Backpacking through Andalucía, España

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Backing through the south of Spain was easily one of my favorite experiences during the past 6 months of traveling. Here’s some highlights from my six-city adventure through Andalucía!

Excited to experience my first bullfight in Sevilla
Excited to experience my first bullfight inside Plaza de Toros
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One of my favorite spots in Sevilla
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Plaza Santa Cruz is a peaceful part of Sevilla
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Beautiful Córdoba and a view of the Mezquita

For my first evening in Córdoba, a few of us took a night bike tour/tapas crawl to get to know each other and the city. At a small bar near the roman bridge, a girl from Salamanca leaned towards me asking in British English: “So if you don’t know any Spanish, then… how are you getting by, all by yourself?”. I smiled, then answered: “Well, I guess I never thought of it that way. I’m learning basics from people I meet and enjoying figuring it all out”.

I know how to order my favorite tapas, my coffee just how I like it, how to ask for directions, and…that’s about it. This was all part of the fun for me though I’ve got to admit.

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Streets of Cordoba
Streets of Córdoba
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A view from Cordoba from my hostel terrace
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Inside the famous Alhambra [Granada]
My second flamenco show
Flamenco show in Granada
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One of my favorite views of Monachil in Granada

If you have time to do the hike through Monachil, I can’t recommend it enough. I’d argue that day was one of my favorite memories with friends I had just met earlier that day through my hostel. You can swim in the water (the waterfalls are incredibly beautiful) and the hike itself is exciting. You feel like you’re in a hidden treasure of nature.

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Hiking in the Monachil village in Granada
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Playing around on the beaches of Marbella
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View of Ronda [Málaga region of Spain]
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Ronda’s famous bridge
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Old town in Marbella

I wrote a snippet about my backpacking trip here, but I’ve also learned that some people come into your life for years and some for maybe just a few hours. But regardless, that time is important. The beauty and heartache of traveling is leaving so abruptly;  and yet it’s amazing to cross paths with people from all over the world. Backpacking opened my eyes to the core of human needs and the simplicity of life. It’s not a style of travel for everyone (understandably), but I never thought I’d enjoy living out of a backpack either. It really challenges you and teaches you–and I’m so grateful for all of it.

“Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, I would stay and love you, but I have to go”

P.S. I’m working on my “favorite hostels in europe” post for all the avid European travelers!

The best of Amsterdam, Holland

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Amsterdam was easily one of the best places to photograph
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Tulips are a symbol of Holland, especially tulip fields. You can buy them everywhere in the city

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One of my favorites, the canals are romantic and peaceful

I was surprised how much I loved Amsterdam. The Dutchman that lent us his home for the first night told me that “there’s more bikes than people in Amsterdam”, and he wasn’t kidding. This beautiful city is covered with bikers crossing over small brides framing glistening water canals, coffee shops with puff clouds with the concoction of weed and espresso, and dainty boutiques on every corner.

After my program ended, I met up with Sammi and Kara for the first day before they had to get home. We did all the social aspects of Amsterdam like our first experience at a “coffee shop”, then bug-eyed in the red light district, and laughing in the sex shops. Somewhere in between stuffing our faces with Dutch pancakes of course. I was surprised how beautiful the city is, because all anyone talks about is how prostitution and weed is legal. No one says anything about how gorgeous the city is at dusk and how romantic it is to take a boat ride with live music. I can’t forget that everyone was so friendly towards us, and three cheers for being able to speak English for a few days!

Seeing the Anne Frank House was a highlight since I’ve read and seen movies on her legacy.  Seeing the house in person was pretty crazy. I enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere and just wandering the streets of the canals.

I highly recommend going to a cute organic bakery called De Laatste Kruimel (I went three times in the 2.5 days I was there). I’d argue it has THE best white chocolate raspberry scones with fresh cream I’ve ever had. And I eat a lot of pastries. You’ll recognize the bakery by their darling display of pastries, cakes, and sandwiches in the window.

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A view of the red light district
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Maybe my favorite coffee houses/bakeries in all of Europe, that’s a big deal
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Dutch shoes on display at a vintage shop
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My favorite little corner of the city

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5 things I learned from my first solo backpacking adventure

I should start by saying I never planned on backpacking. Like eating a whole bag of popcorn while watching a movie, it just… sort of happened.

It was a week before my semester was ending and it dawned on me that 1. I had no real travel plans (daydreaming of island hopping around Greece doesn’t count), and 2. consequently, I’d be homeless in Italy real soon. And I could tell you that by my first day of backpacking, I knew I was about to have the experience I’d been missing out on during my time studying abroad.

And to be honest, I learned more in the two weeks I backpacked on my own then the time I spent studying and living in Italy. It must be the beauty of getting completely out of my comfort zone and not having a friendly face to depend on for anything. Here’s my thoughts:

1. Less things scare me now. My family was pretty nervous for my safety (understandably) and I was anxious about how I would figure all the planning out. But after overcoming something that once seemed daunting, I gained a new perspective and confidence in what I can accomplish.

2. A simple life is always more beautiful. You don’t need most things, you just don’t. I learned to appreciate every little thing I could fit into my bag. Especially the travel size goodies that I held onto for months. I swear, it’s the simplest things.

3. Don’t let others dictate what you can and cannot do.  Just because traveling independently has its precautions, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done (and loved). I was surprised how passionate and comfortable I felt; the people I met during my adventure made my experience exceptionally memorable.

4. There’s no price on education. I want to learn and grow–and I guarantee that you can’t buy experiences that grab a hold of you and transform you from the inside out. I learned to react  to mistakes that fostered a new kind of patience and understanding that I hope will stay with me forever.

5. People have this innate gravitation towards others. Even if you’re not an extrovert, when you’re in an unfamiliar, thrilling situation like traveling independently, you naturally gravitate towards others. You want others to share that new experience with you. I can only explain it by illustrating it as a basic human need.

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A view of one of the waterfalls in Monachil. One of my favorite memories.
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Travelers from literally all over the world. All day Hiking in the Monachil village in Granada, Spain

Would you ever backpack on your own?

The home-stay I never had: my first few days in Serbia

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A view of a small village and the train to/from Belgrade (capital of Serbia)
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The adorable Baka (‘grandmother’ in Serbian) and her favorite american girls
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Serbians drink “Turkish coffee” which means with no milk and the coffee grounds rest at the bottom of the cup. (For all the coffee addicts)
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Serbian baklava, a sweet dessert with honey and nuts
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Love the details of the homes with white lace in the windows
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Cherry trees are all over the farms we visited
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I met part of Tamara’s extended family and we laughed because I thought we looked like we could be related
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A glimpse of the home we visited in the village of Rastina
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Crkva imena Marijinog; The Name of Mary Church in the center of Novi Sad
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Downtown Novi Sad has some of the best night life

The first thing that comes to mind about Serbia is how generous and kind the people are here.  I’m currently living in a small town an hour from Belgrade called Futog with my best friend’s family. It’s the kind of hospitality that goes beyond feeling welcomed and comfortable– I actually feel like part of the family. I feel honored to see the intimate aspects of the family: the reminiscing of old photos and memories in the living room, daily meals together, and trips to visit family they haven’t seen in years. Today I was invited into multiple family members homes and I felt nothing but love (and delicious homemade stew and cake) from them.

This was an opportunity for me to experience Serbian culture hands-on and in a way that would teach me more about adapting and respecting culture in general. Plus, I love eastern Europe–it’s interesting and beautiful in this unique way.

Tomorrow brings a fun day of: cooking with Baka, an afternoon with new friends in Novi Sad, and belly dancing.

All my love. љубав

Wanderlust in Marrakech, Morocco

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Shopping in the street markets
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Taken while exploring near our hostel
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Stephen negotiating prices for a hat in the market
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Exploring the Berber village after hiking
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Inside one of the Berber villages
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I loved all the shopping
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New friends from Chile and Canada
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Sampling moroccan mint tea at a local herbal shop
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Monkey business
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The camel I rode in the Berber village
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Jemaa el-Fnaa market at night
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A local I met on my way to the market, look at that smile!

Before I left for Europe, I knew I had to get to Morocco. I don’t know exactly what attracted me to the country in the first place to be honest, but I’m so grateful that I not only got to see it for four days, but my experience surpassed my expectations. As my last stop of my 10 day spring break adventure, Sammi and I met up with our friend Stephen and spent our time haggling prices for authentic Moroccan pieces at the Jemaa el-Fnaa market, riding camels, and hiking in the Berber village. We were aware that photography was not welcomed as part of their culture; it is polite to ask to take a photo before you take it. This became a facilitator in creating dialogue with people we met, as well as an interesting challenge we boldly accepted. Vivid with pops of colors, Marrakech has this electric, fast pace that instantly grabs your attention. The intricate details in the handmade woven bags and beaded rugs, the beautiful architecture, and incredible food–I loved it all.

My trip to Morocco was a turning point in my life. It felt like I finally got the culture shock traveling experience that I’ve been craving. On the plane back to Italy,  I realized that I have so much more to see, like I was embedded with an even stronger dose of wanderlust than before. Morocco will hold a piece of my heart as the place that stirred up a passion to create a life full of a different kind of travel.

wanderlust (noun) \ˈwän-dər-ˌləst\ – an irresistibly strong desire or an impulse to travel far away and explore different places

 يا حبيبي يلل Yalla Habibi! Let’s go, my love