around every corner. The city was abundant in art: sculptures, tapestries, & paintings. The buildings themselves were works of art in their architecture.

Being Catholic, I was really looking forward to Vatican City. I felt in complete awe within the Vatican Museum, St. Peter's Basilica, and staring up at Michaelangelo's ceiling and back wall in the Sistine Chapel. I felt a spiritual connection as I took it all in. (Note: Photography isn't allowed within the Sistine Chapel, so I do not have any photos to share of the ceiling or the back wall. Though there were others who blatantly ignored the rules and took photos regardless, I couldn't even fathom being so disrespectful in a holy place.)

The Colosseum was amazing! It was the highlight of Rome for my sister. I knew it was massive, but I didn't realize the intricate details of each level within as well as the underground labyrinth.

This city was my favorite place to eat for quite obvious reasons. I woke up every morning looking forward to a foamy cappuccino. (Cappuccinos here in the US can't even compare!) Rome practically ruined me for all Italian food. I can't eat bruschetta, pizza, pasta, or gelato without making a comparison.

I definitely want to return to all three cities one day, but I have a lot of other cities/countries to cross off my list first. The thing that I personally love most about travelling is your ability to completely immerse yourself in a different culture and lifestyle. The more time I spent in each city, the more I learned about each city's distinct identity. I could picture myself living in each one of these cities loving life. I have a much deeper appreciation of culture, history, art, and architecture. 

I've made a promise to myself to continue to explore the world. I want to go to places that I've never been to before, whether they're in the US or halfway around the world. I want to continue to get lost in new places and remind myself that in the grand scheme of things, there's so much more happening outside of my little bubble that I call home. 


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