Monday, May 9, 2011


Ireland was beautiful. (and I blended in a little more with all the other redheads)

London was really cool...and very big. Very good craic.

I love Deutschland.

I will be home in 15 days.

Life is good.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

royal matrimony

So, I really did have good intentions with this blog and trying to update a lot. But that has been more difficult than I thought. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so incase I don't have time to write about the wedding, here are some snapshots!

Harry and Will! 
The Queen!

Kate and her dad!

the newly wed couple 

and their fairytale carriage

the queen and prince philip

Thursday, April 28, 2011

the dragon snorer

This post is not about anything that has to do with Europe, or how beautful Ireland was, or about how excited I am to go watch the royal wedding tomorrow while in London or about how my dream of going to Salzburg is coming true in two weeks. But, it is about a 30 year old man. (that age is only an estimate) And not just any 30 year old man, but an American from Florida. You might be wondering why on earth out of all the things that I am experiencing right now that I would want to tell you about some random American guy. Well, I am going to share. While in Galway, Ireland two of our roomates were these American guys. They were nice and besides introductions and sharing how we all got to Galway there was not much conversation. The second night they were in our room there were also four other twenty year old something French speaking girls to fill our 8 person room. At about 4 o clock in the morning we were all woken up to a very loud and very consistent snore. All of the girls were murmuring and had phones out checking the time. The only two people sleeping were the American guys. After listening to this extremely loud snoring and attempting fall back asleep we were all wide awake again when mr. florida decided to chime in with his snoring too. Although it did not sound like snoring. Me and Fran were convinced that there was either a lion in the bed across from us or a fire breathing dragon. No joke. I really wish that I could describe exactly the noise, but I can't. All I can say is that if you can imagine a dragon making a really loud noise that is what it sounded like. All of us girls were laying in our beds giggling while our roomates continued in their slumber. Between the consistent loud snoring and the dragon roaring falling asleep was very difficult.
Those of you who know me well know that it does not take much to make me laugh. So combining the fact that it was 4 am and there was a man that sounded like a dragon in his sleep in the bunk across from me gave me quite a good laugh, most of which I attempted to muffle in my pillow. So I know this isn't a profound post about how absolutely beautiful Ireland was it's all I have after a long day of switching countries and waking up at 4am to catch a plane. But I will update you soon!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

mamma mia, get me back to italia!

A little summary of 2 amazing weeks in Italy.

PISA: We began and ended our trip in Pisa because that is where our 30 euro flight landed and left from. We saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa...and is a big tower that is leaning. So interesting. We also took the 'pretending to hold the tower up' picture along with all of the other tourists. It was more interesting watching all the people standing around holding their hands out in a funny stance getting their picture taken then the tower itself.

LUCCA: Before taking off for Rome we spent the afternoon in this small town outside of Pisa. It might one of my favorite places in the world. (of course i've been thinking that about a lot of places recently...) There weren't any tourist and it was small and surrounded by an ancient wall, like most european cities. If you can imagine a typical small Italian town, this was it. And then we had to run through the city after losing track of time to catch our train to Pisa so we could catch our train to Rome. It was kinda crazy and we got some interesting looks.

ROME: So, I wasn't the biggest fan of Rome. Of course the colosseum was amazing! Although I can't even begin to wrap my mind around all the history that it contains. The Trevi Fountain was super cool and we threw coins in it! The Pantheon was really cool too. It has a big hole in the ceiling. Crazy. And the Spanish steps...well, they were steps. If you take all of these amazing sights and then add fifty elementary school field trips, 200 traveling families from all over the world, and 500 college students on spring break at each place, plus really annoying men trying to sell you stupid stuff every 7 seconds, Rome kinda loses its magic. But it was really great seeing all of these amazing sights and eating really really good Italian food while we were there!

THE HOLY SEE (the Vatican): Even though it's kinda in Rome, it is technically it's own country, so I will give it it's own little paragraph. But I heard from some other travelers that we met that the Pope comes out on Wednesdays and Saturdays to give a little speech thing. So we were at St. Peter's Basilica around 10:30 am on Wednesday and sure enough the little old man in his white robe was rollin in his Benz through the crowd of people. Then he said something profound in Latin and Italian followed by translations in 8 different languages. It was very cool. He talked for quite a while and then blessed us. They also recognized some groups that were at the Vatican visiting and one was from Grand Rapids! How exciting! We cheered for them :) St. Peter's Basilica was absolutely beautiful! And so big! We also saw the tomb of St. Peter and toured the tombs of all the popes. Then we took a cheap tour of the Vatican Museum. We were just going to walk around and check everything out ourselves but learned so much more from our tour guide! We saw Nero's bathtub and the Sistine Chapel! It was beautiful! And I may or may not have taken a very illegal picture while inside...

VENICE: I looooooved Venice! I mean, how could you not like a city without cars and motorcycles surrounded by water with singing men in funny hats rowing gondolas down canals?! All we did was walk around and get lost and it was the greatest thing ever! We also took a gondola ride through the city. Our driver man was interesting...we were pretty sure that he was bragging in Italian to all the other boats that we passed that he got to drive two young girls around while all the other boats contained either groups of Asian tourists, families, old people, or couples. After he would say something in Italian the other drivers would just look at us and smile, or one time one of the drivers flexed for was quite the experience. The city is just beautiful and we saw so many masquerade stores and a sight where one of the Indiana Jones movies was filmed! The buildings were all so beautiful too, most having balconies with flowers and laundry drying outside of the windows. Also, we had to take a water taxi to one of our hostels! So cool.

VERONA: "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?" Yes, we did see Romeo's house and the balcony of Juliet. But Verona also had its own arena, very similar the the Colosseum. But the greatest part was that we stayed in a cute little B&B which was a very nice break from a hostel.

FLORENCE: I really wish that I appreciated art more because then I would have liked Florence a lot more. We saw a beautiful church and the David statue! We also stumbled upon a cute little park where we sat and people watched for a while. There was a soccer field next to us, or football, as it is called here, and we watched some kids playing a pickup game after they got out of school. We also ate the BEST gelato in the entire world here.

TAVARNELLE VAL DI PESA: If you are planning on going to Italy, the cities are great and beautiful but to truly experience Tuscany you have to go to the country. After two nights in Florence we took a bus ride out of the city through hills and vineyards to this little town and it was one of the highlights of this trip! Everywhere we looked was just breathtaking and didn't even look real! We spent most of our time walking along the country roads. We also went into town for dinner and lunch and it was so nice eating at authentic and non-touristy restaurants. After walking around in a little medieval village for a while we snuck into someone's backyard and just laid in the grass soaking up the beautiful tuscan sun. It was unreal and so beautiful!

Final thoughts on Italy - I love it!
My new dream is to move to the Tuscan countryside.
Everyone drives motorcycles or scooters.
'Ciao bella' is the most common Italian flirting phrase.
Everybody is so relaxed and never in a rush or stressed out.
The train rides through mountains and across the country were all stunning.
Olive Garden is a bad representation of Italian eating.
They really do say 'mamma mia' all the time! Even middle aged business men. It's fantastic.
Go! Go! Go!

Until next time, arrivederci!

Monday, April 11, 2011


Boun giourno from Venice, Italy! Sorry for the lack of updates about everything that has been going on...but we have been busy! We have been in Italy for about a week and have seen the leaning tower of Pisa, Colosseum, Trevi fountain, Spanish steps, Pantheon, the Vatican and so much more! We even got blessed by the Pope! Italy is a beautiful country and I love the culture! Today we are out to explore some more of Venice and tomorrow we take off for Verona!

 Also, the Italian men. Just how I imagined. Almost everyday we either get a "ciao bella!" or "mamma mia! bella! bella!" or serenaded by old Italian men in a cafe or have a gondola driver pretend to blow your dress up as he goes underneath a bridge that we are standing on. They also like to just stand outside and watch all the beautiful women pass by. It is very funny.

There is soooo much more but we are off to see the church from one of the Indiana Jones movies and maybe explore some islands!


Saturday, April 2, 2011

a typical in between traveling day in maastricht

09:00 - wake up
09:30 - lay in bed and pretend to sleep
09:45 - listen to new neighbors yappy dogs
10:00 - stumble into the kitchen to heat water
10:15 - tea and toast with blueberry jam
11:00 - debate whether or not to take a shower
11:15 - more tea
12:00 - finally give in to shower
13:00 - hit the streets of maastricht
13:30 - buy fresh apples and raspberries and strawberries from the market
14:00 - stop for fries (ketchup for me and mayonnaise [the Dutch way] for fran)
14:30 - window shop and walk past really old (like 500 yrs) buildings
16:00 - grab a seat on the terrace of a cafe and enjoy a 'koffie' or cola
17:00 - walk through the park and feed the ducks and goats and deer
17:30 - stop by the waffle stand and enjoy a nice warm waffle (better than anything you can imagine!)
18:00 - cross the bridge back over the river (by now all the stores have closed)
18:10 - see group of 20 young, attractive European men walking on the opposite side of the street
18:11 - turn to your friend and smile
18:12 - (without the exchanging of words) turn around and start walking the opposite way towards men
18:13 - catch up with attractive European men
18:14 - continue following European men
18:20 - giggle
18:21 - sigh
18:22 - turn around again and start walking
18:30 - enter apartment
19:30 - spy on passerby's and Quattro Mori customers 
20:00 - make dinner (usually pasta...)
21:00 - skype with family
22:00 - make reservations at hostel in Rome
22:00 - book plane tickets to Ireland
22:30 - hit the streets again to closest kebab stand
22:45 - order kebab and get asked where you are from
22:55 - almost get run over by a scooter or bike or car
23:00 - book hostel in Venice
23:30 - see what's showing on MTV (or Animal Planet and Discovery channel...the only English channels)
24:00 - spy on the Dutch people more
24:30 - bed

(view from kitchen table)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

grenoble, france

After our extended stay in Nice we stopped in Grenoble for two nights. Nobody from the hostel had heard of Grenoble, which was exciting because that meant it wouldn't be super touristy. And I only know of Grenoble because my French teacher from high school lived and studied there for a year and she told us all about it and showed us lots of pictures. It was really cool to go to a place that she had told us about and be able to use my French! My favorite thing about Grenoble is that you can see the mountains from anywhere in the city. I could even see them from my bed at the hostel! Even though it was really cloudy the day we were there, they were gorgeous! I wish I was a skier because this is the place to ski. Towards the end of the day we saw tons of people walking around a little sunburnt and in snow gear with skis in hand, probably coming right from the slopes heading home. I have a friend that I went to high school with who is studying in Grenoble so we facebooked back and forth and were able to meet up! We walked around a little bit and then went to her favorite cafe for some coffee. It was really cool being able to see the city and hear about it from someone who is currently living there. After walking around for a bit more we ate lunch in a nice restaurant along with some lovely conversation. It was so cool and a lot of fun to meet up with someone who I haven't talked to in years in France! After we said our goodbyes Fran and I went up these cable car things, which Grenoble is apparently famous for along with these three white buildings, to the top of a mountain. The view was breathtaking. We couldn't even see the tops of the mountains because of the clouds but I was still in awe. I can't believe that people live here and just wake up everyday going on with their lives while surrounded by beautiful mountains. We wondered around at the top and saw some cool street performers. Well, maybe we should call them mountain performers because they weren't on the street they were on a mountain. Anyways we went to bed early that night because we had a 5:32 am train to catch the next morning!

Friday, March 25, 2011

nice is nice (pun intended)

After Marseille we took off for Nice, France! The train ride was amazing! We went along the Mediterranean past cliffs and beautiful homes for two hours. As we got closer to Nice we were riding right next to the ocean! It was really rainy and windy outside so it looked like the waves were going to come right over the tracks! Our hostel was AMAZING! It was away from the city with a great view of the ocean right from our room! They even provided a shuttle to get all the way up the hill to the hostel! It rained most of the time while we were in Nice but we took advantage of the sunny days! We spend a lot of time walking along the beach. One day we took a day trip into Eze Village which is this little village on top of a hill that looks like it came right out of the Medieval ages...well it kinda did! After going through the windy cobble stone streets that no car could fit in we made it to the top where there was a cactus garden. I wasn't so much interested in the cacti but more the breathtaking view!  I can't even begin to describe it let alone wrap my mind around it! Then we hopped on the bus and took of for another country - Monaco! It is about the size of a large city and rumor has it that you have to have one million bucks in the bank to live there. Everything was beautiful! And it was warm and sunny :) We walked into the famous Monte Carlo casino but felt a little out of place after walking past several Ferraris and other fancy cars in our jeans and walking into the same building where old rich men where gambling millions of dollars. Crazy! But we made sure to use the fancy bathrooms before taking off. Then we walked past these huge yachts that were from all over the world on our way to see the palace. It was a really cool place! The next day it rained...all day. So we ventured out with our umbrellas so walk arould Old Nice. It was really cool and had lots of tall buildings that were very colorful had shudders, very French, and even laundry hanging in between streets! We were soaked and decided to head back to the hostel to hang out. We met a lot of cool people there! It rained again the next day so we went to a few free museums and walked around a monastery. The next day we took another day trip into the city of Antibes with our new friend Brittany. The city was really small and cute. I liked it a lot! We walked along the water and hung out by the boats. There were groups of teenagers hanging out too so I guess it was the cool thing to do! Our original plan was to only spend 4 nights in Nice but we ended up extending our stay to six nights. It was a very relaxing week, even with all the rain. The hostel was great and we made a lot of friends which made up for the rain!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

mmm the mediterranean

Bonjour from Marseille, France! I still have to fill you in about the rest of Paris and Belgium and Carnaval...but that can wait!

Our first train out of Maastricht left at 5:58am, so we had a bright and early start to our day. Actually it wasn't bright for another two hours...but it was early. Then we caught another train in Liege that took us to Brussels. From Brussels we took a bus to the airport that was about an hour away. Then we took a plane to Montpellier, France (which we almost missed). Then we took another bus. Then we took a tram. Then we took a train. And then another train. And about thirteen hours later we finally made it to our hostel in Marseille. Phew. Three countries, three languages, one day.

The train ride (from Montepellier to Marseille) was beautiful! We rode through the mountains at sunset past villages where all of the houses have terracotta roofing. Very mediterranean. We got a little confused trying to find the hostel so we stopped in a Tabac store and asked this cute little old French man. He was very  nice and drew us a map of how to get to the hostel and were there in no time! One of our roommates was this really cool French guy who was going to a club to sing. His english was just as good as my french so communicating was a little difficult, but we managed. We were so excited to sleep that night but it was a little difficult because there was a little confusion between the bed situation. All six beds in our room were taken, but somehow this weird old man who didn't speak English made himself nice and cozy in our French friend's bed. Our French friend didn't come back from his singing gig at the club until 3am and was not very happy to find an old man in his bed. If that little excitement wasn't enough I was woken up again due to someone's extremely loud snoring. I didn't know it was possible for a human being to make that loud of a noise in their sleep.

The next day we climbed all the way up Le Notre Dame de Gard, which is this really old church on top of a mountain. We could see the entire city of Marseille and had a fabulous view of the moutains and the ocean. It was breathtaking! Then we took a ferry out to this really cool island...I forgot what it was called. On our way to the island we passed Chateau D'If, which is from the movie The Count of Monte Cristo! It was so cool and looked just like the movie! The weather was too bad for us to dock there so we just went passed it and continued on to the island. The island consisted of a few buildings that are only opened in the summer, an abandoned resort, and a really old fort that was all in ruins. And there were only like ten other people there, so we practically had the whole thing to ourselves! And it was beautiful! (just like everything else in Europe...) From the very top we could see all the cliffs wtih the blue water hitting up against them and a great view of Chateau D'If. Before taking off for the island we stopped at the grocery store and picked up some food so we had a little picnic there too! It was great!

Today we checked out of one hostel and dropped our backpacks at the next one, just around the corner, and then took a train into Aix-en-Provence. The little city was so cute! And it was so nice to be somewhere small and quiet. Marseille is very nice, but very loud and populated. We didn't really have a game plan so we just walked around and got lost in all the little streets. We stumbled upon probably the most amazing streets I have ever seen...yet. There weren't really anything special but they were great because there weren't any people and the buildings were all pastel colored with old wooden shutters and flowers in the windows. Often there was laundry hanging from the porches. There were also a ton of fountains! It was very interesting.

Tonight we have just been hanging out in the common area and having some very interesting conversations. I talked with a German guy for what seemed like hours about my faith and what I believe in . He also shared his beliefs, which are very different from mine. He didn't really want anything to do with Jesus, or care for that matter, but we still had a very interesting conversation and asked each other a lot of tough questions. No getting saved for him tonight though...but he did say maybe at another point in his life he would consider Christianity. Hmm. We also talked to these guys from Berlin for a while and they knew more about American politics than we do and this was even after they had been drinking for while. It has been a very interesting evening.

Tomorrow we take off for Nice! But other than that we don't really have any set plans except more France and Switzerland! Well, that's all for now, a bien tot!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

meet me under the eiffel tower

So, pretty much I love Paris. I have started writing about it like ten different times but it just boils down to this - Paris was amazing. Not only was the city absolutely beautiful but I got to experience it with my best friend Keri (from Gordon)! It was even better than what I've seen in movies and pictures! From the shutters on the windows to the pastel colored apartment buildings with flowers in the window sills and cute little cafes and flower shops at every corner and the sparkling Eiffel Tower...I could just go on forever! But I'll save it for another post :)

When I found out that me and Keri were going to be in Europe at the same time my imagination kinda went wild with all the places that we could meet. Since Keri is studying in Barcelona we joked around about meeting in Paris because it was about halfway between Spain and Maastricht and even, I quote facebook, "meet me under the eiffel tower?"for my birthday weekend. Very soon our European banter became a reality! As I was sitting on the train at 7 o clock in the morning heading to Paris I was still in disbelief! I mean, it's not everyday that you just catch a train to Paris and meet up with your best friend under the Eiffel Tower for your birthday (that still sounds absolutely crazy to me, by the way). The reality of it is still sinking in. I felt like I was in a movie or something!

Stepping off the train at Gare du Nord (one of main train stations in Paris) felt like I was just walking into a dream come true! There I was with just me and my backpack arriving in Paris all by myself. If it had been in a movie there would have been dramatic music playing in the background as the camera panned the train station and everyone was all of a sudden in slow motion and then every person would break out into song and dance because 'hello people! we are in Paris!' ...but instead I was just pushed along in the crowd of people living their normal, everyday European lives.

My next task was to figure out how to get from Gare du Nord to Le Tour Eiffel. I found the closest map of the Metro lines. (The metro is like the subway system that can take you anywhere you need to go) I just stared at the map for a good ten minutes because I had no idea how to read it or what stop I was at and which stop I needed to get to. Then I walked around to only return to cluelessly staring at the map with hopes that what I was supposed to do next would just hit me. That didn't happen. So I went to the information desk to get some help. I took three and half years of French so I'm not fluent but could read most of the signs and carry on a decent conversation. But after hearing many horror stories about how mean the French people can be, especially if you speak English, I was really nervous to talk to them. I played the safe card and politely said bonjour and may I ask a question in English. I received a smile, map of the city and instructions on how to get the Eiffel tour. Success! Although as soon as I was actually on the metro I totally forgot what I was supposed to do. So I just got off at a random stop in hopes of being able to see the tower.

The Eiffel Tower was no where to be found when I got to street level, but there was a cute little French lady strolling by with her walker. I asked her which way to the Eiffel Tower, in French of course, and a huge grin came over her face as she pointed and gave me instructions. I was closer than I thought, the tower was just hiding behind a building! As soon as I saw it I got really emotional - I didn't like break down in tears but I was definitely a little choked up. I don't really know why, and it's ok if you laugh a little. I just still couldn't believe that I was in Paris, looking at the Eiffel Tower. After I had my little moment I made my way through the gardens to the bottom and eagerly awaited the arrival of my friend. Her plane was late and I ended up just chilling under the tower by myself for about two hours, but hey, I'm not complaining!

She eventually found me, I guess my red hair kinda sticks out, making me an easy target to spot and then we walked around and sat and talked for an hour or so with a fantastic view of the tower. I felt like someone should have taken a black and white picture of us from the back the tower in the background and made it into a postcard. But it was great to catch up before heading to the hostel to drop our bags off.

Our hostel was in Montmartre, right by the Moulin Rouge! We just walked around the area and then stumbled upon the Sacre Coeur, giving us an amazing view of the city! We did some more walking around the streets and then hit the sack at 8pm. We were both exhausted and wanted to get a good nights sleep before our first full day in Paris! Okay, well there's day one of Paris! There is more to come :)

Monday, March 7, 2011


Our train ride from Stockholm to Copenhagen was awesome! Not only were we going through some really great countryside but all of sudden they announce that we will soon be boarding the ferry. We both looked looked at each other like 'what?!' because we had no idea! What a cool surprise! The train just followed the tracks right onto the giant ferry! We walked around all the shops and dining areas and I felt like I was on a cruise ship. Even though I've never been on one, but I'm assuming it was very similar to this. When we arrived in Denmark we found our way to the hostel and were asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. Fran was really sick during our first full day in Copenhagen so we hung out in our jail cell of a hostel. Our room consisted of a pair of triple bunked beds two feet from each other and a broken TV. I ventured out a few times to get medicine for Fran and food. I was really nervous that I would get the wrong kind of medicine, seeing as there is kind of a language barrier thing going on, but I got the right kind! And it didn't kill Fran, phew. But I did have to ask one of the workers at the hostel to translate the Danish so that we didn't overdose Fran with her Danish meds. And if the medicine that I bought wouldn't have worked we had a very nice roommate (Ki-yung) who was more than happy to try and help. The first night we were there she offered Francesca a pill. We weren't really sure what she was saying at first through her very thick Asian accent, but she just kept saying 'I can give you a pill.' This is going to sound very bad, and I apologize in advance, but I thought that it was just the funniest thing ever and had to stuff my face in my pillow and pretend to cough in order to hide my laughter. Here was poor Francesca, practically on her death bed just trying to fall asleep and our new friend from South Korea kept trying to get her to take a pill. And it had been a long day. Ok, so maybe I was the only one who thought it was funny but whatevs...typical. And then the next day before she took off for the city, Ki-yung left us with our own little package of pills and instructed us to take them. I think they were just Vitamin C tablets though. We did not eat them, but I did keep them as a memento.

When Fran was feeling a little better the third day we ventured through the streets of Copenhagen. It was very cold...and windy. But we stuck it out. It reminded me a lot of Maastricht. We decided that although it was a very nice city, it is probably wonderful in the summertime because there are a lot of gardens and fountains and places to walk along the water. I didn't know this until I looked up the top ten things to do while in Copenhagen, but there is a statue of the little mermaid, although not the typical red flowy hair purple shell Ariel version that Disney has provided. It is based off of the original story by Hans Christian Andersen who grew up in Denmark. It was pretty cool, although not as big as expected. Next we went to the Round Tower. I'll skip the history lesson but pretty much it is a really really old observatory with a spectacular view of the city. The climb up is a spiral, but not stairs. It reminded me of a giant spiral slide made out of cobblestone...if you can imagine that. So ya, that was pretty cool. When we returned to our hostel we met a really cool girl from Canada and she sometimes mumbled to herself in French. It was very interesting.

So I'm racking my brain on what else to say about Denmark....ah yes! Ok, so, if you're into that whole tall, blonde hair, blue eyes, well dressed, cute little accent kinda thing, a Danish man is for you. That's all I'm going to say and on that note I will end my post about Copenhagen.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


ah! so sorry it's been over a week since i've posted anything...but we just got back from our Belgium and my Paris lots of good stuff to come! :)

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Fika (according to wikipedia) - a social institution in Sweden; most often a coffee break with one's colleagues, friend, date or family. The practice of taking, typically with a cinnamon roll, is central to Swedish life. Traditionally fika requires sweet baked goods.

I don't know about you, but I think that the Swedes know whats up! This is not just an old tradition that people don't really follow anymore, this is real life! When we asked the lady at the visitor center what it was she got very serious and told us that her usual fika time is in between breakfast and lunch and right after dinner. Outside of a lot of cafes they had special prices or suggestions for fika, and trust me, we took advantage of this and enjoyed our fika time daily! My trivial swedish roots have been officially unlashed, as I plan on incorporating fika into my daily life. This has been working out pretty well so far and I am excited to bring this back to good old Gordon College. I have also been informed that it has already spread to the Taber household!

So, pretty much I'm in love with Sweden. They've got it goin on. Not only because of fika, but it is a beautiful country, full of very friendly people and yummy food. But let's be real here, who wouldn't love to live in a place where taking a break to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee and a sweet treat to have some lovely conversation with a friend or two is absolutely essential and completely acceptable to everyday life?

Now I have a small task for you. In order to be enlightened with a new cultural experience today, you must take at least 30 minutes out of your busy and stressful day to sit down with a friend or family member, a cup of coffee and a yummy baked good and engage in a pleasant, light-hearted, non-stress evoking conversation. If you would like to make this event even more Swedish try doing this twice a day or pick up some cinnamon rolls from IKEA(now that would be legit)!

Have you had your fika time today?

(authentic swedish fika)

swedish fish

Sweden was awesome! Even though it was freeeeeezing cold (-10 C) and they actually didn't have any swedish fish. We landed about 80 minutes outside of the city in what appeared to be the middle of a forest where they randomly decided to put an airport. After trading our euros for Swedish krona (1 SEK = $0.16 USD) we took a bus through the breathtaking country side into Stockholm. Sweden was just hit with a huge snowstorm two days before we got there so everything was white and clean and riding through the forest with the sun setting made me feel like I was on the Polar Express or something. It was very magical. We also passed by the first and biggest IKEA in the world. Once we entered the city we hopped off one bus and jumped on another one that took us to the island that our ship/hostel (af Chapman) was on, got our sheets and towels, met our roommates, grabbed some dinner and went to bed.

The next morning we ate breakfast on the ship. It consisted of a variety of bread, cold cuts, cheese slices, tomatoes, and red peppers - not your typical continental breakfast from the Holiday Inn but very Swedish. We then went on a tour of the city. We also took an 'ice-breaking' ferry out around the archipelagos, which are the group of islands that make up the city. If you didn't know, which I had no clue, Stockholm is actually made up of several islands, many of which we explored, and people live on them and there are daily ferries that go in between all of the islands and the mainland. While we were on the ferry trudging through the frozen water I kind of felt like we were in Alaska. Then we went to the visitor center to get some advice on where to go while in Sweden because we had no idea.

We then ventured to the Vete-Katten, home of the first cinnamon bun. Although it didn't quite look like the cinnamon bun that we had in mind is was veryyyy good and the coffee was the best coffee that I have had in my entire life! Well, so far. Next we went to the Vasamuseet (Vasa Museum). The Vasa is a ship that was built in the 1600s and sunk after 20 minutes during its maiden voyage. It was supposed to be the king's biggest and most powerful ship in his entire fleet, but it was made too tall and top-heavy so it didn't last very long. The ship sunk to the bottom of the harbor in the Baltic Sea but over 300 years later she was brought back out of the water, preserved and fixed up and now rests in her own museum. It was amazing! The ship was huge (5 stories high) and was in great condition. They even had the skeletons of the crew members that went down with her on display, which was a little freaky, but still really cool. In order to best preserve the ship the museum has to be kept dark, cold, and damp which added to the whole experience.

The next day we spent walking around Gamla Stan, aka the Old Town, where the Royal Palace is located. The island is made up of lots of tall buildings that are all very colorful and lots of fun little shops and cute cafes. At around noon we headed the Royal Palace to watch the changing of the guard ceremony. The palace was so cool! It looked like something you would see in a movie or storybook - it actually reminded me a lot of the movie Anastasia, I don't know why, but it did. It was very difficult to take the guards serious because they were wearing silly looking uniforms and even though they had huge guns they didn't look real. And if someone got to close to something they would stomp towards them and then do this little twirly thing and then walk back. They weren't very intimidating but if you starting walking towards a restricted area they would yell 'halt!' and then continue with they stomp and twirl routine. The ceremony was also entertaining, they shouted weird stuff and did like a stomp routine. I'm sure it was supposed to be a very serious ceremony, but I thought that it was funny... Then we went on a tour of the apartments in the palace. And ah! The rooms were amazing! They were full of really beautiful old stuff - everything from ravishing rugs, paintings and statues. But the coolest part was that the rooms we explored are actually still used today when really important people come to the palace. So they just take down all the signs, roll the carpet back, and put fresh linens on the beds! One of the rooms was even closed due to the 'King's orders.' How exciting!

Next we wandered to another island in search of a cafe called Hermans, which we found due to Fran's excellent navigating skills. Not only did we find the cozy cafe, but we had a spectacular view of Stockholm! Oh it was just so great! Not to mention the cuisine was superb! We took our time eating and just relaxing before heading out into the bitter cold to do some more exploring. We stumbled upon Stockholm's tiniest house and I bought a little swedish souvenir for my dad before heading back to our ship to hangout. We were exhausted and in bed before nine. Before leaving Sweden the next morning we went back to Gamla Stan to enjoy one last cup of the greatest coffee in the world at this awesome cafe! Apparently it was used in the 1200s as a stable; it was very cool. And then we trudged through the fresh snow with our backpacks to the train station to take off on our next adventure.

Monday, February 21, 2011

af Chapman

In 1888 a mighty ship called the af Chapman was built in England. She journeyed all over the world carrying trade under a Scottish captain. Years later she was taken over by the Swedish Navy and in the 1930s she stopped sailing.

On February 13, 2011, Jessica and Francesca checked in at their hostel on the island Skeppsholem and were given a key card to the room B21 aboard the af Chapman. Yes, that big huge white ship in the picture was our hostel that we stayed while in Stockholm! It was so awesome! The whole time we were in Sweden we referred to our hostel as 'the ship.' When it was getting late we would say 'How bout we head back to the ship for a while?' We thought we were pretty cool. The first night we walked around I felt like a little kid exploring and playing on the boat, but it was just so cool! We also ate breakfast on the deck. The little portholes in our room gave a great view of the city, more specifically Gamla Stan (Old Town), and the Royal Palace. At night we could hear big chunks of ice banging up against the sides of our ship. The boat was also surrounded by tons of mallard ducks and swans. It was very peculiar, but very entertaining. At night the swans would bend their long necks and stick their little heads into the feathers on their back and just float around and even bump into each other while they were sleeping. We asked one of the staff members at the front desk why they didn't fly south for the winter and he just looked at us like we were speaking a different language, which to him we were, and then he just looked at us like we were stupid and said that they lived here all year long. I guess the swedish birds are a little tougher than our Michigan birds.

On our ship we stayed in a 6 bed mixed dorm and we weren't really sure what to expect. But our roommates were very cool and included two Swiss girls and a German couple. The man and woman from Germany were a little older and had been out of school for 'a while' as they said but were very friendly. It was very interesting when all six of us were in the room together because even though we were all talking nobody could understand each other because we were all speaking different languages. Of course they could all speak pretty good English so they could understand us if they wanted to but we couldn't understand them. For all we knew they could have been talking about us and we just sat there and smiled at them when they laughed.

I knew that the Europeans are very open, but I got to experience this first hand while staying aboard the ship. One night I was just sitting on my bed and I looked up and realized that the German man wasn't wearing anything except for his tiny little pair of underwear and socks. I immediately just pretended to read something until I was interrupted by the German woman who asked me what we did that day while she too was in her underwear and we continued to have a full on conversation. I was very taken back, but this was completely normal to them. Maybe they would have been more comfortable if I was in my underwear too, but I then continued to grab my pajamas and go and change in the bathroom, not quite accustomed to these European practices.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

i'll take ya to the candy...err...coffeeshop

If you are planning on going to Europe, this post might be helpful.

If you desire a warm cup of coffee or a latte or a cute place to sit and chat, the coffeeshops are not for you. Instead you might want to stop in a cafe. Cafes are for coffee and coffeeshops are for weed. Makes sense, right? Although there are cafes everywhere, there are also coffeeshops everywhere, especially in Amsterdam. There would sometimes be mulitple coffeeshops on the same street and a few times we saw men leaving one and crossing the street to enter another. You can still get coffee in coffeeshops, although it might be special coffee, but coffee nonetheless. I think I'll stick to getting my coffee from cute little cafes.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

the shelter jordan

I wanted dedicate an entire post to the hostel we stayed at in Amsterdam because it was so great. We had no idea that it was a Christian hostel when we made our reservations but it was a great surprise! We ended up having dinner at the hostel both nights we were there. Not only was it inexpensive, but it was also very good. The first night we met some pretty cool people who worked at the Shelter. We were the only guests at dinner that night, so it was us and all of the staff. The staff are all volunteers who are either done with school or taking some time off from school, just like us. They were from all over Europe, the UK, and the United States and extremely friendly. Some of them even knew people from Gordon that I know! It was so crazy! During dinner we got lots of helpful opinions and advice about what to see and do in city. Then they invited us to go to this jazz night thing at a bar in the city with them and we were so excited! We left around 9 and it took us about a half hour to walk there. But the walk was so much fun! We got to see the city at night, which was beautiful, and we had some awesome conversations with our new friends! It was so nice to talk to a fellow American about football and The Office.

The jazz was great and we had a really good time! We got a lot of advice and even made some notes on our map of where we go from the front desk and were off bright and early the next morning. After we ate dinner at the hostel again we went and walked around and then spent some time in the common room reading and journaling. After Fran went to bed I hung around to finish up my journal entry but ended up having a very cool conversation with another one of the staff members who is from the Netherlands. We had a deep talk about school and education and a deep spiritual talk. It was very cool and so exciting to hear about how God is working everywhere in the world!

Anyways, to wrap up these random thoughts about our hostel, it was a great experience. Although I am not the biggest fan of the city of Amsterdam, staying at the Shelter Jordan will probably be a highlight of the trip!

Friday, February 11, 2011

welkom to amsterdam

Well, I wasn't really sure what to expect from Amsterdam and my first impressions were not very good. As we exited the beautiful central station we walked into a mass of very diverse people. Past the people, on what appeared to be sidewalks, were the trams. I was pretty sure that I would be run over by a tram before even getting to see the city. But don't worry, I made it out alive. Before heading to the hostel to drop our bags we walked around the city for a while. Between avoiding the Red Light District (a street designated for legalized prostitution),  trying to breathe while being engulfed with the smell of marijuana (which is very legal and very popular), and being overwhelmed with all of the people, deciding where to walk seemed like a daunting task. So we made our way to the hostel - the Shelter Jordan. It ended up being a Christian hostel, which I was very excited about. I also learned that a group of students from Wheaton College work at this hostel as a part of a youth ministry program and that my mom has actually worked here when she attended Wheaton. I thought it was pretty cool. Anyways, after we got situated at our hostel we headed to the Anne Frank house.

I was looking forward to visiting the Anne Frank house since we arrived in Europe. Although I didn't fully appreciate the book when I was forced to read it in middle school I have grown to understand how big of a deal her diary was and have learned a lot more about WWII. The house, although there was construction going on, looked just like all the other houses along the street. You would never pick it out to be such a point of significance or that it would contain a secret annex where at one time Jews hid from the Nazis. We all learned about the war and Hitler and the concentration camps, but when walking through a trap door disguised as a bookcase and standing in a room covered with black curtains to prevent being seen it all becomes a lot more real. Otto Frank didn't want the house to be displayed with furniture so all of the rooms were empty with the exception of little notes or books with significance to Anne Frank and her story on display. It was very surreal walking through Anne Frank's little room with the original wallpaper full of pictures of movie stars pasted on and trying to fathom that this is was where she spent her dark and lonely days writing in her diary about Peter while she was in hiding. The entire experience was very moving and a highlight of our trip to Amsterdam. It was also very cool to be surrounded by people from all over the world. All of the displays were described in multiple languages and the short film segments had subtitles in five different languages! It is amazing to me how the diary of one little girl became so universal and it started in this tiny little house in Amsterdam. At the end of the tour there is big section that deals with racial and religious discrimination practices still going on today. Otto Frank's whole idea of the diary being published was not only so people could understand what they went through but also to learn more about the past so that it doesn't happen again. It was very interesting and all this to say that if you are ever in Amsterdam, the Anne Frank house is definitely worth a stop.

After the Anne Frank house we headed back to the hostel for a yummy and only 5 euro dinner. It was great and we met the staff and ended up going out with them later that night! But i'll save that for the next post so that you don't get overwhelmed. We got back to the hostel at about 12:30 and were exhausted. But I had a little trouble falling asleep because some of our roommates were a little loud. We stayed in the 18 bed female dorm because it was the least expensive and I thought that it would be an interesting experience, and it was. We were up and at em' the next morning and enjoyed free breakfast with the hostel and were back on the streets of Amsterdam by 10:30 am. We first went to the big I AMSTERDAM sign to take some pics and then just walked around some nice neighborhoods. This part of the city was a lot nicer than what we saw the day before - it was clean, not crowded with people, and didn't smell like weed. Then we went to the Blue Cafe for lunch. It was at the very top of a shopping center and we could see the entire city from our table! It was very cool. Then we headed to one of the many canals to catch a canal boat ride! The boat was very long and had tables set up. It took us all through Amsterdam and got to see the city from a canal view. We did some more walking and then decided that we wanted some coffee before dinner so went looking for a little cafe close to the hostel. We usually walk by two or three every street but when we finally wanted to go into one we couldn't find any. The first one we saw looked very old and not necessarily cute but the sign outside said 'cappuccinos' so we were sold. Francesca noted that there were a lot of old people inside and I responded with 'well old people can be fun' and we ventured in. Well, it was not only full of old people, but old men. The only other female in the little building was the waitress and she gave us a really confused look when we walked in. The cafe was dark and creaky and I felt like a lot of 'business deals' went on inside. There was also a black cat just hanging out. We were only in there for about ten minutes and then evacuated quickly, we obviously didn't fit in. It was quite the experience. But we headed back to the hostel for dinner and then walked around a bit to see the city some more at night. We were exhausted once 10 o clock rolled around and did some reading and journaling before heading off to bed. We also had a new roommate...who yelled in her sleep. That was very nice.

In our last few hours in the city the next day we walked around some more and visited Madame Tussaud's wax museum. We were advised that it was not the greatest thing you could do in Amsterdam but we really wanted to go anyways. It was pretty cool, and a little freaky, but we did see Obama and I got my picture taken with Robert Pattinson. I mean, it doesn't get much better than that. Before we caught our train back to the apartment we did some more walking.

Overall we enjoyed our time in Amsterdam, but I would not be excited for a return trip. It is a very interesting city and a good experience but will probably not make it to my list of top ten favorite places in the world. As one of our friends from the hostel said, "It is the most beautiful city, and it is the ugliest city." It has so much history, the buildings are magnificent and there are so many happy tourist but then the city contradicts itself with a whole section for prostitution and 5 weed shops on every street. I am very glad we experienced it but did not leave the city with a burning desire to return anytime soon.

Friday, February 4, 2011

too exciting to not share :)

Ok, so I thought that i'd let you in on some of our travel plans for this month! These are the places we are planning on going to in February :

Stockholm, Sweden
Copenhagen, Denmark
Paris, France



(and maybe Greece)

This is how I feel - ahhlajeoijadkfjkdjfajij;eeljadklejkas!!! Yep.

quattro mori

For dinner two nights ago we ventured all the way across the street to the Italian restaurant called Quattro Mori. We see this restaurant everyday as we look out our windows or walk past it on our way to the other side of the bridge. Not only can we see straight into the restaurant and watch the many people come in and out and even see what they are eating for dinner, but they can also see us. The men that work there can stand in the middle of the restaurant so that we can see everything except for their heads and even though we can't see their heads they can still see straight into our apartment. It's a little freaky. Fran's uncle left us a gift certificate to eat there and while we were waiting to leave and get a little hungrier I looked up what quattro mori meant in Italian. I plugged it into a translator and out came "four died." Kinda freaky. Well, when we were finally hungry enough we walked down our stairs and crossed the street to enter this mysterious Italian restaurant. They probably knew we were coming because we just kept looking over and they most likely saw us put our coats on and turn the lights off. We sat at a table right by the window so we could see our apartment perfectly. After our waiter, who we recognized from our occasional stalking, took our order we asked him what quattro mori meant. He did his best to explain it and even brought us a book about it...but he was very difficult to understand and the book was in Italian. But he told us that we could just look it up on wikipedia. We did figure out though that it is a story about four men from a small italian island that died... As our food was being made the cooks and waiters were hanging out in the kitchen, which we could very easily see, and singing in Italian. I felt like we were in a movie or that one scene in Lady and the Tramp where they eat spaghetti. Our dinner was very good and very Italian and I'm sure that after we exchanged our "ciao's" they watched as we made it back to our apartment. It was an interesting evening and made us even more excited for our trip to Italy!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

yes, i did just speak english.

We went grocery shopping the other day and the checkout experience was very interesting. The lady working swiped all of our items like she was racing or something! She would swipe three things a time and just push them to the end of the small counter where we were tossing everything in the our cart because we didn't have time to put them into bags as she was already moving on to the next customer. It took only about one minute for her to scan all of our stuff and take my money but it took like 5 minutes for us to put it in the bags that we brought. When she handed me my change I said 'thank you' and everyone around immediately looked at me like they had never heard English before. I thought I did something wrong with the way they were all looking at me. Another time I was ordering food and did an awful job pronouncing something in Dutch. The man taking my order politely corrected me while the guy behind me let out a little giggle. Oh well, guess i'll just have to work on my Dutch.

it's all dutch to me

Here are some random observations from The Netherlands and Europe so far:

1. The Dutch men are really tall. It sounds silly, but this is one of the first things that I noticed! They have extremely long skinny legs, big feet and usually wear fitted pants and dress shoes. I'm pretty sure that some of their legs could come up as high as my waist. Next time we are out and about I plan on taking a picture with the tallest Dutch man that we come across (and we already looked up how to say 'can i take your picture' in Dutch...although our pronunciation might be a little off).

2. In general, everyone is just a little taller and everyone is thin. Maybe we just have a lot of short people in the states, but the only short people that I have seen here have all been under the age of 12.

3. Don't have a car? That's fine. Don't have a bike? Now, that could be a problem. Bikes are a huge part of people's daily transportation. They are not only used for just a bike ride around the city, they are used to get places and to hold stuff. Most of the bikes have some type of compartment on the back and it is not unusual to see another person hop onto someone else's bike while in motion. They are parked everywhere and if not on the street then they can be found behind a building, where there might be a group of 10 big bike racks.

4. The cars, with the exception of delivery trucks and vans, are all very little. They are all about the size of a Ford Focus or even smaller. I have not seen one SUV. There are a lot of Mini Coopers and VWs. I also haven't seen any speed limit signs...or stop signs.

5. Everybody is extremely fashionable. Nobody goes out side in a sweatshirt or sweatpants, instead they wear nice jeans with fancy boots and very high end looking coats. There are some Uggs, but definitely not with only leggings and a t-shirt, like we wear in the States.

6. Target and Walmart are unheard-of, instead there are small shops for everything - one for glasses, one for the newspaper, one for shoes, one for medicine, one for lamps, one for dishes, one for carnival costumes.

7. Staring is not rude and does not give off any ideas. It is normal for someone to just stare at you as they walk by or sit across from you at a restaurant. Fran informed me of this as she and a random man just stared at each other for like a whole minute! Although I am used to the staring...I kind of stick out because I speak very American English and have red hair.

8. I haven't seen one other person with red hair. But, maybe that will change when we go to Ireland.

9. Dogs are allowed everywhere...on the train, in the mall and at restaurants.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

i thought this was the ladies' room?

As soon I got through customs and while we were waiting to claim our luggage I went to the restroom. I had a hard time differentiating between the girl and boy looked very different from the men and women signs in the states. I walked into what I was pretty sure was the women's restroom and before I could enter a little man jumped in front of me and excused himself as he cut me off going into the bathroom. I was very confused because I saw multiple girls in front of the mirror and they had no problem with the little man wandering into the ladies' room. And the confusion must have been very evident on my face because the little man smiled at me and said it was okay. I was not only confused because he was in there, but the bathroom was also very dark except for blue light coming out of three little doors, which looked liked separate rooms, and on the toilets there were big button looking things. These were the stalls and button things are used to flush, I eventually figured out. I was about to walk in to an empty one when, once again, the little man beat me in and told me that I couldn't come in. I then realized that he was cleaning the bathroom. Now this all happened within one minute and right after I escaped the traumatizing customs man and it was 3 am U.S. time, 9 am their time and I just really needed to use the bathroom. I hope that I don't run into any more little men in the bathrooms although now I might be a little more understanding and less confused.

Monday, January 31, 2011

dear belgium, i like your waffles but not your bald customs man.

Before you read this post please be understanding, as it is written under the influence of severe jet-lag.

After saying our goodbyes and going through security at the Detroit airport we finally took off for our big European adventure. After a quick flight to Philadelphia and an hour and half layover we were finally on our way to Brussels, Belgium! The flight felt really long but it was cool taking off at sunset and landing during sunrise. We were so relieved and I was beyond ecstatic to finally be walking on European soil!

Our next step was getting through customs. For some reason I was really nervous. As soon as I handed my passport to the balding customs agent and he saw that it was American, his whole entire attitude changed. He had a dirty look on his face the whole time and was very crabby and spoke sharply towards me. I told him where I was going and he replied with "Out of all Europe you're going to Maastricht? What's so great about the Netherlands?" I then told him that was our home base and we would be traveling all over. He was not happy with this because I didn't have our whole itinerary put together yet. He then continued to ask "So you're just going to smoke marijuana and pot the whole time?" I said no, of course. This man was making me mad. He then said that if I was in Europe for too long and got caught that I would never be allowed back. He also said something about America, but I was to frustrated and nervous to really be paying attention. For a good two minutes I was convinced that he wasn't going to let me into Europe and I couldn't breathe. I think it was a pretty legit reason to be freaking out a little. He was upset with me and giving me a ridiculously hard time, all the while Fran had gotten through no problem with her Dutch passport. She saw what was going on and came over. When the customs agent saw that she had a Dutch passport he started speaking Dutch to her and she had to explain to him that she didn't speak Dutch, but her dad was from the Netherlands. This did not make him very happy and he continued to give me a hard time but finally said stamped and handed my passport over. What a lovely welcome to Belgium.

After collecting our luggage, which included probably close to 200 lbs spread out through four bags, we got train tickets and made it to the Brussels - Noord (North) station. We were just getting ready to hop on  our next train when we realized that they decided to switch platforms at the last minute. We hauled all 200 lbs of our luggage down and up a set of stairs rushing through the crowds of people to arrive just in time to see the train depart. We were pretty upset. Although our arms were getting a great workout, we were not impressed with Belgium so far. A girl, that we recognized from our flight over came up to us and asked if we were going to Maastricht too and we all expressed our frustration with the unannounced changes. But we finally got on the right train with a little help from our new friends, who are studying abroad in Maastricht from Penn State, and were on our way to the apartment.

When we finally got to Maastricht we had to haul all of our luggage through cobblestone to the apartment about 10 minutes away. We probably looked pretty funny. But we finally made it and are working on settling in and adjusting to the time :)

Missing everyone from home and school!

Monday, January 24, 2011

six days

6 days! 6 days! Ah! Adventure starts so soon! Taking off from Detroit next Sunday and landing in Brussels, Belgium on Monday morning :) This time next week I will probably be getting ready to go to the Netherlands! I'm so excited! Last night me and Fran got together, at our usual spot, to discuss packing... although we ended up talking about all the places we want to go and everything we want to do, which is much more exciting than a packing list. We have plans to hit the UK first, with a return trip for the royal wedding of course, explore Stockholm, and my personal favorite - spend an entire day in the hills while in Austria. And those are just a few of the place that we talked about! Well, all this dreaming will become reality within the next few weeks! A bientot!

Monday, January 17, 2011

ok, this is like real.

So up until now, as I am sitting in my dorm room taking down pictures and packing up books, this whole thing just felt like a crazy dream or a great idea that would never really happen. But now it feels real. This is the part when I say "see ya later" to Gordon and all of my friends and memories that are here before I take off for Europe. Although "see ya later" is a lot easier than "goodbye" it is still very weird packing up my second home. This is the 'no turning back because this is really happening' part of this whole experience and its kinda sad but super exciting all at the same time.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

when opportunity knocks

A very good friend of mine from high school, Francesca, and her sister had been living and just traveling in Europe for the past several months. Jealous? Yep, I was too. Every time there were new pictures on Facebook I would look through them with envy and a growing desire to one day go to Europe and see all the places that I dreamed about. One evening my friend came over and as we were talking she mentioned that her sister was not returning to Europe with her and she was going back alone. My immediate reaction was, "If my parents would let me take a semester off of school I would drop everything in a heartbeat and join you!" Although this is what I said out loud, I knew that never in a million years would my parents agree to this or even consider it. The next morning, while we were all driving to watch my sister's Senior Recognition at my high school, I casually brought up this absurd idea to my parents. Expecting to be shot down immediately, instead, the car was silent as both my mom and dad pondered on the idea. They then asked if I was serious and if it was something that I would really want to do, which I of course responded with "Heck ya!"They expressed that it was a great and once in a lifetime opportunity. I then talked to my friend about it and had lots of discussions with my parents and made lots of phone calls. We also had a little meeting with my friend and her parents and learned that Francesca's family has a lot of connections and family in Europe and that we would be very well taken care of and completely safe. This cemented my parents mind about the idea and then Gordon said that I was fine to go and that I would be all set to come back in the fall. Financially it sounds unrealistic, but actually it will cost a whole lot less than a semester at Gordon and I will most likely be able to finish school in two years without staying an extra semester. All of the pieces fell together perfectly and we could not have planned it better. I'm not quite sure what I did to be blessed with this once in lifetime/ dream come true opportunity and it is probably the craziest thing I will do in my entire life but I am so excited I can't even sleep at night!