What’s that Smell? Just some Cologne.

And it smells like beer, pretzels, and good times.

Really good times, because how could it not be when I’m in a new country with an old friend?

My 5:30am wake-up Saturday morning was completely worth the early train ride to meet up with one of my best friends, Emily, in Cologne, Germany.  Last summer when working in D.C., I took a weekend trip to visit Emily in her hometown of Philadelphia, so we figured why not make this summer travel a tradition?  Since Emily just finished her study abroad program in Rome, she planned to stay with me in Utrecht for my last week.  Talk about finishing my trip the right way :)

First, however, we had the weekend ahead of us.  Since my train came in hours before Emily’s flight, I took the time to explore the city by foot.  Most of Cologne was destroyed in WWII, so only the Old Town has the charm of a traditional German town; the rest is as urbanized and bustling as Manhattan.

Guten Tag from Altstadt [Old Town]

Afterwards I checked into the Marriott, and did some studying in the lobby while I waited for Emily.  Bless American hotel chains –  after experiences with grimy hostels and weeks in a shared dorm, it was living in luxury.  A/C, fluffy pillows, good water pressure and a clean atmosphere make all the difference. (Thank you Mrs. Weiss!!!)  Emily finally arrived mid-afternoon and it was SO good to see her.  After our little reunion [the concierge probably thought we were nuts] we set off back into town to catch up on life and wander the streets.

Most of the museums were about to close for the day, so we decided to see what we could and entered the Köln Cathedral.  I’ve sure seen my share of Cathedrals, and this one was by far most impressive.

It's been 3 months too long!

We then set off to satiate our rumbling stomachs.  I always like to try the “local speciality” when I’m in a new place, especially for only a weekend!  Being in Germany, this meant schnitzel.  Surprisingly, it was not that easy to find, and we ended up ordering it from an Argentinian Steakhouse, but schnitzel is schnitzel. For those of you who aren’t familiar with schnitzel, it is essentially one giant fried chicken tender, and just as you would expect, did not disappoint.  What did disappoint was the amount of ketchup the waiters gave us.  We had to ask four separate times for more ketchup, and got just a single new packet each time.  An American’s worst nightmare.

Doorbells and sleighbells and schitzel with...french fries

We followed our dinner with a walk around downtown and saw a taste of the city’s nightlife.  They really do like their beer here, and it’s a shame that I don’t, because the most popular brand is called “Reissdorf Kölsch”.  On the way back to our hotel, I was stunned that the Cathedral could look even more spectacular at night.

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Sunday started well not only because we got a good night’s rest, but because we had a complimentary breakfast buffet with everything under the sun.  You name it, it was there.  Time away from home really makes you appreciate the little things in life.

First stop of the day was the Roman-Germanic museum.  Few people know that the Roman Empire extended all the way North to Cologne, since it was an important port on the Rhine. The collection included everything from Roman medical tools, to busts and tombstones, to Corinthian columns and potteryis.  The highlight was the Dionysis mosaic, which used to adorn the floor of a banquet hall 2,000 years ago.  It was discovered during the construction of an air raid shelter during WWII in over 1 million pieces and is now fully restored.  And Emily thought she escaped Rome? Muahahaha.

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Museums will sufficiently deplete your energy, so we properly caffeinated with some Dunkin Donuts iced coffee(!) and walked along Hohe Street, Cologne’s main shopping district.  To our disappointment, everything was closed, but perhaps that is a good thing.  Europe shuts down on Sundays!

Emily and I then picked up some salads from the market and soft pretzels, and had a picnic along the waterfront.  We then crossed the Hohenzollern bridge, famous, but not as famous as the Pontes D’ Artes in Paris, for their love locks.

11822800_10204430821747155_8491372537565152841_nThere wasn’t much to do on the other side of the Rhine, but after some wandering, we stumbled upon a street fair that reminded me how much I don’t like crowds.

11817208_10204430828787331_3711954105315335753_nSince I never made it to the Cheese Museum in Amsterdam, I figured I would do the next best thing and see the Chocolate Museum, or Schokoladenmuseum in Cologne.  From the Lindt desert bar inside to the free samples handed out with your admission ticket (and along the way through the exhibits), it was a pretty sweet place.  Not only did we get to see all steps of production, but trace chocolate making back through time and through its stages from plant to processing.  Did you know that chocolate used to be consumed by wealthy Europeans in Cocoa Houses?  Essentially, they functioned as taverns, but replace beer with hot chocolate and you have the idea.  The world would be a much happier place if these were still around today.

A real chocolate factory

Exploring a city by foot has its benefits but sure is tiring.  After the Chocolate Museum, Emily and I just sat down for dinner at a Thai restaurant and made it back to grab our luggage in time for our 9:00 train back to Utrecht.  Riding my bike home from the station at midnight, the thought of an early morning wake up the next day was not pleasant.  But it is my last week, with my best friend, in my favorite city, so if that isn’t something to wake up for, I don’t know what is!

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Until Next Time,

RJR

A Countryside Ride

The other evening I hopped on my bike to nowhere.

Nowhere to go, nobody to go with.  Just me, myself, and I, and some sheep along the way.

I left the familiar gates of Campusplein, rode down Platolaan and made a turn onto Sophocleslaan. (all the streets here are named after philosophers!) Then I got to the light where I usually turn left onto Campus, and did the unthinkable:

continued straight into uncharted territory.

Uncharted, but not uninhabited.  People do live down this rural stretch.

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Look to the left:

Campus and cows

And the right:

Yes, those are sheep

A pit-stop was necessary to soak in all the beauty.

Thank you, bike, for taking me everywhere.

And then two roads diverged in a yellow wood

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I took the one less traveled:

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And it made all the difference.

Because I ended up at this cute pancake house.

So where was everyone else?  You know us with our no-free-weekends policy.  They had set off to Ireland, Denmark, and England.  But not to worry, come Saturday, I had somewhere to go and someone to see…

Until Next Time,

RJR

The City of One Hundred Spires

Free weekends are unacceptable here. When we noticed an empty block on our calendar for our last few days in July, it just had to be filled.  So began our destination contemplation.

After some hasty research, price comparisons, and discussion of our personal wishlists, we came to a consensus: Prague.

Day 1

The beauty of European travel is that a short 1-hour flight is all that separates the pastoral lowlands of the Benelux region from the Old World charm of East-Central Europe. Prague is the first place I’ve been to that projects the enchanting and traditional images of “Europeanness” that I’d always imagined.  Like straight from the pages of a storybook, or Disney World, buildings with quaint, colorful façades line the Old Town Square, musicians play traditional Slavic tunes, and the smell of roasting ham wafts out from street stalls…pretty magical, if you ask me!

Prague's Old Town Square has seen everything from executions to coronations for over 1000 years

The most famous landmark of Prague’s Old Town Square also happens to be Europe’s 3rd most disappointing attraction, as rated by tourists.  Don’t expect some elaborate show when the clock strikes every hour; the twelve apostles simply parade by and a small golden rooster crows. It’s ornate face also boasts moon phases and zodiac signs, but I can’t understand any of that in relation to time, but it’s pretty impressive for a 14th century masterpiece.

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We then took care of all the logistically necessary things: check into hostel, convert currency, grab food.  Also The Czech Republic is in the EU, it still uses the Czech Koruna, which was a difficult conversion for me to wrap my head around.  Everything was in really high denominations, for example, my lunch, which would have cost me about $8 USD, was over 200 Koruna.

We walked around Havelské Tržiště, Prague’s market dating back to 1232, explored the shops in Wenceslas Square, and then noticed that everywhere we turned, there was a sweet, doughy smell we could not escape.  The culprit? Trdelník. Not a single street corner was without a stand selling these traditional Slovak pastries that are cooked on a rotating spit and then dusted in cinnamon sugar, until they become a cone of happiness (or shame – depending on how you feel after).

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After treating our tummies, we decided to treat our feet and venture outside our comfort zones with some pedicures.  Not just any pedicures, but fish pedicures!  They are banned in several of the U.S. States due to health risks and over somewhat obvious reasons that we all turned a blind eye to today, since, when in Europe…

A candid reaction! Experiences like these are better shared with best friends who encourage you to do such crazy things.I'm no foot model, but even passersby outside the store stopped to snap some pictures of my feet as my friends and I cringed in discomfort.

The sensation of hundreds of little fish biting, nibbling, and sucking at your bare feet really isn’t that bad when you just imagine it to be a tiny, powerful jet blasting away the dead skin.  It actually tickles a little.

After our feet were feeling good as new, we put them to good use and walked across the Vltava River to the other side of the city, where we found a winding trail up the side of a hill that led to a nice dog park with an overlook of the city.  All the puppies at the top made the climb worth it all – plus the thousands of gorgeous photo ops that I will spare you.

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After our hike, we had dinner at a nice Italian restaurant right in the Old Town Square before calling it a night.  As draining as travel is, sleeping with a foreign male stranger on the bunk above yours doesn’t make for the best night’s sleep.  Especially when random roommates come it at 3am and snore like a freight train. #ThatHostelLifeTho

Day 2

We were more than happy to get out of our hostel and start our day bright and early in the Town Square.  We took a walking tour of the city, and, having gone on countless tours of museums throughout my time abroad, it made me realize how a good tour guide makes all the difference.  Our guide, Ian, was a Brazilian-born, English-speaking Prague resident who made the move overseas when he met his Czech girlfriend while studying in Spain. He explained to us that even after living in Prague for 3 years, he struggled to speak a word of Czech.  Not an easy language; some words don’t even contain vowels.

Our tour took us everywhere: The Astronomical Clock, Jewish Quarter, Old New Synagogue, Wensceslas Square, Saint Nicolas Church, Art Nouveau Municipal House, and House of the Black Madonna.

We stopped mid-tour for some lunch at a Czech pub; I had a traditional meal of roast pork, sauerkraut, and potato dumplings.  I was psyched for the dumplings, since I’d always expected them to be like pierogies, but they were instead like a tasteless, starchy matzo ball.

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After lunch, and the obligatory 2nd round of coffee for the day, we crossed the Vltava river and walked up Medieval streets to the famous Prague Castle.  While we didn’t get the chance to go inside the Castle, we at least got to admire the gothic exterior and take a peek inside Saint Vitus’ Cathedral.

Coffee Crew day 2

Sorry Paris, but this beats Notre Dame for sure

We then got ice cream and strudel, and rested our feet for an hour, before topping off our day in the most classically European way – with classical European music!  Our lovely venue was Saint George’s Basilica, the oldest surviving building in Prague Castle, dating back to 920 A.D.  It now serves as a concert hall, and the beautiful frescoes candlelit chapel make for the perfect setting to listen to some Pachabel, Bach, and Vivaldi.

Prague’s name as “The City of One Hundred Spires” came from an observation by a Czech mathematician…but over 100 years ago.  Nowadays, the city has over 500 spires.  We got to admire those spires, along with its signature red roofs, on our journey downhill from the Castle.

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After dinner at a pub, some late night ice cream and Trdelník (we take sweets very seriously), gallivanting around the market square (Prague’s night scene is INSANE), and laughing a little more than our stomachs could handle, we turned in for a poor night’s sleep.  But couldn’t have been any happier.  This great city was made better with even greater girls, and I’m so glad to have enjoyed it with them!

Day 3

Walk -> metro -> bus -> airplane -> train -> bike -> HOME.

Prague, you will be missed.  But it’s good to be back.

Until Next Time,

RJR


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The Last One

I can’t even think about having to leave this beautiful city and the amazing people. I’ve made so many friends around the world in such a short period of time. It’s crazy to think I might not see everyone again (but you can never say never). I’m going to miss it all so much!

But before I get too sad, I get happy thinking about all the wonderful things I’ve been doing. This past week I’ve been hustling around the city, getting last looks at everything it has to offer. And eating lots of food. Lots of food.

This past weekend, I went on a bit of a “field trip” with everyone in my USAC program. We went to El Escorial and El Valle de Los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen). They were both sites filled with lots of history. El Escorial functions as a monastery, royal palace and is even where kings of Spain have been buried.

El Valle de Los Caídos is a bit of a controversial place for natives. It’s a monument to honor those who died during the Spanish Civil War. Many people do not support this monument because it’s where Francisco Franco is buried, and it’s been shut down in the past before.

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Sunday I took a trip to Toledo, a great day trip from Madrid. It used to be the capital of Spain, and has Christian, Moorish and Jewish influences. It’s a beautiful city, though very hot and hilly. Best part is that it’s only a 30 minute train ride away!

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I’ve spent a lot of time recently hanging out with my host family and friends. Even though I’m going to miss Madrid very much, I’m going to miss these people equally. Being in class, however, I won’t miss very much. I will miss my Masterpieces of European Art class though – I don’t think I will ever be able to take an art class inside museums in a city ever again.

As final exams and projects come up, you’d think I’d be stressed. Normally during a semester at UF, I’d be up all night cramming and studying. Here, it doesn’t worry me much. I think the Spanish vibe of go-with-the-flow suits me very well!

Studying abroad in Madrid has been an adventure of a lifetime, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I know this isn’t really the end of my travels though, because I will return one day. Thank you, Madrid!

Eavesdropping on English

My last lunch in Korea was especially indicative of my growth there. During the first week of the trip, my friends and I went to a Korean barbecue place near the University and struggled greatly to order because of the language barrier. When the food arrived, we didn’t know what to do, and the friendly restaurant owner made and fed us lettuce wraps. We developed quite a liking for her, so we returned to her restaurant for our last meal. This time, I dealt with a complicated order for 11 people in Korean and managed lettuce wraps and more with artful chopstick dexterity.

During this study abroad, I explored all the corners of an enormous city, gaining confidence in my navigation abilities. I spoke with my hands to those whose English was anywhere from nonexistent to semi-fluent, increasing my nonverbal communication skills. I sang Karaoke with students from all over the world, learning about their cultures and gaining perspective on how mine fits into the world. I learned what it’s like to be in the racial minority, and now feel better equipped to relate to minorities in the United States. I’ve grown in some ways I can’t explain and likely in some ways I don’t recognize.

Sitting in the Chicago airport, eavesdropping on English speakers and not getting stared at because I’m blonde is bittersweet. This has been such an amazing experience and I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to study abroad in South Korea.

Until my next adventure, 안녕히 계세요!

Paris is Always a Good Idea

One of the great things about coming to Utrecht with a group of other UF students is that it makes a big, new place suddenly seem a lot more familiar.  Even before we all met in person, we arranged a weekend trip to Paris since, why not?  When we all finally met over here and discovered the fantastic group dynamic we have going on, I couldn’t have been more psyched.  Until I noticed, the night before our trip, that I erroneously booked my train two hours earlier than everyone else’s. So solo travel it was. I had only taken a train once before,  this Thalys high speed train was a fast one! I got to Paris in less than 3 hours, and then killed time at the train station until everyone else arrived. Aside from the lack of A/C, my first impression of the city wasn’t at all favorable. I had 3 gypsies approach me for money, witnessed a fight between two homeless men, and lost a few Euro to a broken vending machine. C’est la vie!

Vive la France!

When the others arrived, we accidentally plugged in the wrong address for our hotel, but with no wifi and no maps, resources were running low. I ran into a small grocery market and asked the sweetest Parisian woman for help. She didn’t speak a word of English – literally, not a word – so it was more like an exchange of gestures and motioning, but she was able to help us grab a taxi. We got to our hotel about 9, but it was still light outside, so we decided to venture out and find a place for dinner. They weren’t kidding when they said Paris was expensive. We stumbled upon a crepe stand, and that did the job. I know you can get crepes in the States, but I was waiting for my first experience to be as authentic as possible. I enjoyed it so much that I went for 3 more (some were the next day, okay.)

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To cap off our first Parisian evening, we walked to the Eiffel Tower, conveniently only a few minutes from our hotel. Paris at night is spectacular – the tower sparkles every hour on the hour and all the twinkling just gave me the chills! We took a river boat down the Seine, and from all the couples around us, it was obvious that this is really the city of love. It was a chilly and windy evening, so my cuddle-buddy for the boat ride was none other than Kristen. You know you’re with good people when every few minutes, someone just says “guys, we’re in PARIS!”

When you have 48 hours in Paris, what do you do? Wake up at an obscenely early hour and jam-pack your day with 10 miles of walking and sightseeing, of course! Our route began at the Eiffel Tower then crossed the river to the Arc de Triomphe, from where we walked down the Champ de Élysées.

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Next stop was the Jardin de Tulleries, commissioned by Catherine de Medici. A Carnival was set up at the fair with a giant ferris wheel, and since we never made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower, this seemed like the next best thing. It was a great idea and afforded us breathtaking views o the city. Plus a pretty nice place to relax our feet.

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And then, the Louvre…

Gator Chompin'

And Notre Dame….

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No matter how many cathedrals I see, each one is more breathtaking than the last. To think, this was constructed centuries ago with none of the technology we have today! A modern marvel that is eerily spectacular.

Our first day was exhausting, so after a nice (pricey) dinner at a corner Brasserie, we made our way over to the Eiffel Tower, and as cliché as it sounds, enjoyed wine and ice cream on the lawn, reflecting on our trip thus far. And then came the hail.

Yes, little ice chips falling from the sky that suddenly turned into a miserable sleet. After hiding under a hotel overhand, we decided to brave the downpour and run back to the hotel. We were going to need our sleep for an early wake up the next day, anyways.

Sunday started early because we had a line to get in. Most people don’t think of coming to Paris to see a dungeonous labyrinth of skulls, but it happens to be one of the most popular tourist attractions. We got in line almost 2 hours before it opened, and still had to wait once it did!

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Creepy doesn’t even begin to cut it. Victims of disease, war, and just ordinary citizens were buried here in the decades following the French Revolution. Paris was pressed for room to bury the dead and there even came a point that bones poured into the street. Scary stuff!

We were still pretty burnt out from the active day beforehand, so after the Catacombs, some of us just wanted to stroll around and enjoy the city. After a return to the Jardin de Tulleries, walk along the Seine, and gift shopping from vendors, we enjoyed a final crepe and caught the train back to Utrecht.

When we got back to Utrecht around 11pm, the last thing we wanted to do was ride our bikes 3 miles from the train station to our dorms. But, C’est la Vie!

It’s good to be home.

Until next time,

RJR

Jamsil Stadium Has Nothing on the Swamp

I had been wanting to go to a Korean baseball game since I arrived here. I’d heard it’s such a big part of the culture, and friends who had already been said there’s nothing like it – the people are so spirited.

They haven’t seen Gator games!

Nonetheless, it was a cool experience. Even on a Tuesday night, Seoul’s best known baseball stadium, Jamsil Stadium – which is about ½ the size of the Swamp – was about ¾ full of singing fans. Koreans ate, drank, and were merry with family and friends as they watched cheerleaders and their teams dueling it out. My favorite thing about it was that each player has his own song that the fans sing while he is at bat. In accordance, true fans know quite a number of chants! This game was particularly exciting because the underdogs, the Eagles, beat the Doosan Bears, Seoul’s previously favored team. One guy in my party grew up in the home town of the Eagles, and his cheering was almost comparable to a Gator fan’s. It was fun!

While the home runs made me a little home sick for our American football season, it was fun to relate to other fans passionate about their team.

We Came, We Climbed, We Conquered

Finally, a day with little enough rain to hike Bukhansan! Some friends and I set our sights on hiking the tallest peak (Baegundae, 836 m) of the mountains in Bukhansan National Park. After an easy hour’s commute via subway and bus, we began our ascent.

The recent rain improved the already beautiful scenery by turning the mountain’s many streams into semi-waterfalls. We had to cross many of them, which made for a slippery and difficult but very fun hike! Most of the mountain is jagged rocks shaded by trees, with running streams always in earshot. However, towards the top of the mountain, the trees vanish and the terrain turns to smooth granite, so we had to use cables to pull ourselves up the steep inclines. After completing that in tennis shoes, we ate our packed lunches at the top of the mountain, basking in the gorgeous views of Seoul with a sense of accomplishment – we earned them.

It’s a Small World

Rotterdam. It’s the second largest city in the Netherlands and has the largest port in all of Europe. Most of the city was destroyed in bombings during WWII, so it’s a very new city with a modern architectural style. Cool place, but not exactly the number one tourist destination in all of Europe. Which is why it was so surprising to see TWO people from my hometown while I was there on Friday.

After class on Friday (which consisted of field trips to Interface tile factory and Rondeel chicken farm) Amber and I took a train to Rotterdam to meet up with my childhood best friend from home, Kelly, who is traveling around Europe by herself this summer. We had planned to meet up months ago and booked a hotel together for that night. The hotel, called H2Otel, was a converted ship that was floating in one of the canals. Very cool.

The three of us and two other people who came along from the program wandered through a market in the city, grabbed dinner, and went to a sky bar called Euromast. Euromast has an elevator that goes to the very top of the needle for amazing views of the city. The last ride for the day goes up at 9:45. We made to the elevator in a running dash at 9:45. The view of the city at night is amazing- it looks like a mini New York City.
We hung out in the sky bar afterwards, chatted and enjoyed the amazing views. After sleeping on the H2Otel boat that night Amber and I woke up to do our long run through the city. It was a great run and we got to see a lot of the city that we would have missed just walking. The only downside was the winds; there were gusts of up to 60 MPH. Hurricane force winds, for us Floridians.

Due to the bad weather we decided to call it a day early and head back to the train station to go back to Utrecht. Standing in the ticket line I heard someone yell, “Taylor?!” It was my high school track coach and recent UF grad Josh, who had been traveling Europe this summer too. Lives 15 minutes down the road from me in my tiny hometown of Sebring. Just happened to run into him in Rotterdam of all places. So it’s a super small world, which I love. You never have to look far to find something that reminds you of home.
I’m on the plane on the way to Rome for a week with the class as I write this. I’m hopeful that my life will mirror the Lizzie McGuire Movie, or at the very least, another crazy coincidence like Rotterdam.

Daintree and The Great Barrier Reef

Daintree was such a cool little spot for exploring! The scenery was very refreshing after the Sydney suburbs and the beach was drop dead gorgeous. We went on several really nice walks through the rainforest and one just so happened to include spotting TWO CASSOWARIES. Cassowaries are giant birds (almost the size of an emu) that live in the rainforest and pretty much look like dinosaurs… pretty much because their species has managed to survive that long. I was in the back of the hiking group and was talking to my friend about how cool it would be if we saw a cassowary when not a minute later I hear a rustling and two of these huge birds come out of the bushes! Were were all so shocked that we actually got to see them in the wild and stayed dead silent probably for fear of being attacked. Because Daintree is one of the only places where the rainforest meets the sea, the beach was absolutely beautiful and I felt like I was on a secluded tropical island. The beach right outside of our accommodation was called Cape Tribulation and is known worldwide for its beauty.

The next day, we took advantage of our close proximity to clear blue waters and went snorkeling… on the GREAT BARRIER REEF. I was so so so excited about the fact that we were actually going out to the Great Barrier Reef that I didn’t even let myself think it was real until I was actually swimming. The one and only Great Barrier reef that I’ve been dreaming about witnessing for my entire life. We all got suited up in wetsuits and then hopped on a 30 minute boat ride out into the ocean. Before we knew it, we were all geared up with flippers and snorkels and masks looking ridiculous and jumping off the side of the boat. It was freezingggg cold but it was so beyond worth it. I’m from Florida and have been lucky enough to snorkel in the Caribbean numerous times, but Australia still managed to impress me- I felt like I was filming Planet Earth. Just as I was swimming atop the water gazing down on a crazy colorful undersea world, I noticed a giant sea turtle on the sea floor! Yes, and sea turtle. My heart was filled with joy. I watched it sway in the ocean current for an awkwardly long amount of time seeing as I was so fascinated by it, and then proceeded on my marry way exploring the rest of the reef with a giant smile glued to my face. I wasn’t expecting to actually see a sea turtle?! The water was crystal blue and made the bright red and orange coral and blue starfish look even prettier. I saw dozens of different kinds of insanely patterned fish and one almost as big as me that I thought was a shark for a second- yikes! Seeing such magnificent creatures in their native habitat was one of the coolest things that I have ever had the opportunity to take part of. As I was headed back to the boat, I was swimming full speed ahead seeing as I was one of the last ones in the water (naturally), and another sea turtle decided to swim past right in front of my face! You can’t see to the sides in the crazy goggles, so I had no idea I was about to almost collide with it until it was an arm’s length away. I froze and stared at it while it stared right back at me as it bolted away. Sounds crazy I know, but it happened and I’m so happy it actually did. The Great Barrier Reef: a place I would visit again and again.

The next day we went on an aboriginal tour near Mossman’s Gorge and learned a lot about indigenous plants and all of their natural remedies/ effects on human life. It’s amazing how easily they can point at a plant and be able to say how it can be boiled down to be used in tea to help with all kinds of different medical issues, or mosquito repellent, or for luring in animals. Later, I even got to go hopping between rocks among the “second purest water in the world,” so you could definitely say I was very happy.

After waiting hours for the bus to pick us up, we finally started our journey to Cairns where we checked into our rooms. It was a wonderful setup for the end of the trip with two of my closest friends here. In Cairns, we studied for our exam and spent our days exploring the little town with our free time. It was very small and filled with lots of touristy stores for souvenir shopping, so I spent the majority of my time along the water soaking up the view with friends. One night we had a group dinner at the zoo and feasted before going into the zoo to see jumping crocodiles, kangaroos, and birds galore. But I also took this opportunity to hold a koala. Hold. A. Koala. I died. It smelled horrible but it was incredibly cute and one even licked my ear. I also held a boa, and proceeded to flip out as the snake started to constrict around me… No thanks. Why is it that I love nature but it somehow always seems to come back at me? After the tour of the zoo, they led us to an outdoor room where we all danced like crazy people to the aboriginal music they were playing.
On one of our free days while everyone was studying, I met up with my family. Yes- my family is now in Australia. I know it’s crazy but it’s very true! Their cruise ended outside of Cairns so they rented a car, picked me up at my accommodation where I hugged them for 5 minutes each (it’s been 2 months without them), and headed to Port Douglas for some family togetherness. As we drove to this cute little beach town an hour up the coast, I told them of all of my adventures until they got tired of me bragging and we all sat down for a delicious lunch. After exploring the town and window shopping for a while longer, we headed back into Cairns where I had another group dinner with my study abroad friends planned. It was a really fun last night out with them seeing the town and sitting along the water talking about all the great things we got to see the past 5 weeks. And now I’m here in the airport pretty much sobbing my eyes out yet again as I say goodbye to all of my friends that I met a few weeks ago but feel like I’ve known forever. I’m extremelyyyyyy sad for my study abroad experience to be over (and truthfully I never ever ever want it to end), but knowing I’ve still got a few days in this great country with my family is the only thing keeping me from being classified clinically depressed. 10 more days of family vacay in Australia are calling my name!

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