“Really small and lots of fun” could be an ad for a car, but it also nicely covers Luxembourg. The country is the clear outlier on the GDP-per-capita list among its European sisters, but what a cool place it is!

I was first there in October, for just a short time on my way back from Brussels. It was cool enough that I had to return, so Rachel and I spent a day there for the “New Year” half of our December-January break. I will be going back for a third time in June when my parents visit, regardless of whether or not they finalize their travel plans cough cough. (update: Because I write slowly, plans have since been at least written down somewhere).

Autumn overtakes Luxembourg City.

Autumn overtakes Luxembourg City.

This doesn't show much of Luxembourg, but it does show how happy people are while they're there.

This doesn’t show much of Luxembourg, but it does show how happy people might be while they’re there.

Luxembourg is one of the handful of non-Germany, german-speaking countries in the world, but French and Luxembourgish are also official languages. Although my spoken french has dwindled to a mere speck since I started studying German, I was surprised to find that the french signs in the museums and on the monuments were far easier to read than the german ones that contained the same information. I also managed to “parle français” to secure us museum tickets “pour deux étudiants,” though the receptionist may have just been patient and polite. Hard to say for certain.

Before we get going, here’s a short list of things not to like about Luxembourg:

  1. The flag looks like a faded version of the flag of the Netherlands (both are in the generic “2 darker colors with a lighter band in the middle” pattern)
  2. It’s not the cheapest place to visit
  3. You might have to explain where it is to people who haven’t heard of it before.
Flag of Luxembourg, from my brief stopover in the fall. The single car on the road does not reflect reality.

Flag of Luxembourg, and royal residence. From my brief stopover in the fall. The single car on the road does not reflect reality.

Walk out of the train station and go to the right down the big road. You’ll be wanting to handle Luxembourg City on foot, since the traffic isn’t that great. You’ll be doing a fair amount of walking, but that’s the best way to see the city. Go straight past the expensive shops and the malls – they’re just the same as anywhere else. You’ll come to a viaduct over a gorge, and that’s where the real fun begins.

This is just a bridge, but it's a cool looking bridge. Stone viaducts are nice distinct bits of architecture, and if you look at the people, you can get a sense of just how deep this ravine is.

This is just a bridge, but it’s a cool looking bridge. Stone viaducts are nice distinct bits of architecture, and if you look at the people, you can get a sense of just how deep the gorge is.

I could try to explain the layout of the city, but if you just know that it has gorges going right through it,

View down the ravine from above.

View down the gorge from above.

View up the ravine from below. Notice the people both above and below the walls.

View up the gorge from below. Notice the people both above and below the walls. I know this is basically the same picture as before, but whatever.

What is it that makes Luxembourg so much fun? It’s tricky to say for certain. Maybe I was excited about celebrating the new year with Rachel, but that doesn’t explain why I enjoyed it the first time. A city with this much topography in such close proximity to your usual urban amenities is bound to be a good time.

It probably has something to do with the public and accessible ruins. In one place, we just walked into a residential area, which led us right into some more ruins. Unlike Heidelberg, these ruins were explained. Not a complete history, but at least signs that gave a brief indication of historical significance.

The ruins are typical fortress parts, and the newer building is a retirement center. I think it's this juxtaposition that makes the place so neat.

The ruins are typical fortress parts, and the newer building is a retirement center. I think it’s this juxtaposition that makes the place so neat.

I’m really not sure why we didn’t take more pictures. Sorry about that.

This is just another rail viaduct, nothing special. But the picture was taken from an old mill/protective structure to keep bad guys out of the ravine while still letting water in.

This is just another rail viaduct, nothing special. But the picture was taken from an old mill/protective structure to keep bad guys out of the ravine while still letting water in, and in that sense is kind of neat.

Who needs a selfie stick when you have long arms?

Who needs a selfie stick when you have long arms (and when you can find other ways to look like an idiot, not pictured)?

More picturesque. Old town.

More picturesque. Old town.

Straight Outta the Highlands

Hello!!! So a couple weeks ago, the weekend after I got back from Rome, my friend, Lauren, and I took a little excursion to Scotland because why not.


Seems like a good enough reason right? Well I was so excited to go I could not stop talking about it. It has always been a dream of mine just like coming to Spain and traveling to Italy and Portugal. This trip has been a lot about accomplishing my goals and realizing my dreams.

Scotland has these thingies too!!

Scotland has these thingies too!!

My Scotland experience can be summed up in one word: hitchhiking. The UK is quite expensive compared to both Spain and the USA. So naturally I decided to save a few pounds and walk everywhere. However, since I have been living in Spain the past few months where they use the metric system, my perception of distance has been a little off. So I have no idea if something is far or not. Now, I measure everything by time. “It takes 30 min to powerwalk to school; It’s 20 min to the BK plaza; It’s an hour to the bus station, but if you take the bus it’s half an hour.” So a few of the cities I visited in Scotland are Edinburgh (pronounced e-din-bruh apparently), Inverness, Culloden, and Dores. Originally the plan was Inverness and Edinburgh but it worked out that we got to visit two other cities….unintentionally.

Lauren and I flew into Edinburgh and had an interesting experience trying to find where to exchange our euros to the british pound to pay for our hostel. The following morning we explored Edinburgh a bit, did a little sightseeing before we headed to the bus station to catch our bus that would take us to Inverness. (#Outlander!- currently a series I am reading written by Diana Gabaldon, also now a TV show, and it takes place in Scotland) Our bus ride was three hours long of beautiful scenery as we went from the Lowlands to the Highlands. Unfortunately I fell asleep for most of the ride so I wasn’t able to capture the beauty or see most of it.

First off, I absolutely LOVE Inverness! It’s a small little town but it is so cute! It’s located right by the River Ness and it’s quite a historical city. I mean it’s been there for at least 300 years. It’s the perfect little small town! The Scottish people are so friendly like our Southerners, except the Scots have weird accents. Don’t get me wrong, I love it! but I can’t understand it =( I kid you not.

Mini history lesson because there’s no way you can appreciate my experience if you don’t know anything about it.

So on April 16, 1754, the gallant Highlanders who fought for Prince Charlie and Scotland fought on Culloden Moor and sadly, that day was the last of the Highlanders and their ways. It was the bloodiest of all the Jacobite battles and the last fought on British soil. It lasted a little less than an hour. ***Jacobites were the supporters of King James VII (of Scotland) and II (of England) and his heirs. He ruled from 1685-89 but because he was Roman Catholic he was exiled and replaced by his daughter Mary and her husband, the Dutch Prince, William of Orange.*** There were three main Jacobite risings: 1689 “Bonnie Dundee” which ended rather quickly, “The Fifteen” (Mar’s Rebellion 1715-16), and lastly, (with which the Battle of Culloden pertains to) “Forty-five” (1745-46) when Charles Edward Stuart “Bonnie Prince Charlie” led the Scots against the Hanoverian dynasty.

Whew! Now isn’t learning fun?! The important part here is, I’m a history nerd, especially when it comes to warfare and the like because I have huge respect for those who fight and are willing to give their lives for what they believe in. Their reasons don’t always have to be religious.

Well back to the story, Lauren and I hiked all the way there…I think Lauren said it was around 6 miles?.. Took us about 2 hours, including the fact that we were slightly a little bit lost but we made it. It was beautiful and an awesome experience.

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Next on our list is our hike to Loch Ness! For all you future travelers!!….TAKE A TAXI OR THE BUS, YOUR FEET WILL THANK YOU. Trust me. 9 miles in cold, windy, rainy weather and you’re hungry and trying not to get hit by a bus or a car…the experience will change you. On the bright side, we made it to Loch Ness!!! OMG. Nessie was sleeping though :/ Here’s the funny part about our hike to Loch Ness, I bet it will make you laugh. Are you ready for this?.. Once we made it to Dores (the tiny tiny city at the tip of Loch Ness) we asked when the next bus to Inverness was. The bartender told us, “Oh honey, you just missed it.”

Excuse me.

I just walked 3 freaking hours to see Loch Ness. I have been walking all day (Culloden Moor), I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m cold, I’m not having it today and you tell me that I am stuck here and I have to walk back 3 hours to Inverness. I don’t think so. We’re calling a taxi! And so, we got a taxi (the ride was only about 20 min tops -_- and it took us three hours walking) but we made it back to Inverness tired and ready to go to bed. I’d say it was all in a good day’s work!

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The next day we boarded our bus to head back to Edinburgh. This time I actually took some pictures of the ride back but they’re not that great as I’m not a photographer and quite frankly I was anxious to get back to my book (Dragonfly in Amber- Diana Gabaldon #2).

I feel like Edinburgh has a totally different feel than Inverness. It’s more bustling and lively but a little less like home. Our last day in Edinburgh was an interesting one. We got to pet an owl, see lots of bagpipe players, and the world’s most pierced woman. (Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture).

Overall, I fell in love with Scotland and want to go back sometime in the future! It was one of my favorite trips I have taken since being abroad.  Scotland is so rich and full of culture I totally recommend you to go there for a visit, you will love it! I promise.

Bacpacking through Scotland got us like...

Bacpacking through Scotland got us like…


In Ulm und um Ulm und um Ulm herum

Prologue: The title is a german tongue-twister. It means “In Ulm and about Ulm and all around Ulm”. I never really appreciated how funny the expression was until I saw it in writing.

Some of us are mustering our best Einstein hairdo imitations, while others are just enjoying Glühwein.

Some of us are mustering our best Einstein hairdo imitations, while others are just enjoying Glühwein. I’ll leave it to the reader to discern who is who, never mind that I am visibly holding a Glühwein mug.

Ulm is notable for being the site of the tallest church in the world (for now…Barcelona), the birthplace of Albert Einstein, and the home of one of the greatest names in German Baroque music. Ulm is included in the German Faculty’s list of day trips for the Reutlingen program, and is easily my favorite of them. Rachel and I stopped here during the “Christmas half” of our time together in December-January, and was definitely a highlight, even upstaging Prague in terms of enjoyment (probably helped by the sniffles that had plagued us by the time we got to Prague).

Einstein = one stone. Puns that money can buy.

Einstein = one stone. Puns that money can buy.

Ulm itself is quiet and mature, even with the excitement of the Christmas market and the holiday shopping that were underway when we arrived. The city is situated in the heart of Swabia, where the Danube goes from Baden-Württemberg into Bavaria. It isn’t particularly geographically exciting, though on a clear day, one can see the Alps from the top of the Minster. Rachel and I did not have such luck, but we enjoyed the view nonetheless.

The Danube (Donau), viewed from the top of the Ulmer Münster

The Danube (Donau), viewed from the top of the Ulmer Münster. Or maybe from like halfway up.

With its prime location on the Danube, Ulm has a lovely little fishing quarter. Great place to get some fish (surprise) in the restaurants, but also a good place just to escape from cars in a medium-sized city. Plenty of pedestrian bridges spanning streets and streams, lots of people walking dogs – very romantic. Being winter, it was also cold when we got there, so we skipped being sappy and cute, and dove right into the warmth of the Christmas Market.

The fishing quarter is in here somewhere, but the buildings are so close together that they obscure everything that makes it wonderful. Our B&B was also in here somewhere, I think, but its name and location are all but forgotten.

The fishing quarter is in here somewhere, but the buildings are so close together that they obscure everything that makes it wonderful. Our B&B was also in here somewhere, I think, but its name and location are all but forgotten.

There is nothing about the Christmas market in Ulm that distinguishes it from other Christmas markets. It doesn’t have the medieval flair of Esslingen, and it lacks the magic of the first one of the season. However, it does highlight a very important point: When you study abroad, it’s worth studying abroad in Germany for the Christmas markets alone. Christmas was invented by German pagans a long time ago (oversimplification), and you really get a special appreciation for the holiday by experiencing it in Germany. This also highlights another point: If you’re set on studying in Germany, but are flexible on the semester in which you go, it’s definitely worthwhile being there for the Christmas markets. Having been abroad for the entire year, I can say without a doubt that Christmas is the time to be here. That is, unless something incredible/local happens here in May or June, but if it does, I have yet to learn about it.

Christmas Market in Ulm. Even with the high person density, there's something magical about Christmas markets that makes them desirable places to be.

Christmas Market in Ulm. Even with the high person density, there’s something magical about Christmas markets that makes them desirable places to be.

Climbing the Münster is a definite must do. If heights aren’t your thing, there’s plenty to see and do inside as well.  In addition to the usual amenities of your typical Gothic cathedral, the Ulmer Münster also features very progressive stained glass installations, and has columns is reminiscent of rows of large trees in a forest. While most gothic cathedrals feature light and airy architecture, this was a particularly striking example. Probably just the lighting.

Memorial to holocaust victims in the Ulmer Münster. One of the many examples of fairly progressive stained glass found here.

Memorial to holocaust victims in the Ulmer Münster. One of the many examples of fairly progressive stained glass found here.

The openness of the Ulmer Münster's nave.

The openness of the Ulmer Münster’s nave.

I have it on good faith that Valpo’s President Heckler also likes Ulm – one of his favorite places in Germany. That’s all the recommendation anybody should need.

This is part of a few posts I’m doing on my very favorite travel destinations. We’ll call it “Part Ulm,” because that sounds enough like a number if you don’t think about it at all.

Anti-travel recommendations

“Oh, you’re going to be in Europe? You have to see _______.” –many people to me, prior to my departure.

Many times, this advice is wonderful. Such tidbits have led me and/or my family to discover gems like Hallstatt (Austria), Ulm (Germany), and Bruges (Belgium).

However, there are plenty of duds mixed in with this well-intentioned advice. Here are my recommendations of places you can absolutely skip.

Real quick, one of the quickest ways to judge the value of wherever you travel is the density of selfie sticks. The fewer, the better. This method certainly isn’t 100% foolproof, but it’s a great quick test.

Some clever Germans will refer to the selfie stick as a Deppenszepter – an idiot scepter. I absolutely love this term, and have made it my mission to tell everybody who cares to listen.

So many people recommended the Nürnberg Christmas Market. It’s the largest in the world. Christmas markets are wonderful, so it would make sense that the largest delivers the largest dose of wonderful, right?

My fiancée and I were here on our way to Prague, and spent the afternoon at the market. It was the last Saturday before Christmas, and the crowds were INTENSE. It was nothing short of underwhelming and awful.

Instead of checking out the Nürnberger Weihnachtsmarkt, I would recommend going to Oktoberfest in München to experience the crowds (and the alcohol to take your mind off of them), and then just go to any Christmas market anywhere other than Nürnberg.

I apologize for the low-quality picture, but it both shows the crowds in Nürnberg and reflects the low-quality time that was to be had there.

I apologize for the low-quality picture, but it both shows the crowds in Nürnberg and reflects the low-quality time that was to be had there.

A slight redemption came in the form of a choir comprising old Bavarians. They were singing Joy to the World in the most stereotypically German way possible, particularly with regard to their pronunciation. Accents can tend to be masked by singing, but this was not the case here. Some of them were proudly sporting grumpy frowns. Like Rachel and I, they clearly wanted to be elsewhere. No amount of christmas joy or red tacky holiday sweater could have made the guy on the top left smile. While the sight of this particular gentleman did bring us smiles, it did not go very far to redeem the experience.

My German friend Dom told me when I visited him in September something to the effect of “I’ve heard Heidelberg can be beautiful and romantic, but I’ve never been there”. Or something to that effect 🙂

Heidelberg has the looks of a good destination, and it has the tourists and the reputation for being potentially worth the visit.  There’s an American Air Force base nearby, so many Americans have Heidelberg on their mind. I received several recommendations from people stateside, as well as from some people I’ve met here. There’s a castle in a great location above the city, with a sweeping view of the valley below.

We got there, and saw a glimpse of the castle ruins on the hillside. So far, so good. We walked the way from the hauptbahnhof towards the ruins to check them out. Hiking up the hill, we came to a ticket booth and gladly paid the fee to get to see the ruins. There were some good outlooks, full of people taking selfies and pictures against a backdrop of the valley underneath.

All three of me took advantage of the scenery in Heidelberg.

All three of me took advantage of the scenery in Heidelberg.

We walked inside, and the most notable attractions pointed out by any kind of sign were the exits. There was an apothecary museum and a stupid-large barrel. We skipped the museum, but scraped the bottom of the barrel and investigated the barrel. It was impressively large, but completely inadequately explained. Every sign that referenced the barrel was indicating its location. Nothing discussed its purpose or any significant facts. We walked around further. The only other accessible parts of the castle were outside, so that’s where we went. Looking at the place from the outside, it should have had promise. The ruins looked cool, and had chain-fences – clearly designed for people to be behind. Yet nobody was behind them. Maybe there was a good reason for this, but since this reason wasn’t made clear to us, we’re going to chalk it up to the castle, and the city along with it, as a stupid place to visit.

Part of one of the towers looked like it had fallen off. I had to go to Wikipedia to learn that it was for power storage, and was split in an explosion. This would have been great to know when the picture was taken.

Part of one of the towers looked like it had fallen off. I had to go to Wikipedia to learn that it was for power storage, and was split in an explosion. This would have been great to know at the time the picture was taken.

Take a leaf out of Rick Steves’ travel guides. He excludes Heidelberg, and for good reason.  Here’s a list of “good” reasons to visit Heidelberg:

  1. You’re completing a degree in tourist studies, possibly with a concentration in the Deppenszepter.
  2. You have a family member or friend who was/is stationed in Heidelberg, and you want to get a sense of their locale.
  3. You’re thinking about studying at, or are otherwise interested in the university – the oldest in Germany.

In some sense, Dom was right. Heidelberg has everything it needs to look fantastic. Really beautiful postcards of gorgeous ruins in a spectacular landscape. And Rachel and I didn’t have a bad time in Heidelberg – it was a pleasant way to spend our day. However, our enjoyment was largely due to getting to spend time with each other, partly aided by the ease with which we could mock the lack of things to do there.

“Only Americans go to Heidelberg – Germans never do!” admonished  Isa, a close German friend, upon our return. “I hope you learned your lesson to ask the locals first next time.”

I’m going to add Dublin to the back of this list, with the warning that my opinions are likely tainted by the fact that I wasn’t feeling so great while I was there.

The whole place smelled like manufacturing or welding, somewhat burnt-metallic and cringe-worthy, which definitely did not help to make me feel better.

I had also assumed that my expectation of ‘people being drunk in the streets’ was a false supposition. It was, unfortunately, an entirely correct supposition. Dublin is a great place for a lively party out in public, which is another way of saying that it’s not that great of a place.

Additionally, I am proud of my German heritage. I’m protestant and reserved and opinionated about the definition of good beer. Admittedly, I went to Dublin because I wanted to check Ireland off my list and because the $15 flight from Birmingham was too good to pass. This is massively unfair to Ireland, and I know that. I do hope to return at some point (especially to the lesser-populated parts of the country), and I hope that I will be feeling better when I’m there.

Over the River and Through the Air

20+ hour bus ride: Hour 1

20+ hour bus ride: Hour 1

Over spring break, a group of seven of us traveled on a 20+ hour bus ride from Windhoek, Namibia to Livingstone, Zambia to visit Victoria Falls. The bus ride was not nearly as bad as you would expect (sleeping pills are a life-saver). Crossing the border was an interesting experience as there was little communication of what we needed to do. We filed out of the bus and got exit stamps on our passports from Namibia. We then had no idea where to go, as the bus was now empty and everyone from our bus was nowhere to be found. Eventually, we discovered that we were supposed to cross the border on foot and walk to the Zambian border control where we were escorted to a tent. Inside, a lady sat us down in a row and shot a laser into our ears and handed us a piece of cardboard which supposedly showed that we were Ebola free. Wooo! Eventually, we made our way down the bumpy Zambian roads to Livingstone and our backpackers, Jolly Boy’s.

Hike down to Boiling Point

The bridge connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe

Double rainbow over Boiling Point.

Double rainbow over Boiling Pot

On our first full day, we traveled to Victoria falls and hiked around the park. We encountered many baboons who were very interested in our food. So interested in fact that they grabbed Emily by the backpack and pulled her backwards until they got a wrapper out of her bag. After recovering from this encounter, our group hiked down to Boiling Pot which is just past Victoria falls. We also hiked up to the falls themselves and got drenched in mist as we made our way to the world’s largest waterfall.

Boiling Point

We made it down to Boiling Pot

Ready to Raft

Ready to Raft

Our second day was spent white water rafting in the Zambezi river along with our new friend and roommate Tom. The water was extremely high because of the rainy season so we couldn’t start under the falls but we did begin slightly downstream. To get to the river we had to “hike” (We mostly fell) down the gorge.

Our rafting began with a quick safety talk where we learned commands such as the “oh shit” command where we had to duck down and hold onto the rope for dear life. I assumed we wouldn’t need to ever actually use this but sure enough on the first rapid we were quickly told to duck as we hit a massive wave. After we came back down, we watched as the other raft capsized.

IMG_1028IMG_1030Rafting was incredible and we were subjected to some intense level 3-5 rapids. Our raft capsized twice and both times I ended up under the raft. The first time I was quickly able to work my way out, but the second time I was not only stuck under the raft but also Olivia. I had to kick and struggle for almost 10 seconds to work my way out from underneath her and the raft. I now know what it’s like to have your life flash before your eyes. That night we went on a sunset cruise on top of the falls where we could look over the edge and also see some hippos.


Bike tour of Livingstone

Bike tour of Livingstone

On Tuesday we went on a bike tour through downtown Livingstone and the surrounding villages. We visited various homesteads and markets as well as a local school that is funded by the profits from the bike tour. After biking, Luke and I explored the city, found some delicious food, and played some billiards in the park.

The Gorge and the Zambezi River

The Gorge and the Zambezi River

Wednesday brought with it adrenaline. Luke and I had the brilliant idea to book a full day of adventure activities at the Gorge just past Victoria Falls. We were driven out to the falls where we discovered that we were the only people in the entire place. This meant that we could do everything as much as we wanted without any need to wait around. They started us out with repelling down the Gorge cliff face as we slowly walked our way down and began to push off the cliff. We worked our way down to the bottom and then hiked our way across the gorge and climbed our way back up to the top. We then did the Flying Fox which is a zip line that spans across the Gorge. You harness in with the rope on your back and then you

The World Famous Gorge Swing

The World Famous Gorge Swing

run off the cliff, diving forward, so that you can “superman” across the Gorge. This was pretty easy and was more like a relaxing break from what we would be doing next. The next thing we did was repelling again, but this time we did it “Mission Impossible” style which is face down so that all you see is the ground and you lay completely horizontal to the cliff as you push off. By far the best thing that we did was the World Famous Gorge Swing. You walk up to the edge of the cliff with not one but two harnesses on, hanging your toes off the edge. The guy then counts down from 3 and you take a huge step and the next thing you know is that you are falling over 100 meters down the cliff. The rope then catches you and you swing back and forth from one side of the gorge to the other. I did this swing three more times and it didn’t get any less terrifying. Walking up to the edge of a cliff and stepping off the edge makes you think about your life….

Africa-Zimbabwe-Victoria-Falls-thumb….Anyway, Victoria Falls was an amazing experience that let me witness one of the wonders of the world while also pushing myself far beyond the limits of my comfort zone.

One more look at the falls

One more look at the falls through the mist

Home Away From Home

The path through the Mahangu leading to my family's home

The path through the Mahangu leading to my family’s home

For over a week, I spent time living with the Uugwanga family in the rural village of Outapi in northern Namibia. Together, we lived on a farm growing Mahangu and raising chickens. I was the first student that my host family had welcomed into their home that they built themselves. The home is very modest but my family is absolutely amazing. Only my host mom spoke much English but that didn’t stop us from hanging out, telling stories, playing games, and getting to know one another.

My host family's home and the pipe leading into the crops.

My host family’s home and the pipe leading into the crops.

All of the water that my family used came from a spicket outside of the house. The spicket pumped water up from an underground well near the house. We used this spicket for everything in the house by filling buckets at the spicket and carrying them around the house. My family worked hard to conserve the water that they had. For instance, when my host father noticed that the spicket was leaking slightly, instead of letting it drip, he put a bucket underneath it and was able to gather a few bucket loads over the course of a day that would have been wasted otherwise. In order to shower, we filled a five-liter bucket with water and carried it into a small room in the house designated for showering. In order conserve the water that was used for showering, my host father actually installed a pipe that lead out of the showering room and into the crops behind the house so that the water would runoff into the field and water the crops.

Playing keep away with Pini

Playing keep away with Pini

The interactions I had with my family were absolutely incredible and I quickly learned how to communicate without language. I did learn some Oshiwambo, which is the local language, but I mostly communicated through actions. My best friend on the trip was my 3-year-old host brother, Pini, who claimed me as his own. Pini and I developed our own language and spent almost all of our time together playing keep away or running around the house. Pink was also a troublemaker and never ceased to entertain me, whether it be his dancing or his obsession with my camera or his contagious laugh.

Traditional buildings at the family Easter celebration

Traditional buildings at the family Easter celebration

My host family brought me to their church to celebrate the baptism of my 3-month-old host sister, August, and we also had a huge celebration at our home where I was able to meet the whole family. I also was able to attend Easter services with my family that were held at the cemetery in order to emphasize the idea of rebirth. After Easter services, there was a huge celebration at the home of some extended family where almost 80 family members attended. At the celebration, I was introduced to many people and was also given the honor of helping to prepare the meat. This meant that I had to help slice up the freshly slaughtered cow that was hanging on a wall. While it was probably one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever done, it also meant that I got to eat some of the most delicious steak I’ve ever had.

Oh and I ate some worms too.

Oh and I ate some worms too.

Me and my host family. From left to right: baby August, Florencia, my host father David, Pini, Maggie, and Me

Me and my host family. From left to right: baby August, Florencia, my host father David, Pini, Maggie, and Me

Saying goodbye to my family at the end of the week was extremely difficult because even though it had been such a short time, we had grown extremely close and had learned so much from one another. On the final night with my family, I gave them gifts and pictures of my family so that they could remember me. We also went on a photo shoot around the farm so that we could have pictures with each other. The next morning, my host parents wanted to give me something in return so they gathered up a picture of my host mother and her class (she is a preschool teacher) and my host dad gave me one of his traditional shirts. We then all had to say our goodbyes as Pini and my host sisters, Maggie and Florencia, walked me out. I’ll cherish my memories with them as long as I live and hopefully I can come back to visit again someday.

The beautiful sunset over the Mahangu

The beautiful sunset over the Mahangu

7 Things I’ll Miss About Costa Rica

As my semester winds down, I have had a lot of time to reflect on all that has happened over the last few months. It has been full of ups and downs, but mostly just FULL of new experiences. Here’s a list of some of my favorite things about Costa Rica (and what I’ll miss most).

  1. The people.   Between host families, professors, kind strangers (and more!), I have been overwhelmed by how friendly and welcoming everyone is here.   I have also had a lot of fun striking up conversations with random people while traveling, whether that is a fellow university student on a bus ride after a long day or some guys from Chicago at a hotel or a woman from France on the bus to the beach.  Everyone has a unique story to tell!
  1. The UNA (National University). I love Valpo, but something about this beautiful campus with amazing professors and extremely friendly students stole my heart.


Shameless selfie to show off my new UNA gear

3. The weather. I came to a tropical climate during Valpo winter. ‘Nuff said.


Remember when I went to the beach in February?

  1. The scenery. Costa Rica has everything from beaches to mountains to waterfalls to exotic animals. There’s always something to take a picture of.


Sloth we saw on the Atlantic coast.  I promise I took this picture with my own phone!

  1. The fruit. It’s just better here. Plus, there’s way more options!


Perfect afternoon snack.  This may look similar to what you can find in those plastic cups at the Union, but I can assure you there is no comparison.

  1. The language. One of my biggest personal accomplishments has been learning a new language. I am far from perfect in Spanish, but learning to communicate in such a pretty language has been incredibly rewarding. When you don’t really understand the words of people around you, you learn to rely a lot on body language and tone of voice as other ways of communicating. I’ve also had a fair share of “Spanglish” conversations, and there is something very strange but oddly beautiful about mixing the two.
  1. My cohort. Somehow these five random Valpo students whom I barely knew before this trip became my primary support system. I am beyond grateful for all the memories and friendships we formed in these short four months. Couldn’t have done this semester without these chicas!


Here we are on the beach in Nicaragua

7.  POPS. Come to the USA, por favor?


Because Dairy Queen just isn’t gonna cut it for me this summer



Highlights of the British Isles Trip, part II

This is a continuation of the best parts of my spring break trip to the British Isles. Find part I here.

As promised earlier, this post is to contain details on Northern Wales and an awakening of sorts. Let’s start with Wales.

Caernarfon Castle at night.

Caernarfon Castle at night.

Caernarfon was calm and empty, which probably contributed to 1/3 of my enjoyment there. I shared the hostel with no more than two other people the entire time, and had a six-bed room to myself the whole time. They furnished cereal for breakfast, which was easy for them, but was an extra treat for a person who hadn’t had cereal for breakfast in way too long. The hostel also had surprisingly fast internet, though this was likely due to the emptiness. ALSO: They had a brand new puppy. Like, they brought it home the day before I arrived. It figured out stairs while I was there, but still didn’t quite get the hang of running and barking. So cute!

Caernarfon Castle, the city, and the Strait of Anglesey.

Caernarfon Castle, the city, and the Strait of Anglesey, on a beautiful cloudy Welsh day.

The city is situated right on the Strait of Anglesey with a view of the similarly-named island (the island is not also called “Strait of Anglesey – it’s not a strait. Duh). Snowdonia National Park is very close, but wasn’t visible from Caernarfon due to the welsh fog and/or night time. The castle was about 100 meters from my hostel, which itself was only separated from the Strait by the town wall and a bike path.

The castle is “where the Prince of Wales gets princed,” which how my dad contextualized his recommendation. Another part of his recommendation was written in a journal from the days of film cameras: “I went overboard and took ten photos that day.”  In the 21st century, I enjoyed not having the film constraint, as is made obvious in this post.

When I visited the castle, I kept saying “WOW!” Thorough recommendation on that one. It had the ruiney good looks that castles should have, but it also had plenty of information on why the ruins were the way they are (not that I’m mad or anything…Heidelberg!). Plenty of passages to scramble around, plenty of tiny staircases to climb. There was also a fair deal of head-bonk danger, but the cool factor made up for this.

You don't have to look hard to find people enjoying their time at Caernarfon Castle. You will have to look hard to find some dead bird parts, more on that below.

You don’t have to look hard to find people enjoying their time at Caernarfon Castle. You will have to look hard to find some dead bird parts, more on that below.

Inside Caernarfon Castle. The circular disk is "where the Prince of Wales gets Princed"

Inside Caernarfon Castle. The circular disk is “where the Prince of Wales gets Princed”

This dining room in Caernarfon Castle did not pose any immediate headbonk dangers, but the doorway could have caused problems.

This room in Caernarfon Castle did not pose any immediate headbonk dangers, but the doorway could have caused problems.

One weird thing about Caernarfon – there were uncomfortably many parts of dead birds, just hanging out all over the place. Seagull wings, complete skeletons of smaller birds, and the like. I didn’t particularly care to know how they got there or what happened to the rest of the birds.

None of these birds were dead or incomplete.

None of these birds were dead or incomplete.

Quite close by is a rather unremarkable place with a most remarkable name: Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch, often shortened to Llanfair PG. The sign at the train station was particularly suited to being recorded in a panorama.

Llanfair PG

Just in case your eyes glazed right past the long, foreign, and likely unpronounceable-for-you word, take a look at four L’s in a row near the end. Welsh orthography will catch you off guard if you’re not careful. Here are a few tricks I picked up:

  1. “F” sounds like “V”, but “ff” sounds like regular “f”.
  2. A “w” goes “oo”
  3. A double “dd” makes a “th” sound
  4. The double “ll” is when your mouth makes the shape of an L, but then you breathe out. This is the best way I’ve come across to explain this particular noise. It’s not that easy.
  5. Everybody in Wales speaks English, so just do your thing. They’re accustomed to you butchering their words, but are nonetheless really friendly and welcoming.

After Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch, I walked along the strait towards Beaumaris (“beautiful marsh,” approximately french), another nearby castle. Along the way, there were some fantastic views of Snowdonia. These mountains aren’t particularly high, but they apparently pose enough of a technical challenge that they served as a training platform for the team that first summited Everest.

Snowdonia and the Strait of Anglesey. Snowdon itself is on the right (partially shown).

Snowdonia and the Strait of Anglesey. Snowdon itself is on the right.

Beaumaris would have been pretty thoroughly awesome had I not been to Caernarfon Castle the day before.  It was still cool, don’t get me wrong.  But it just wasn’t nearly as well-groomed as Caernarfon. However, the ruin-factor made it nonetheless VERY enjoyable. What it lacked in amenities was more than compensated by the sheer size of the place.

Beaumaris from above. Check out the person in the middle for a sense of scale.

Beaumaris from above. Check out the person in the middle for a sense of scale.

The complex has a concentric design, with a taller “keep” surrounded by a wall with an open-ish space between the two. The whole place is massive, in a way that could be explained, but is really best left to personal experience. The ruiny quality of the castle was also quite cool. Plenty of stones to scramble around, and plenty of staircases to run carefully walk up and down, and plenty of opportunities to imagine Castle life in the 1200s.

Beaumaris interior ruins

Beaumaris interior ruins

While we’re on the subject of castles and fortifications, let’s talk briefly about moats. Moats are not filled with alligators – this is Europe, not Florida. Rather, they’re open-ish areas that make attackers easy to fill with arrows. Bonus points for the defense team if the attackers are slowed down, for instance by the muddiness one might find in a beautiful marsh.

This image of the outside of Beaumaris Castle doesn't really help to give a sense of scale, but it does show the moat.

This image of the outside of Beaumaris Castle doesn’t really help to give a sense of scale, but it does show the moat.

My least favorite part of Beaumaris was definitely the multitude of seagulls and pigeons that were hiding out in the nooks and crannies, waiting to fly out and scare you shirtless. At the very least, very few of these birds seemed to be dead or mutilated.

And now for the awakening. This was in Cambridge. Last day on the trip, before heading back to Germany. Of course I’m going to spend my last day in the English-speaking world watching the new Star Wars film – The Force Awakens, of course! And what a treat it was. The theater was as empty as Caernarfon, and the film lived up to all of my expectations. I was embarrassingly excited, which made the emptiness of the theater even better.

Highlights of the British Isles trip, part I

Edinburgh and Caernarfon. I could probably end this post there, but that would be boring for you and displeasing to the Valpo Voyager Blog-Gods, so I won’t.

Quick note: the last entry was a bit of a downer. Sorry about that. This one should be much better.

London was also a highlight of sorts. I’m not going to talk about it though. It’s one of the biggest places in the world, and definitely worth a visit. However, the abundance of literature about the place doesn’t merit my musings. Just go there.

Also, enjoy some pictures.


Albert Memorial, Royal Albert Hall, and uncharacteristically nice weather for London.


I got carried away, and took this photo inside St. Pauls Cathedral in the City of London.

I got carried away, and took this illegal photo inside St. Pauls Cathedral in the City of London.

What can I say, it’s London. Here’s your seat-of-the-british-government photo.

Coventry Cathedral gets a definitive stamp of approval, though that’s more than can be said for the rest of the town. The medieval church was destroyed during the Blitz, but instead of knocking the ruins down, they were incorporated into the new structure, in a very cool way. After getting a tour of the new building (led by a Roman Catholic lady from Plochingen, 20 minutes away from Reutlingen), I spent some time enjoying this holy and wholly photogenic space.


Creation mosaic window, Coventry Cathedral


Ecumenical Chapel, Coventry Cathedral


Looking Down (or up?) the nave in Coventry Cathedral.


The ruins of the medieval Coventry Cathedral.

Edinburgh is a wonderfully distinct place. It’s built on and around the remains of a volcano, and it that alone doesn’t make you want to visit, I’m not sure what will (fine print: you can’t really see the volcano, but you can see the volcanic basalt, and you can imagine what it might have looked like millennia ago). If you’re interested in literature, your options include Robert Louis Stevenson, Sirs Arthur Conan Doyle and Walter Scott, and JK Rowling. If architecture and city planning is your cup of tea, there are fascinating contrasts to be found between the old and new cities, and plenty of history to explore in the valley between the two. If you’re fond of whiskey, old enough to buy it, and mature enough to actually enjoy it, Edinburgh can be pretty good (though this is only because it’s the capital – the best whiskey experiences are farther north, apparently).

The castle provided plenty of information and wonderful views of the city and the surroundings. I arrived right after it opened, and was able to walk right in. By the time I left an hour and a half later, the line was well out the gate. Suckers.

When I got to the castle, I was able to look to the south and see mountains covered in snow. As soon as I snapped some pictures and thought to myself, “Wow, I wish it would snow here!” it started sleeting, and did not stop for the rest of the day. This time the sucker was I.

The old city is very pedestrian friendly. It’s full of “closes,” which look like sketchy alleys but are far from sketchy. Go down any one of these to escape the tourists and see another part of the city, even if only to see something different. It’s a great place to “get lost” because you’ll never be too far from where you need to be, and yet you’d never be able to guess it by just looking at your surroundings.

One of the super highlights for me was meeting people from England, New Zealand, and Alaska in the hostel, and spending the evenings with them. Fred, Dom, Ant, Alicia, Reid, and Daena sucked me into a game of Scrabble in the lounge, and Jack and Jenna were soon to follow. We split the costs of drinks, but the conversation was free. And it was well worth it. Cultural compare-and-contrast, discussion of the New Zealand Flag Referendum, and discussions of the impacts the refugee crisis has on day-to-day lives in London, Nottingham, and Reutlingen were all punctuated by juggling and puzzles and more Scrabble. I even considered adjusting the end of my itinerary to get to see the Nottingham people again, but it turned out not to be feasible on my end, so I dropped the investigation before asking them if any of them could spare a couch for a night.

We also came across some Germans in the hostel. The couple was from Herrenberg, which is like half an hour away from Reutlingen. It was pretty refreshing to get to talk German with somebody for the first time in a week. However, they were interested in what I’m going to call ‘chemical tourism,’ and the conversation fizzled out after they asked us, “Nimmt ihr Drogen?”

Admittedly, Edinburgh probably appealed to me as much as it did because it immediately followed Dublin, which did not appeal at all. I think I would still have enjoyed the city on its own, and the experience in general – even without the comparison to Dublin. The strong winds grayness provided a perfect contrast to the warmth of the architecture, and the weather made that warmth feel doubly welcoming once you got inside.

I found out after visiting that, like Cincinnati, Edinburgh has Munich as a sister city. However, Edinburgh and Cincinnati are not sister cities. I think I’ve exposed a serious flaw in the sister city system. Also: sister city system. Say that five times fast.


Edinburgh at sunset, taken from Arthur’s Seat. Really, this is mostly just sunset taken from Arthur’s seat, but there IS some Edinburgh somewhere in there, I swear!


Looking south from Arthur’s Seat. There’s some fire/ice something or other here, but I don’t feel like being metaphorical and verbose at the moment.


They say that sunset is supposed to have the best lighting. I used to think that this was true, but now I’m not so certain.

Part II continues with Northern Wales, and an awakening of sorts.

Semana Santa en Europa

Well you’re probably wondering “what in the world does that title mean?” I’m glad you asked. Semana Santa literally translates to Holy Week, otherwise known as my spring break, but no seriously, it is a thing here in Spain. Whether you’re Catholic, Christian, Muslim, etc. you may or may not know its significance. In the Catholic religion Semana Santa starts the Saturday before Palm Sunday and ends on Resurrection Sunday otherwise known as Easter. In Granada, where I am currently studying, there are least two or three parades or marches, if you will, that happen everyday during this week. They all consist of a float, a band, and others carrying crosses and/or reciting prayers. Whether you’re Catholic or not, you will certainly appreciate its beauty. Each float has a meaning behind it that also connects to the day it’s on. In Granada the most important days of Semana Santa are Jueves y Viernes Santo (Thursday and Friday). Now unfortunately, or not, I spent most of my semana santa elsewhere.

I spent the first half in Barcelona. (If you don’t know I had already visited Barcelona once before and I loved it. Of course I had to visit again.) My time in Barcelona was very “chill”. We weren’t rushing around trying to see everything. While I was there I finally got to see and tour Camp Nou (the official and home stadium of FC Barcelona). Now while in Barcelona we usually take the metro to get to places faster. If you know me at all, you know that I can’t find my way around the city. I am so afraid of getting lost that I won’t even go out. So, instead of taking the metro I chose to walk there instead. Trying to understand the directions and the map my friends showed me I was like ….hmmm okay…I’m gonna walk there. In the end I’m glad I walked because I got to see a part of Barcelona I hadn’t seen before, due to the fact that we took the metro everywhere. Camp Nou was absolutely fantastic.


Can you guess who my favorite player is?

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We went to the zoo and found Kevin! and a variety of other strange birds. We also went to Parc Guell which was designed by Antoni Gaudi (famous Catalan architect). It was a rainy/cloudy day so we didn’t get to enjoy it as much.



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Now onto the part you’ve all been waiting for!! ROME!

#NoMakeup #NoFilter #NoMoney

#NoMakeup #NoFilter #NoMoney

Now Rome is beautiful don’t get me wrong, but I feel like after being there for five days, I’ve had enough of the Holy City. My only purpose for going to Rome was to see the Colosseum, which I did! ON THE FIRST DAY! I have a fetish for Greek and Roman history so the fact that I got to stand on ground where so much history happened was…simply breathtaking. It was hard to wrap my mind around it. There are so many facts that I want to tell you, but this isn’t a history lesson jaja, so I’ll try and stick to the bare basics.

The Colosseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheater was named the Colosseum after a huge statue next to it called the Colosseo, was built in 72 A.D. by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty and it took 8 years to build. In 80 A.D. Vespasian’s son, Titus, opened the Colosseum with 100 days of games (gladiator fights, wild animals hunts, etc.) After four centuries of active use, the arena fell into neglect and parts of it were torn down and used for building material. It’s crazy to think that this arena could seat 70.000 people in an orderly fashion in under 30 minutes! It’s true, the tour guide said so.

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After the Colosseum we saw the Roman Forum and some of the gardens AND THE TREVI FOUNTAIN.
(For your viewing pleasure =) my friends and I as we make our wishes at the Trevi Fountain.) Most of it is in ruins, of course, these buildings are ancient. It was still beautiful. Most of what Rome is today is built over the old city. The temple of Julius Cesar where he was supposedly stabbed and died is an excellent example of how you can see that modern-day Rome is built on top of ancient Rome. I am sorry my pictures are low quality for this here. It was nighttime when we saw this. Also fun fact: it is today a cat sanctuary! Strangely exciting.

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At the Roman Forum.

At the Roman Forum.

The Cat Sanctuary

The Cat Sanctuary

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The Pantheon

The Pantheon


Steps where Julius Cesar was supposedly stabbed and died.

Steps where Julius Cesar was supposedly stabbed and died.


Roman Ruins.

Roman Ruins.

Speaking of cats, my friends and I went to a cat café! We did a lot of walking that day. First we went to see the catacombs (rather unfortunately there were no bones or skulls adorning the walls, however, there were magnificent frescoes and whatnot). Catacombs, whether or not it is full of skeletons, are creepy and cold. Freezing cold.

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Oh! I must not forget one of the more beautiful parts of my visit to Italy. The Vatican. It is a plethora of riches let me tell you. The marble that was used to adorn the walls of the Colosseum?.. It’s in the Vatican. The Egyptian granite that was quarried and placed in the Roman Forum?.. The Vatican. Basically anything worth anything is in the Vatican.. However, it is beautiful. I’m not much of art person so I won’t say much about it except say that there are some serious magnificent pieces of artwork displayed there. Frescoes, paintings, sculptures, tapestries, statues, the works not to mention the Sistine Chapel. It is said that it is the second largest church/chapel in the world! The thing is HUGE. Can’t believe what the largest looks like.

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And to end this post on a good note…the food. O. M. G. Like, I cant even imagine ever eating pizza, pasta, and gelato ever again. Italy has ruined me. Yes, I totally just went all white-girl right there. #NoShame. But no for real…the food was literally like my favorite part of being in Rome.


Gelato a day keeps the doctor away.

Gelato a day keeps the doctor away.

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Fettucine. YUM!

Fettucine Alfredo. YUM!

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And for the record, no I did not see the Pope so don’t ask.

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