Sensory Revival

Not until I arrived in Nice, France did I realize how much emphasis is put on the sense of sight. The Côte d’Azur looks just as beautiful as the photos: unreal water, palm trees galore, yellow tinted buildings, proud French people showing their stuff on the rocky beaches. I was expecting all of this so I was quite surprised with the other charming aspects of Southern France. I welcomed the sensory overload even if it was like getting punched by the sun.

Hearing

I’ve become rather accustomed to the quietness of Switzerland so even the smaller things stood out to my in France. The French people in Nice were very colorful with loud phone conversations, friendly market vendors, bustling restaurants open late into the night and the rhythmic sound of the sea. Not a place where you should get lost in the abyss of your iPod. My other senses were in for quite a greater shock…

Taste

Most European food has been to die for, but the food here was exceptionally delicious. The first thing I ate in Nice was some gelato and sorbetto and a famous gelateria. The sorbetto was mojito flavored and was mediocre but the lavender gelato was like heaven. Southern France is known for its lavender so it seemed appropriate. We wandered around Nice while simultaneous searching for somewhere to eat dinner. We kept seeing restaurants advertising something called “socca.” The restaurant we finally chose had outdoor seating and a decent-sized vegetarian menu. Socca was quite underwhelming since it just looked like a crêpe but it more less sweet and more spongy. For dinner, I had a salad with warm goat cheese and honey. We cooked the rest of our meals in Nice, but a taste that I had forgotten about was salt…iness of the sea. When romping in the Mediterranean, I accidentally got some small gulps of the water, reminding me that large bodies of salt water exist. (It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the ocean–last August and it was the Oregon Coast and it had rained earlier in the day.) It seemed like the taste of salt water only stayed in my mouth while I was in the water. Emerging from the surf seemed to strip me of the overwhelming saltiness coating my mouth. So worth it though.

Touch

This one is a little less fond to look back on. My only goal of this trip was to go to the beach but it came at a bit of a cost. Our beach-time started with a few light raindrops but we were determined to will the sun out. After not too long sun bathing, we all frolicked in the water. Never have my feet been so pained walking on a beach since this beach had rocks instead of sand. Once in the water though, it was fantastic. I’ve never been anywhere tropical (the closet being San Diego, CA) so the Mediterranean was like paradise. After romping in the comfortably warm water, we all went to lay out for a bit. And here comes the sensory overload. For about an hour, we all just lounged and napped out in the sun. I felt the heat of the sun on my skin and welcomed it like an old friend I hadn’t seen in seven months. Unfortunately, my old friend was not very welcoming because I awoke with beet-red back. Although it was a rather painful downside to an otherwise wonderful trip, it allowed us to try different methods of easing pain: aloe, lotion, argon oil, yogurt…

Smell

We got quite an overload of scents while in Nice. First was the market we stumbled across on our way to the beach. Soap is very popular in Southern France meaning there were several different vendors at this market. We stopped at one stand that had soap in the raw. We then continued to smell all of the prepared soaps, and I bought a turquoise colored one called “Sieste à l’hombre” or “Nap in the Shadow.” Meandering further through the market we found stalls and stalls of fresh flowers and had their smell wash over us like a big wave. After going to the beach, we kept the “girls’ weekend” going by heading to Èze to visit the perfume factory of Fragonard. The tour of the factory is free, but at the end of it they try to convince the visitors to buy their products after getting free samples. I ended up buying a 6 euro solid perfume that I later realized just smells that Lip Smackers chapstick. We smelled about 12 different types of perfumes and cremes, every one seemingly becoming more and more similar. On Saturday, we only had the morning in Nice before we hopped on a train to Aix-en-Provence. Gracie suggested we try to find the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice. (The Cathedral was built by the last tsar of Russia, Nicolas II, to serve the Russian communities living in Nice.) As luck would have it, we decided to visit the Cathedral during some sort of ceremony. The distinct smell of incense consumed the elaborate but small structure as we arrived towards the end of the indoor portion of the service. 

All in all, I’d give the Côte d’Azur two thumbs up. Just bring extra sunscreen.

Like Mother Like Daughter

One reason I feel especially lucky to be having this study abroad experience (and third visit to Europe) is because I’m grateful for all that my parents have sacrificed for me. My dad has never been to Europe and my mom has been only once, the summer after her sophomore year of college where she studied in Valencia, Spain. She was able to travel around after her stay and went to Grindelwald, Switzerland and did some hiking. My mom likes to tell me this story: describing the beauty of Switzerland, the nice couple who picked her up as she hitchhiked and the bus stop her friends and her had to sleep in one night. After an eventful journey, they made it to the Alps. Armed with leather Swiss hiking boots and stylish knee high red socks, my mom trekked up a glacier. For memories sake, they broke out their swimsuits and posed for pictures atop the icy plateau.

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She recounts these tales with such clarity, as if she has played the memories on repeat so as to keep reliving them and to not forget them. It’s always a treat to hear my mom’s stories from her youth because it reminds me that my mom was just a young woman once too. She bent the rules, took risks, survived tragedy, made her own way through life. Nowadays, she seems to worry about me a lot. Probably because she knows that I’m a bit like her: a free spirit prone to shield the whole truth from the parentals.

As I accidentally ended up in Grindelwald and hiked along a snowy path in my bikini, I felt a distant but distinct connection to my mom. Being half a world away from home and visiting a place from (what had always just been) a story is just so surreal. Thinking about how timelessness of the scenery made it especially special–a place seemingly untouched by society or time. Also, I realized that I owe so much to my mom since she seems to sacrifice so much to see me happy–which she’s definitely accomplished.

The older I get the more I relate to, respect and appreciate my mom. I owe so much to my mom and hope that one day I can give back to her. For now, all I can do is say “Happy Mothers’ Day, Mom. You da best.”

Down in the Valley

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Down in the Valley

I’m kinda over traveling in cities. I’ve seen a decent amount of churches, museums, castles, fountains, statues, etc. Nature, however, I can’t get enough of. (Except maybe the bugs.) Within three weeks, I made two trips to the Bernese Oberland and it’s definitely a place I’d re-revisit. The Lauterbrunnen Valley, specifically is completely under the control of the weather. My first time there, my hiking was cut short due to a snow-covered pathway up to Mürren. My second time there it was so warm that I did the majority of the hike in my bikini. The warmth also meant that the waterfalls were becoming stronger and more numerous. This hike starts down in Lauterbrunnen as goes all the way to Mürren. What this means is that instead of taking two gondola rides for the 5000-feet-high view, we hiked to it.

It doesn’t take long to realize why this region is the most popular hiking destination in Europe. Down in the valley, you can see the surrounding waterfalls and once you start ascending, the breathtaking Swiss Alps become closer and grander. It’s basically like walking through a postcard; definitely top recommended.

85m to Freedom

Typically, I’m a pretty cautious person. I avoid risky situations, I follow the rules, I drive within the speed limit, etc. This weekend, however, I threw myself off a 85 meter cliff.

Let’s back up. Weeks and weeks ago Clara and I planned a trip to Interlaken, Switzerland because (1) that was her limbo weekend being in between the end of her stay in Rome to the beginning of her travels and (2) I pushed for fulfilling my goal of bungee jumping while abroad.

Time flew incredibly fast and we were together again in Switzerland, starting our third mini European adventure together. Friday was a day for reuniting, napping, wine consuming and attempted bar hopping. Saturday involved a slow morning, a walk to Lake Brienz, bernie-ing like bamfs and more napping. At 4:00pm, we headed down to our hostel’s lobby (aka the bar, not joking) and waited to be picked up for our extreme sporting adventure. We were both nervous as hell. Neither of us had done anything like this before so are nerves jumbled together.

Turns out our jump** location was in Grindelwald which was great because Grindelwald was on my “Places to Visit” list. The jump was located in a canyon, technically 85 meters above the bottom of the canyon. After we got out of the van, we took a group photos (which Clara and I enhanced with our thugness) and then walked about two minutes to the jumping platform. We were read a humorously written contract and then fitted with our harnesses.

Choosing to go second did not give me much time for contemplation or observation. Instead, I literally just through myself over the edge without being fully aware of what to expect. Before my jump, the “instructor” told me to aim for the trees across from the gorge and that this jump had four times as much extension and air time then with a simple bungee. At this moment, I realized I didn’t really know what I was doing. But I was already strapped in completely and only a few inches from the edge. I looked up at the photographer, swore like a sailor and then took a few deep breathes. “Don’t think, just do.” And then I was air-born.

I can’t even describe it really. For most of it, I was freaking out. I got a running start and threw my arms up and then threw my body over the platform. Almost instantly I started screaming and I frantically grabbed for the limp rope in front of me. Suddenly my whole body seized as the rope became taught and as I swung through the canyon. The whole time I was grasping the rope, even though doing so did not greater ensure my safety. I was a little disoriented as I swung through the canyon. I looked upwards towards from where I had leapt but could not differentiate anything. In the moment, I thought I had swung through a narrow crevasse in the canyon. None of this mattered really except for the sake of a sweet picture of me swinging and posing at the bottom of the canyon.

Adrenaline rushes are addicting. Right after I took my harness off, I wanted to strap it back on and have another go. I got to watch Clara jump though which was pretty exciting. She shrieked like a banshee throughout most of it but had an awesome time too. We had to wait at the bottom in the cold for the other jumpers which was not fun, but we were glad we were rid of our nerves and just high on life.

“You’re not hardcore until you live hardcore!”

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** This technically wasn’t bungee jumping because my feet weren’t secured. This “canyon jump” allowed for four times as much suspension than the bungee jump though. It was probably more exhilarating anyway because all my limbs were free allowing me to basically run in midair.

Two of My Favorite Things: Elena and Nature

(April 17-20, 2013)

I feel incredibly thankful for the study abroad experience and I feel especially special that I’ve been able to kick it with some Willamette homies too. Clara (twice), Gracie, Kevin and now Elena! Right after returning from Paris, I was greeted by the presence of Elena. While I had classes, she did some exploring around Switzerland and then we did some romping together.

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Wednesday: We meet up at Elena’s hostel near Lausanne Gare and then walk to the daily food market held in Place St. François. After buying some food for our dinner, we decide to keep walking to the lakefront since it was a gorgeous day. We stroll from the edge of Ouchy all the way to Vidy and up to the Université de Lausanne campus. After our brief reunion, we split up so I can go to class and so Elena can check out some thermal baths in the area. We meet up for dinner together at her hostel which was an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, wouldn’t except anything less from Elena. We spend our whole evening chatting with three other guests (two Australians one Brazilian) and drinking a grand total of 5 bottles of wine. Returning to my apartment on one of the last metros, I attempted to tipsily pack my weekend bag.

Thursday: I woke up with enough time to finish packing (sans toothbrush par accident) and to meet Elena at the train station. With our backpacks and bags of food in tow, we hop on the train to Interlaken! The weather was absolutely gorgeous so we decide a lakeside lunch would be perfect. First though we buy cheap postcards and find a bathroom and grocery store. Then, we head towards the lake! Well…or we thought we did. The path turns into a road which does not look promising. (The train ride made everything seem so much closer!) After about 20 minutes or so, we double back to where we know we can find the other lake. Making it back to our “starting point” aka the train station, we decide the canal is better for a lunch spot solely because it was right there. After refueling we decide to have another go at finding the lake, this time we head in the other direction. We find a gravel path along the canal lined with wildflowers and little houses. Eventually, we make it to a bridge so we can crossover the canal and reach Lake Thun. We quickly find a little pier with great views of the lake and mountains and decide to get our tan on. Elena also decides to have a lovely little dip…in the glacial-temperature water. The moment the sun goes behind the clouds, we decide to pack it up and head towards the train station again. Incredibly parched and waiting for the train, we just ogled the beverage section at Coop pronto.

A quick train ride later, we arrive in Lauterbrunnen–a valley in Switzerland renown for it’s amazing hikes, views and 72 waterfalls. Not wanting to waste the daylight, we decide to explore the area after checking into our hostel. Being a couple of rebels, we hop a fence so we can climb up a trail to get a better view of Staubbach Falls. We almost hiked higher so we could go behind the waterfall but decided against it. Good decision because when we returned to the base, we saw that there was an abundance of snow. Back at the hostel, we eat our dinner (bread and cheese and fruit) outside, meet the hostel cat and huskies and enjoy the beautiful view of the valley. We spend the evening writing our numerous postcards and doing some light reading.

Friday: We wake up to slightly worse weather, that of Oregon. We don’t let a bit of rain stop us though so we decide to hike two trails. To sum of Wengen, the first trail, in one word is: UP. Not stairs, not switchbacks, just up. It was definitely a challenge for me but it was worth it. The whole way up we had great views of the Lauterbrunnen Valley below and then going back down was a breeze. Back at the hostel we had a break for lunch and then were back on a trail. This one was slightly easier because it was just switchbacks leading up to the top of the other side of the valley. Unfortunately, we ran into some snow on road and then reached a point where the road was completely covered in snow. Having feeling rather accomplished for the day, we decide to head back down and have an early evening full of wine and relaxation. It was definitely a good call because about two hours later, the light rain from throughout the day turned into fat snowflakes. And it continued to snow for the rest of the night turning the sun-soaked valley from the day before into a winter wonderland.

Saturday: It continued to snow all night so we woke up to piles of snow all around the hostel. We decided that out best course of action was to just say goodbye to Lauterbrunnen earlier than planned. Hiking and stunning views are the main draw of the valley so when the weather sucks, there’s not much to do. As we waited at the train station, we noticed that even some of the gondolas were shut down because of the snow. We took the train to Interlaken where we bought some souvenirs (more postcards for friends and a Swiss army knife for me) and then we were back en route to Lausanne. We considered stopping in Bern since we had a connecting train but decided against it since we both had been traveling a lot recently. At the Lausanne train station, we said goodbye as Elena was catching a train to Paris for her flight back to the states. All in all, it was a wonderful trip with a wonderful person in a wonderful place!

How To Soothe A Restless Soul

I seem to have gotten used to being on the move, since I have been away and traveling for the past five weekends. I’m not one who likes to sit still anyway. Even since childhood I’ve been that way. My mom likes to tell people that I started to run before I could walk (which apparently isn’t physically possible for a toddler but whatever it’s a cute anecdote). To deal with my excess amounts of energy, my mom enrolled me in gymnastics so I could bounce on a trampoline and jump into a foam pit for a few hours every week. Even nowadays this restless energy is still present. I’m pretty bad at being in one place for too long or even just “being bored.” All of the traveling has been great for my restless soul because I’ve been constantly on the move and with very little time to sit still. My body probably hates me though for my month-long cold and poor eating habits. 

But traveling can get so addicting. Upon my return from traveling with Elena in the Bernese Oberland, I started to plan out the trips I could squeeze into my remaining weeks in Switzerland. On Monday, I was feeling anxious and impulsive and booked a trip to visit Gracie in southern France. I later learned this was the weekend before two exams but I figure I can just combine travel time and study time. 

This week in Lausanne was probably the most routine-like one I’ve had in a while. Maybe it was the toll of actually going to all of my classes, but I felt the restlessness ensue again. And with the temperatures (temporarily) reaching the upper 60s, I felt my motivation slowly dwindling as well. With over four full days spent in Lausanne (the longest duration in over a month), I felt the immediate urge to get back out there. On Thursday morning, I decided to hop on the train to Montreux so I could walk along the lake and go someplace different. Montreux is so gorgeous in the springtime, with beautiful flowers lining the lakeside walk from the train station to the famous Château de Chillon. There are so many little boat docks, shaded benches, tanning areas and swimming spots all along the walk as well. For some reason, both the mountains and the water are more impressive from Monteux than at Lausanne. You can see the green of the trees along the mountains and the water is a more-inviting blue. 

Whether it was all the vitamin d or the solo excursion itself, I came back in a better mood. I’m going to have to hold tight for another 6 days before I’m off to Interlaken with Clara on my next adventure. Until then I just will try to squeeze as much as I can out of my time left in Europe–48 days!

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That’s Amore.

For my ten days of Easter/Spring break, I chose to visit the wonderful boot-shaped country of Italy. Like most first-timers to Italy, I planned my trip around the three main cities: Rome, Venice and Florence. Based on my short time in each place, each city has a distinct personality while still maintaining that Italian “je ne sais quoi.”

Rome

My longest stop was in Rome with three full days and two half days. I again got to see Clara and we were joined this time by our homie Kevin. Craziness filled the air as we were in Rome for probably its busiest time of year: Easter. Despite all the tourists, I was still able to get a thorough glimpse of Roma. The thing I loved most about Rome was how the clichés were fulfilled. Gelaterias and pizzerias around every corner, vespas whipping down the cobblestone roads, expressive hands, unwanted calls of “Ciao bella!”, ancient ruins casually placed throughout the city. Aided by the lovely and knowledgable Clara, we got a twofold visit, that of a tourist and that of a resident. We saw the major sites and ruins, had a Pope sighting, ate plenty of gelato and pizza, drank wine and limoncello, went to a Lazio soccer game, watched the movie Gladiator (don’t judge). We saw Rome during the night and day, rainy and blue skies. At all times it was gorgeous (except maybe the Tiber River). “This is a history major’s dream” as Kevin put it. The city is still so alive despite its obvious past.

Venice

My next stop was Venice with my sister who came over from the States grâce à our mother. (When my sister was studying abroad four years ago, I visited her during my Spring Break. We went to Liverpool, London and Dublin.) We had an adrenaline-pumping arrival in Venice at 10:30pm trying to navigate the poorly-marked streets with our less-than-helpful map and directions. Finally arriving at our B&B, we woke up a guest by ringing the doorbell and disturbed another by asking to use his phone. (This was funny because I spoke in English and French and the guy came to the door with a blowdryer. Not quite right.) Luckily, we were soon in our room, two tired travelers. Venice in the daytime was truly magical. Narrow streets, numerous canals, adorable bridges. My impression of Venice was that it’s a city for lovers due to the lack of noise from cars, wandering the streets with the inevitability of getting lost but not caring, stumbling across with bridges with locks, relaxing on a gondola. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it as I was increasing my love affair with Italia. With only one full day, we made sure to hit the major sites: the Grand Canal, St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, Palazzo Ducale and Accademia de Venezia. It was quite a full day especially when you calculate the time and energy getting lost (not romantic for a pair of sisters with tired feet). The next day, we only had the morning before we were off again. Not being able to risk getting lost again, we took the vaparetto which is basically Venice’s transportation system via boat. We took it to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art to offset all the ugly baby Jesuses from the day before. This was one of my favorite things because it was such a surprise. I got to see works by Picasso, Braque, Dali, Kandinsky, Picabia, Magritte and Jackson Pollack.  With a hop, skip and a jump, we were leaving Venice and on route to Firenze.

Florence

While Rome is for history buffs, Florence is for art lovers. Seemingly frozen in time from the Medici reign, Florence is full of pockets of treasures. We lucked out with great weather the first day so we trekked south to the Plazo Pitti via the Ponte Vecchio to marvel at a palace full of art and meander through a grand garden speckled with signs of spring. We continued upward towards Piazzale Michelangelo which offers a great view of Florence. From here, I could really see the beauty of this European city in its preserved state. Unlike American cities that are painfully modern and recent, the cityscape of Florence is exclusively dominated by the architectural masterpieces from the Renaissance. Our second day was an art overload. We started with the Galleria dell’Accademia to ogle at Michelangelo’s David. While da Vinci’s Mona Lisa tends to be underwhelming, David does not disappoint. We continued our journey with a quick tour of the Duomo and then we were off to the Uffizi aka the best museum in the world for Renaissance art. Botticelli, Raphael, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, da Vinci, as well as many others. We ended the day with some purchases at the San Lorenzo leather market with gyros for dinner since we were both a little tired of pasta and paninis. Our last day, we toured the Palazzo Vecchio and had our final gelato (half stracciatella half tiramisu) and pizza.

And just like that we were headed to Rome for just a night before our early morning departures. We had a bit of a mishap with our Rome accommodation (ask me about it later) but it did not damper my opinion of my experience.Ciao Italy! Grazie! 

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