Travel Stories

Culture of the Algarve

An urge to satisfy the travel cravings and a need for sunshine led Charlotte, my #1 travel bud, and me to spontaneously book a flight to the beaches of the Algarve region in Portugal despite our lack of knowledge on the destination. Our ignorance led us to believe that Faro, Portugal was a random Ryanair drop-off location, but with a few quick Google searches, the Algarve revealed itself to be one of the most overwhelmingly popular tourist destinations known to the EU.

There are two sides to the Algarve. To the right of Faro, one can find the tourist hotspots like Lagos and Albufeira where crystal clear water, sandy beaches, and natural caves are bustling with vacationers. To the left of Faro are the waters less traveled with beautiful beaches, nature reserves, authentic food, and most importantly–culture!

Our adventure began in Albufeira where a 5 pound shuttle conveniently took us direct from the airport to our hotel. We loved the blue view of the Atlantic from our 3-day tanning post on the sandy shores. However, we couldn’t help but feel like we were trapped inside a snow globe spotlighting a perfect holiday town sprinkling tourists from the sky.

It is when we traveled to Olhão, Portugal that the real adventure began and the beauty of the Algarve was discovered. An easy and cheap 40 minute train ride took us to the largest fisherman’s town of the Algarve– Olhão. Just our stay at Pension Bicuar Residential was enough to make everything about Olhão a home away from home. Owned and operated by a lovely Malaysian couple with an inspiring globetrotter couple from New Zealand temporarily working at the B&B for 3 months now, they made us feel very welcomed giving us a tour of the place and filling us in on the life of Olhão.

On the first night in Olhão, I awoke at the early hour of 4am unable to fall back to sleep. Not wanting to waste my time with tossing and turning in bed, I went up to the rooftop of the B&B to watch the sunrise over the Moorish-style homes in this coastal town. I wasn’t the only one awake though. Just a short walk from our B&B, fishermen were hard at work at the port bringing in their fresh catches of the early morning to fill an entire market featuring a variety of fish big and small.

As explained by the lovely New Zealand couple, you can’t go to the fish market with a list because what you see is what they caught that morning! They also explained that the bell heard at 10 am that same morning was to alert the town that a huge fish (like shark status) was caught! I didn’t find the big guy, but here are a few shots from the market…

After exploring the fresh fish and fruit markets, both of which close at 1pm, we hopped on a ferry to the local islands. With 3 islands to choose from–Ilha da Armona which is reachable by one ferry and Ilha da Cultara and Farol reachable by another and connected by their sandy beaches–we ventured to Ilha da Farol. The ferry took us along the Ria Formosa nature reserve to the island well-known for it’s operating lighthouse (aka farol in Portuguese) along the white sands and crystal clear waters. As we made our way from the ferry dock to the beach, we passed through the simple and well-decorated homes of the island taking in the lifestyle of the locals and imagining their day-to-day commute into the city of Olhão for work, shopping, and what not.

We enjoyed a lovely day on the beach tanning our paled UK bodies under the burning sun of Portugal. And best of all, we enjoyed being surrounded by locals and embracing the culture of the Algarve.

 

Our Portugal Trip in a nutshell:

Overall– An affordable trip with an average total of £300 spent for a 5 night stay.

Airfare– Approx. £110 with the budget airline, Ryanair

Accommodation–

  • Albufeira: Hotel da Galé– approx. £20/night for a standard room with two twins. Simple 2 star hotel, basic accommodation. Perks: Rooftop pool, sick view, close to beaches. Negatives: Friendly staff but not very helpful or informing, bathroom is not the cleanest, bar never opened, WiFi but in lobby only.
    • My rating: 2.5/5 stars
  • Olhão: Pension Bicuar– approx. £20/night for a standard room with two twins. Well-decorated and comfortable B&B. Perks: Rooftop tables and chairs with a great view of the town, next to the ferry and markets, amazingly friendly staff. Negatives: None! WiFi could have been better but who needs that anyways when on vacation!
    • My rating: 5/5 stars

Food–

  • Albufeira: Approx. 8-15 per meal. Drinks approx. 4 for beer, 12 for a jug of Sangria
    • Food was pretty touristy and not very authentic. Lots of fish and chips haha
  • Olhão: Appox. 4-12 per meal depending. Can get seafood for a very good price.
    • Amazing seafood everywhere!!! 8 seafood lunch buffets.
    • Best tapas place which is a must try and loved by locals–7 Imeio Wine Bar

Ferry from Olhão to the islands: Approx. 4 roundtrip!!

Shuttle to and from airport: 10 total

 

My biggest travel tip for you—Explore the waters and roads less traveled and stick to the left side of Faro, Portugal if you want to experience the true Algarve!

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Conquering Chinese Chaos

Today, I felt like nothing was impossible and I could accomplish anything in life. I have had many such AHA moments while living abroad– running through the tangled woods of London’s Hampstead Heath, biking into Paris from a city 1 hour away with no directions, making it through SE Asia without having my shiz stolen– but none of these moments, NONE, compare to my feats in bizarre, confusing China! Today for example, I solely survived my bike ride home.

I have a blog soon to be published about the peculiar nature of China and the Chinese, but this entry is dedicated to the streets of China. When it comes to laws of the road, there are none. Every Chinese person thinks he or she owns it.

*Speed limits?–Well if they do exist nobody knows it.

*Driving in an orderly fashion?–Yeah right. There are several car lanes and a large (usually separated) bike lane on each side of the road. To a Westerner, it would be clear that the car lanes are for motorists (and bikes if necessary) and the bike lanes are solely for bicyclists and scooters. But a Chinese person sees all lanes as fair game and a driver is not afraid to zoom on through that bike lane if it’s free.

It gets better. Not only are they driving in the wrong lanes, but they are usually driving in the wrong direction as well. And this goes for the car lanes as well. Forget the broken yellow lines law– if Chinese drivers wants to pass, they will pass. Doesn’t matter if they are 2 meters away from an oncoming semi or about to hit a red light.

*Wait, red lights?– O yeah, those barely exist too. Put all of the above together and you’ve got yourself a Chinese driver driving in the wrong lane to pass all the cars stopped at the red light that he so nonchalantly and briskly flies through–never mind that it happened at the university’s  intersection. True story.

***BUT– I do quite enjoy watching the scooters go by. Who knew that such a tiny two-seater could have the abilities of a pick up truck or a family vehicle. It’s not surprising to see someone cruisin’ on through with bamboo stalks the length of two trucks resting between the driver’s thighs.  The best is when the scooter magically transforms from a two-seater into a four with daddy driving, mommy holding the baby in one arm and daddy’s shoulder with the other, and the husky prominently sitting on the 2x2ft of floor space between daddy’s feet.

Just your typical scooter cargo…

So back to my AHA moment. My biggest irrational fear is to get hit by a car–so put a girl like me on streets like China and there’s a good chance of panic attack. After several freak out moments during the first few weeks of my arrival, I decided today was my day to conquer Chinese chaos! I hopped onto my cheap Chinese bike (that only took one week to break down) and started on my 20 minute straight shot journey home.

In the next 20 minutes I crossed over 4 lanes of oncoming traffic, dodged cars, scooters and bikes coming at me from every direction as I rode through a roundabout where yielding is rubbish, nearly had a head-on collision with a bike taxi, and broke my bike pedal. I did all of this while riding in the opposite bike lane and in the near dark 😉 And the best part– I made everyone stop for me! Yep, if I can survive that, I can survive ANYTHING!

BEWARE of bike taxis!

And now I have been properly initiated into China. It feels good–strange, but good. My biggest concern is that I will return home with the Chinese mentality that I own the road and it will reflect in the amount of speeding tickets and accident dents. Let’s hope this is not the case.

Many of you may think my bike ride home was a pretty dangerous scenario, but in actuality, that’s just China.

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Trekking Through Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bartering on Khoasan Road in Bangkok; hopping one Thai island to the next; trekking through the jungle on the back of an elephant–There is so much to see and do in Thailand from the north all the way to the south, but my top recommendation for things to do in Thailand is a trip to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and a 2 or 3 day trek through the surrounding mountains.

Friends and I opted for the 3 day experience. For only 1300 baht ($42), we had our accommodation, meals, and entertainment covered for the next 3 days. The excursion included a guided hike through the mountains, a swim or two in the waterfalls, a 15 minute elephant ride (believe me, 15 minutes was plenty), bamboo and river rating, and an overnight stay in a tribal village one night and the jungle the next.

We started off our 3 day Chiang Mai jungle adventures with an elephant trek through the surrounding mountains 3 hours from the city.

Snack time for the elephants before the trek through the jungles of Chiang Mai.

The elephants trekked through mud and up and down narrow mountain paths like it was nothing.

The universal scratching rock used by all elephants on this trek. My advice–don’t sit on the rocks.

We hiked for miles– The fist day from elephant camp to a waterfall and ended our hike at the local village tribe where we camped out for the night. The second day from the tribe to another gorgeous waterfall to the jungle huts where we spent our second night. The third (and final) day from our hut to the river and bamboo rafting adventure and back to the base.

The local village tribe where we spent night one of our three day trek. We lived liked the locals with no electricity or communication with the outside world.

This Thai man took good care of us preparing for nighttime and bringing some light into our dark hut.

We shared this bathroom with the local occupants—SPIDERS!

For sleeping on the floor, our beds were quite comfy and rather stylish with the colorful mosquito nets protecting us from unwanted bites!

Homemade Thai food for the candlelight dinner with our group!

Live entertainment provided by the locals in English and Thai! This talented musician moved to the village tribe after marrying his wife 10 years ago and now lives a happy and simple life in the mountains outside of Chiang Mai.

The musician also taught us how the Thai get married—Guess I got married in Thailand…

Our guides taught us the fascinating secrets of nature. For example, when opened correctly, this plant can be used to blow bubbles! I like to call it the Bubble Plant!

Gorgeous waterfalls lay in the depths of the jungle. The cool waters made for refreshing pitstop during our long and sweaty hikes!

We really enjoyed our unique experience in Chiang Mai, Thailand with a very diverse and one-of-a-kind group.

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Taiwan: An Island of Smiles

When I tell people I worked and traveled throughout Taiwan for a month, their first reaction is typically, “Why??”. The humble island full of sunshine and smiles is sadly underrated and overlooked by most foreigners. There is a benefit to their misfortune however. As a rare  foreigner in Taiwan, I was taken under the wings of locals and immersed into their culture 24/7.

Night Market Food Junkies

The Taiwanese are hands down the nicest and most generous people I’ve ever met. Everyone holds such a strong pride for their country and they are thrilled to show foreigners the beauty of it. They will be your city guide by day and your night market guide by night all the while sharing in a cultural exchange.

Night Market tours with Vivian and Tiger!

My favorite experience occurred in Yingge, Taiwan’s old pottery town. As I snapped away at artsy pottery shops, two Taiwanese men in their 40-50s stopped my friend and I and invited us into their shop for tea. (As we could not pronounce their Chinese names, for simplicity’s sake we named them Charlie and Johnny). Using handcrafted ceramic pots and cups from his shop, Charlie poured us freshly brewed tea. Johnny did not want the shaved ice and red bean dessert offered to him by Johnny, so he made us a bowl to go with our tea.

‘Charlie’ (left) and ‘Johnny’ (right) playing air ping pong with ‘Jonny’s’ handcrafted fans.

‘Charlie’ pouring a cup of tea into his handcrafted creation.

With the minimum English known by the men and the broken Chinese on our end, we had a 30 minute gesture-filled ChinGlish conversation about Charlie’s pottery shop and family life and Johnny’s handmade fan business. Johnny disappeared for a few minutes to his car and returned holding two of his creations which he then gave to us as a gift for having a friendly chat with them. After purchasing the subtly decorated pottery cup I enjoyed my tea from and taking many photos with our new friends, we thanked them for their generosity and continued on.

Tea time with ‘Johnny’ and ‘Charlie’.

Other friendly encounters and experiences include locals helping us tourists read a Chinese menu, a man ditching his chance to cross the busy street and taking 5 minutes out of his day to make sure I hopped on the right bus, and a lady literally stopping me in the street and shaking my hand for a good minute while continuously saying “Hi, Hello” with the biggest toothless grin.

A friendly Taiwanese lady helping us order from a Chinese menu.

With ancient temples flooding the upbeat cities, remarkable national parks, and mountains of nature lining the breathtaking seaside, Taiwan offers so much for any tourist. But even if it was a grungy country with nothing more than a few 7-11s, I’d still visit Taiwan just to be embraced by some of the loveliest people and the most welcoming culture I’ve ever encountered in my travels.

Friendly Taiwanese owners of a Chopstix stand.

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One Year Later

Today marks one year since I have lived in America, driven a car, and seen my closest friends and family. But in this one year, I’ve experienced more than most do in a lifetime. I’ve opened my eyes, my ears, and my heart to the world and the colorful cultures, individuals, and opportunities it has to offer. While most friends pursued jobs in the so called “real world” after graduation, I lived in it. For the past year, I have lived by this quote:  

“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.”

Prior to gallivanting half way across the world, friends and family alike predicted my year abroad would consist of a delicious diet, European love, and too many adventures to count. Spoiled with homemade Italian pasta dishes, twice daily gelato, and all the fresh baguettes and pastries I desire, my stomach has found itself quite satisfied. And yes, I’m in LOVE! And with the most passionate lover in the world–Europe. I’ve opened my heart to its splendorous countries and they’ve given me nothing but love and new experiences in return. Everyday good, bad, exciting, or boring presents a new challenge and adventure that continues to bulk up my travel novel past its binding.

Looking back I think to myself, “Who was that crazy girl with a one-way ticket to Europe and no plan? And how did she end up back in Paris?” If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this year abroad, it’s that you can’t plan out life. You have to let life happen and figure it out along the way.

The best part about my international endeavors stems from the uniqueness of each experience in multiple countries. Rather than comfortably settle into one location with one job, one group of friends, and one cultural experience, I ventured for the less comfortable and at times challenging option to live in 3 different countries each with their own language, culture, and customs. I worked 3 vastly different jobs and though I started out alone, I quickly made new friends from every inch of the world and never knew where I’d end up on any given day. This exciting yet challenging route allowed me to call three international destinations home and it opened the door to surprising, unexpected, and awe inspiring opportunities.

The Modern Day Italian Goddess

In Italy, I not only gained an excess amount of kilos from the twice daily pasta dishes and Nutella breakfast sandwiches, but also an appreciation for the Italian culture that most miss while gondola-ing through Venice or posing with gladiators at the Coliseum.

Living with Italians from south, north, and central Italy, I experienced the passion and pride Italians possess for their culture. Standing at their doors with open arms and European kisses, I was welcomed into the family and treated as one of their own without hesitation. These families showed me the beauty of their country from their own eyes, and it was hard not to feel like an Italian goddess when walking down any street surrounded by ancient ruins and history.

Finally, though not much can be said for productivity in Italy, I benefited from the lack there of by slowing down my American busy body self to take a moment to stop and drink some wine and eat some cheese.

Love my incredible Italian host family, the Scarpellinis’.

The beginning of amazing memories– Florence, Italy

Single Girl in the City: London Town

After becoming incredibly too comfortable with the lax Italian lifestyle, I had to kick it u a notch to keep up with the busy city life of London. However,  I quickly came to realize that London was my happy medium. With a NYCesque nonstop atmosphere of activity mixed in with the EuroChill attitude, London became the city of my dreams. Spending my days in chic cafes or eclectic pubs with the girls, we enjoyed the unique English culture complimented by an international flare.

The diversity of London goes beyond its international inhabitants. Just 10 minutes walking distance to the next, each borough possesses its own culture, style, and attitude. From the posh areas of Hampstead to the eccentric and edgy Camden Town, or corporate Liverpool St. leading to the artsy confines of Spittalfields, the unique boroughs created a walkable time warp into different decades and atmospheres throughout the city.

Paris, London, and the World captured through my eyes

 

Kristin, Kristine, Christian, Chantal- Unidentified Parisian Life

To my American friends, I’m Kristin. To my French family and friends, I’m Kristine and apparently Christian when they try to Americanize their accent. So many a time I just go with my high school French class name and new alter ego, Chantal. Just like the name situation, Paris has proven to be a very ‘all over the place’ kind of experience that often results in confusion. This is primarily a result of the double life I lead– 23-year-old Kristin versus Au Pair Kristine.

The Au Pair life in the suburbs of Paris is a rather quiet one–when I’m not with the kiddies that is. Surrounded by French, French, and more French, I am fully immersed in the culture and language 24/7. This has definitely allowed me to understand the particular ways of the French and develop my language skills. That being said, I do know how to say more than ‘Bonjour’ and ‘Merci’ nowadays, but language barriers still present humorous scenarios at times.

Taking care of 2 (sometimes 3) kids under the age of 6 in the suburbs definitely creates a need for social interaction with people my age and a change of scenary. Every chance I get to escape into Paris makes me appreciate the city that much more despite its little quirks.

Most of my days spent in the city include wandering down unfamiliar and diagonal streets that almost always turn me in the opposite direction of my destination. Along the way, I always tend to find lovers and their baby in the making, meet an interesting crowd of Parisian dwellers eager to share their ‘talents’, ‘words of wisdom’, or ‘appreciation for my legs’, and creepers who so kindly invite me to ‘take a coffee with them’.  After giving them the Parisian ‘get away’ eyebrow lift, I mosey my way through the alleys leading to an array of interesting happenings such as Antiquites Brocantes (antique garage sales), bread festivals, wine tastings, and endless cultural events thorough out the city of lights. Paris is full of hidden treasures, and I made it my mission to discover every single one.

The travels aren’t over yet

With 24 days remaining in my Parisian experience, I’m enjoying the mystery and wonder of the lavish city while preparing for the next big thing. So what’s next?! One year ago, as I was hopping on the plane to fly to Europe, never did I think I’d be going to ASIA! But life is leading me to Taiwan and the Southeast for the culture shock of a lifetime. Asian food, a new culture and its customs to integrate into, constant confusion when trying to read anything– o it’s gonna be great! After Asia, it’s back to Italy for another go with ACLE followed by some travel through the European east side (can’t wait to feel rich in Europe!) and finally home sweet home…at least that’s the ‘idea’ for now 🙂

I could go on and on about the magnificent journey I’ve been on for the past year, but in the end it will forever be one that is indescribable. I cannot begin to express my gratitude for the experiences I’ve had and to those that have been a part of them. All I got to say is it’s been a heck of a ride!

So bottoms up, cin cin, cheers, santé, and hō ta lah to an  indescribable year of a lifetime and the continued good life ahead!

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Karneval Kraze

Fancy dress (costumes), street parties, parades, and a whole lot of German pride. That’s the cleanest way to sum up the weekend of Karneval Kraze in Cologne, Germany. For an entire week, the city basically shuts down and becomes a twilight zone during what is known as Germany’s “fifth season”. With the older crowd partying the day away, the night becomes young and the party never dies in this vibrant city of celebration. With myself as FaceBook Queen with the alter ego ‘Kuhh Ristin’ and Izybela as THE Miss America (along with Hong Kong-a-liciois Liza close to our heart) on night 1 and then representing as German flags on night 2, we didn’t exactly know what to expect. But us two spontaneous gals were ready to take Karneval by storm.

Spontaneity is the quality of being able to do something just because you feel like it at the moment, of trusting your instincts, of taking yourself by surprise and snatching from the clutches of your well-organized routine, a bit of unscheduled plea

“Spontaneity is the quality of being able to do something just because you feel like it at the moment, of trusting your instincts, of taking yourself by surprise and snatching from the clutches of your well-organized routine, a bit of unscheduled plea”

Just like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival is a week of street parties and festivities leading up to Ash Wednesday and the 40 days of Lent. Basically, it is a time for all the Catholics to get the crazies out of their system before it’s time to repent. Overall, it’s just a good time. Celebrated differently throughout the world, Cologne holds the title of Europe’s Carnival Capital.

The “crazy days” begin on Thursday with Women’s Carnival Day where ladies can run around with scissors and cut off the ties of men dumb enough to wear them on this estrogen driven day. Friday and Saturday are the big party days. You’ll find hoopla around every corner with parades of costumed people singing, dancing, and drumming through the streets while cheering “Kölle Alaaf” (Cologne above all). Carnival Sunday is a day of parades with school groups and clubs dressed in original costumes. Don’t forget to bring a bag…Halloween comes early with candy thrown at you in all directions. On Rose Monday the city shuts down for the climax event of Carnival, the official parade. Dazzling floats and crowds of fancy dressed spectators take over the streets at this highlight event. And finally, gluttony rules all on Pancake Day, Cologne’s Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.

Equally exciting, being the dork that I am I made a visit to my last name—‘am Rhein’ translates to “at the Rhein”, the longest river in Germany. So I was literally ‘Kristin AmRhein’ as I did my classic HSM pic alongside the river with pseudo snowfall landing in my hair and in good company with a one-of-a- kind friend. Needless to say, it was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Karneval was the perfect girls weekend away from reality and it’s a top European experience for the books. But it’s not one that can be described in writing. Like many life events, until you have personally experienced something yourself you don’t truly appreciate or understand it. What is the lure, the desire, the need for more in every regard? For me it’s the crave to make the most out of life and soak up every moment in the moment. Karneval weekend was exactly that.

“You only live once. So eat that second pastry, look for the gold at the end of the rainbow, and be a little crazy.” -Me

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Top 10 Ways to Anger People in Morocco (and some extra tips)

Hi friends,

After an exciting two weeks in Spain and Morocco (yep, I went to Africa!), I am now Casa Dolce Casa in Italy once again. Barcelona, Spain was an exciting city, but not the different cultural experience I was looking for. But that’s ok because Morocco was that times a bajillion!

Angie and I had to pinch ourselves back into our own reality every two seconds because we were so blown away by the mere fact that we were in Morocco. As amazing as it was to be a part of such a distinct culture and experience it hands on, there were definitely moments that we questioned our decision. I would recommend traveling to Morocco to anyone, but to make your experience more enjoyable and less crazy, here is a list of things you may want to avoid…

Top 10 Ways to Anger People in Morocco

10) Accidentally snort while laughing as you pass by a guy trying to get you to take a horse and carriage ride— he’ll think you are calling him a pig and then roll his eyes at you.

9) Accidentally knock on the door of a Mosque while taking a picture— As long as you run really fast when you see someone start to answer you will be fine.

8) Accidentally order food you didn’t want because thanks to language barriers, the waiter doesn’t realize you are only inquiring about the dish— You’ll get an annoyed look from the waiter, but just smile and you’ll be BFF again.

7) One word—HAGGLE

6) Get pressured into browsing souvenir camels on the street and repeatedly say “No thank you”— You’ll receive a lovely “F*** You” as you continue to walk.

5) When someone gives you unwarranted directions, say “Merci” at a volume level he can not hear you at— He will then say “Thank you” for you and mockingly say “You are very polite”.

4) Take pictures of baboons lurking in the streets without paying for the photos— until paying for or deleting these photos, the monkey owner will not let you pass through.

3) Tell a pushy food vendor you will return for dinner tomorrow night and never go back— The next time you see this guy he will call you a liar and tell you to leave his country.

2) Ask one guy where ya can find a good camel to ride, have him call the camel guy (Abdoul) and give him a description of you so Abdoul can find ya, then buy your camel ride from another guy (Said)— Little would you know that Abdoul would be waiting for you by his camels as you climbed onto Said’s acting dumbfounded and as innocent as a flower. Thought we were about to see somebody die that day.

1) Try on shoes in the souks for an hour and leave without buying anything— this will lead to being shoved out of the shop and told you wasted their work time.

Some extra tips for those wishing to travel to Morocco:

1) If at some point you get tired of being hassled, make up your own language. They know French, they know Arabic, they know English, they know Italian, they know Spanish…but when you mix all the languages together with a touch of a Chinese accent, they don’t know WHAT you bare saying! You will receive many mixed reactions from the hasslers. For example, one may look at you with a blank stare while the other will begin to laugh at the ridicule. No matter what the reaction, the outcome is always the same—THEY LEAVE YOU ALONE.

2) Ride a camel on the beach…enough said.

3) If you have a sensitive stomach, bring some antacids and whatever you do, do not drink the water!…Bottled only! The food is out of this world delicious but BEWARE!

4)  Heads up for the ladies: If you prefer tampons over pads, stock up prior to your trip cause once you’re there, you’ll only find wings.

5) Also for ladies: If Tom does decide to visit, or George as they like to refer to it in Italy, do not tell the hotel staff (which was made up solely of men for us) that you or your friend needs tea for a stomach ache…they will think you are experiencing issue #2.

6) Lastly, if you do decide to travel to Morocco, stay somewhere near the coast like Agadir or Essaouira and take a day trip to Marrakesh or Fez. Marrakesh is definitely a sight to see, but it can be done in a day and rather than living in an inferno all week, you can enjoy the freezing cold sea breeze from the comfort of your hotel by the coast.

Angie and I are so glad we travelled to Morocco. It was the escape from normalcy we were looking for. We broke out of our comfort zones and experienced a completely new life, and it was an adventure every second of the way to say the least.

“Fill your life with as many moments and experiences of joy and passion as you humanly can. Start with one moment and build on the rest.”—Marcia Weider

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Campers, Cars, and Carnavales

(FYI- This is a blog from July 9. I have had no Internet access so haven’t been able to post this until now! Enjoy!)

This blog really has no theme…it’s basically random Paestum/Agropoli story telling time. But before I begin, I have a life update for you! Many of you know that I worked as a Girl Scout Troop Leader in college, but what you may not know is that I applied to work at the organization’s international center in London. Well I am happy to announce that as of September 17 I will be working as an Event Assistant in London until the end of January!  I will be organizing special events for visiting Girl Scouts, chaperoning tours of London, and so much more. Best of all, the job provides me with room and board so I’ll be living in London for free! Can’t wait to share those experiences with you.

But let’s get back to the Italian adventures. First up, Campers—-After working with ACLE for the past four weeks, I have dealt with every type of child imaginable. The shy child that wants to hold your hand all day, the mature teenager that wants to have a convo about politics with you in fluent English, the too cool for camp songs teeny bopper and teen, the 6 year old that is oblivious to life and speaks to you in Italian everyday as if one day you will magically be capable of responding, and the evil brat…unfortunately we have dealt with many of this breed lately. The majority of kids at camp these past two weeks were some of the most destructive kids I’ve ever met. If they weren’t beating each other up and laughing about it, they were beating up the hotel by throwing chairs, drawing on the tables, or breaking trees. Pure madness.

But then you always have the good ones to make up for it like little Gabrielle. The little 6 year old didn’t know a lick of English but boy was he a cutie. He and his sister saved me a seat in between them at lunch everyday and all day long I’d hear him shout “Kristin!”. I’d look down to see Gabrielle standing there with his eyes closed and his lips puckered ready to give me a kiss on the cheek. By the end of the week, he learned the word kiss so I was happy.

Cars—-Italians are a different breed of drivers. At first I thought speed limits didn’t exist in Italy, but then I learned that they just choose not to follow the laws, and driving 100 in a 50 is nbd for Italians. And when it comes to passing other cars, apparently there’s enough room on the opposite side of the road to do so even if you can see your life flashing before your eyes in the headlights of oncoming traffic (don’t worry mom, I wasn’t in this particular vehicle…I just watched my friends have a near death experience from the comfort of a safe driver’s car).

The best story, however, involves my latest Camp Directors. On Wednesday evening, we went to dinner with a bunch of directors and tutors located in the same area. Both directors drove but us three tutors went in the not so crazy director’s car. Half way through our journey, she decides she needs to go to the train station to pick someone up so what does she do? She pulls off to the side of the road and has us get into crazy director’s car.

We were only in her car for about 20 minutes but more happened in that 20 minutes than the entire day. I asked if the seat belts in the backseat worked…nope. As James attempted to put his on in the front seat, she said it was broken but that he should hold it down just in case the Popo drove by. She kept saying she had no idea where she was going and continuously looked to us for confirmation as if we knew our way through the streets of Italy. She finally decided to ask for directions, but first she had to park the car which to her meant parking on the side of the road. As he looked out the window at car after car passing by, James asked “Is this a parking spot?” Response- “Of course!”…still not sure if it actually was or not. But the best part of the story happened after dinner. Back in not so crazy director’s car, we were backing out of the parking lot when we saw crazy director sitting in her car looking for her keys. We sat in the parking lot for five minutes watching her search for her keys that were still hanging in the car door. I’m still laughing!

Carnavales—-I’ve experienced some interesting night life in Paestum/Agropoli. Went to an exciting futbol match where we saw many players limping around after a slight fall to the ground…yes, the stereotype is true. We went mini bowling at the most happening arcade on the beach and Friday night we went to Agropoli where we socialized with locals in the most friendly and homey shop I’ve ever been to. The owner knows everyone in the small town and everyone purchases coffee, drinks, and snacks from his shop. It was very cute.

This was also the same night of the annual Carnavale. We didn’t get to attend the carnavale because we ended camp late that night, but the aftermath of the event was just as fun to attend. Some of the best people watching can be done after an Italian Carnavale. Still not quite sure what they were celebrating though. At first I thought it was a wannabe Disney parade with the fugly Minnie Mouse ears on people’s heads and children dressed in Princess costumes. But as we continued our walk down the confetti covered streets, I saw a pirate, a few superheros, a man that looked like a grasshopper, and other random costumes. There were kids with silly string, light up guns, and cotton candy too. All that was missing were rides…but then we found rows of rectangular trampolines enclosed in nets. Still a bit confused as to what the festival was all about, but I was nonetheless entertained.

So those are a few of the random stories I have for ya to give you a small dose of my time in Paestum and Agropoli. I had some very fun times there and I now have friendships and memories to last a lifetime. Now onto Florence! I’m sure there will be plenty more stories to come about the host family experience and all that good stuff.

Ciao Ciao For Now!

Categories: All Blog Postings, Italy, Travel Stories | Leave a comment

Italian Camping and Paradise—The Past 24 Hours

A successful second week of Paestum Summer Camp complete and one more week of city camp to begin tomorrow! Three weeks in one place may seem like a long time to some people (it did to me at first), but Hotel Villa Rita has become my home. My fellow co-tutor, Tanya, and I have been here since day one in Paestum, Italy’s secret gem, and every week we’ve said goodbye to a tutor or two and hello to new ones. It’s hard to lose good team members but with each new week a new team dynamic is created.

The other tutors and the hotel staff have become our family. Hotel Villa Rita was named after Luigi’s, the owner, daughter. She and her brother, Arnoldo, grew up in the hotel and now Rita works here. Her boyfriend, Vincenzo, works as a chef here and her brother just plays with all of the ACLE campers everyday. Then there’s Davide who works here too…he’s very Italian. These wonderful people have become our Italian family.

Today (Sunday) we went to a breathtaking beach in Agropoli, a quaint city near Paestum where Vincenzo and Davide grew up. Rita took us to one of her favorite spots. After cascading down the steepest stairs of our lives, we stepped onto what felt like a private island with a small lot of sand surrounded by rocks. The three Italians and the Englishman  played ball in the crystal clear water while us ladies soaked up the sun…my personal goal of the day: get rid of the mad shorts/frat tank tan. I never knew I could turn shades so dark. Tanya and I both agree we’ve reached our  tanning quota and our bodies are now resistant to the sun.

But the past 24 hours haven’t all been this glamourous. After summer camp ended yesterday, we were looking forward to sleeping in a bambino (“kid” in Italian) free hotel and waking up to a scrumptious breakfast rejuvenated and ready to chill out. Well the second half of that dream came true at least. While relaxing for the first time in a week, we were informed that the hotel was overbooked and us tutors (Tanya (Canadian), James (English), Eddie (Italian), and I had 10 minutes to pack our bags and relocate. We somehow managed to pack up our hurricane of a room and we were ready to head out to our new crib for the night. Little did we know what was in store.

We hopped into Eddie’s ACLE car (he is a “floater” for ACLE so he is provided a  vehicle for moving place to place) which had been invaded by a mammoth sized printer in the back seat compliments of an ACLE administrator who had to take the car out for a quick “errand”. Squeezed in between the door and the printer (a situation that led to whiplash every time I closed the door) we headed to our home for the night…A bungalow located on Italian camping grounds. We were personally chauffeured by an Italian man on a bicycle to what turned out to be the classiest of bungalows…a 2 bedroom, aka cubicle, wooden shack for 4. The fancy establishment featured a half wood/half window door, perfectly designed for Peeping Toms; an air conditioner strategically placed in the 2×4 foyer because that is obviously the place where guests will sleep; a bathroom with no toilet seat, no soap, no t.p., and doll sized towels; and to top it all off, a lovely outdoor kitchen enclosed inside a tent. Guess all the crappy bungalows were already occupied by the German motorcyclists invading Paestum.

It’s not as bad as it sounds, it’s worse. But after a crazy summer/city camp week, it was exactly the hysterical situation the 4 of us needed. We could not stop laughing about our life at that moment. Luckily we only had to sleep there for a night which is a whole other story in and of itself consisting of the two princess’ relaxed in the queen sized bed while the poor paupers struggled to get situated on a sofa coach with a 1/4 inch mattress and an unfitted mattress cover.  We had a lovely night though! After watching the sunset on the beach, we went into Agropoli with Rita, Davide, and Vincenzo for a delicious dinner at “Beermania”, that was all for James, and gelato (of course) for dolce.

My favorite thing about the evening was watching Vincenzo and Davide interact with friends they randomly bumped into on the street…they knew someone around every corner. Unlike Americans who freakout at the random sighting of a friend and greet each other with hugs followed by an hour long convo, it was interesting to observe the Italian friends just conversing about whatever as they walked on by each other without even stopping. It was nice. It was as if they just picked up  where they left off and after a quick convo, they continued on their way because they knew it wouldn’t be long until they saw each other again.

So there ya go. That is pretty much my life in the past 24 hours. These are the crazy stories I love most about traveling.  Random adventures with great new friends. Now as I sit here back at hotel continuing my relaxation/tanning streak by the pool after a fantastic and much needed day trip to the beach, I look forward to experiencing solely city camp this week. I plan to explore as much of Paestum and the surrounding area as possible. As soon as 5:30pm hits, I’m making a mad dash to the beach, taking a hike up the mountains that tease me with their beauty everyday, and living in Paradise. Then on Saturday I’m off to a new and unknown location…but that’s not for another 6 days.

Side note—- just realized tomorrow is the 4th of July which means I will have been in Italy for 4 weeks now. Man time flies! How will I celebrate? Well we’ve got some sparklers…Maybe I can convince the staff to give us watermelon for dolce (dessert) tomorrow.

“You cannot tailor-make the situations in life but you can tailor-make the attitudes to fit those situations”

Categories: All Blog Postings, Italy, Travel Stories | Leave a comment

Italian Camping and Paradise…The Past 24 Hours

Categories: All Blog Postings, Italy, Travel Stories | Leave a comment

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