Destination: Cinque Terre

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Today, Carly and I braved the Italian transit system yet again in an attempt to get from Florence to Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre is a grouping of 5 coastal Italian cities. We got round trip tickets for 28 euro, which isn’t horrible. While in the bus station, I met a student athlete from the University of Alabama. Of course after she walks off, I realize I’m wearing my “Beat Bama” shirt. Carly and I laughed for a while about that “coincidence”. We took about a 3 hour train to Riomaggiore. It was gorgeous. We explored the streets for a while and then continued on to Monterosso, the northern most city. From Monterosso we trekked to Vernazza, the next city over. It was extremely hot and there were lots of stairs, but the views were breathtakingly gorgeous. It was the most fulfilling hike I have ever completed. We spend about 1 hour and 45 mins on the trail, but spent about 30+ mins simply stopping to enjoy the views and take pictures. Once in Vernazza, we finally found our first Italian water fountain, and I felt like we had discovered the fountain of youth. Water is a precious and scarce commodity here. I also had the most AMAZING pesto pizza from a street vendor. Side note: the stores in Cinque Terre only take cash. Carly and I definitely did not come prepared for this issue, and the ATM refused to give us cash (for unknown reasons) so we ended up pooling our change and buying gelato for “dinner” until we could find a place that accepted debit/credit cards (which ended up being McDonalds….).

Cute hidden door in Riomaggiore

Cute hidden door in Riomaggiore

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Once we finally got dinner, we were waiting for our train back to Florence, and I noticed a few people running towards a train. Turns out it was the train to Florence that Carly and I were supposed to be taking. We took off in a dead sprint and probably one minute after we boarded the train, it started rolling, beginning the nightly transit struggle in Italy. After 3+ hours on a train back to Florence, we realize neither of us have cash to buy bus tickets back to the apartment. Carly attempts to buy a granola bar and get cash back, which the Italians do not allow apparently. I stood in line at McDonalds for 10 mins trying to do the same thing. All the ATMs are “closed” or turned off or just simply MIA. There’s this weird door with an ATM behind it, but you have to insert your credit card to open the door. Carly finally sneaks in behind a guy, because our cards wouldn’t unlock the door, and is finally allowed to use an ATM after over 30 plus mins trying to get 2 euros for a bus pass home.

Long story short, today was one of the most amazing days of my life, and not even the Italian transportation system can get us down! I’ll let the pictures and views speak for themselves.

I want this picture turned into a poster for my room, I like it that much.

I want this picture turned into a poster for my room, I like it that much.

Monterosso

Monterosso

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Vernazza

Vernazza

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Best Friends and Baguettes

These past 6+ days have been so amazing and crazy. I was talking with Weston about how quickly we figured out how to navigate London and Paris, and he said “Well, it’s sink or swim”. Thankfully we’ve been figuring out all the foreign public transit swimmingly. After spending 48 hours in London, we took the “Chunnel” to Paris. It’s basically a 3 hour underwater train/subway ride underneath the water between the two cities. I was expecting it to feel different for some reason, but it definitely felt like a normal train ride. Once in Paris, we hung out on the Eiffel Tower lawn and then hiked to see the French Statue of Liberty. At the Eiffel Tower, there was a super adorable dad dressed in a suit reading a book to his young daughter on a picnic cloth. I snapped a picture because it was so precious.

Adorable French Father-Daughter time.

Adorable French Father-Daughter time.

Everything you’ve ever seen in the movies about Paris is spot on. The stereotypes (as far as I can tell) are all true. I can’t count how many people I saw walking the streets with baguettes under their arms. Several people wore berets and had cute little fluffy dogs. Women bicycled in skirts, dresses, and high heels with bread in the bread basket. The cafes were super cute and everyone sat outside in the sun and smoked and ate breakfast/lunch/dinner. There was a chocolate shop and a pastry shop on every corner. It was very fun and different, but the language barrier was difficult. They spoke very broken or no English. Sweden spoiled us because everyone there spoke English. Also, the people were more pushy. On the Eiffel Tower lawn, there are TONS of vendors. They walk up in your personal space and try to sell you selfie sticks, wine, key chains, glow sticks, really anything. And if you were eating/picnicking, they would ask you multiple times even after being told no. At one point we resorted to speaking Spanish gibberish anytime they walked close enough to hear us, in hopes they would leave us alone.

Paris Statue of Liberty (As seen in National Treasure Movie)

Paris Statue of Liberty (As seen in National Treasure Movie)

Soon after arriving to Paris, one of my best friends, Casey, met up with us. She’s currently studying in a town a few hours from Paris. She can speak some French, and helped us keep from offending people quite as often. Our second day in Paris, we went all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The views were amazing. It’s hard to express in words how awesome it is to be somewhere so historical and monumental that is such a landmark. Seeing pictures and being there are so completely different.

The Louvre

The Louvre

Love Lock Bridge (Saw a super cute old couple putting a lock on!)

Love Lock Bridge (Saw a super cute old couple putting a lock on!)

Sandwiches in the park!

Sandwiches in the park!

French Officers outside Notre Dame

French Officers outside Notre Dame

After the tower, we walked and took the metro to Notre Dame. It’s a beautiful church. We saw a guy with a hog shirt on, so of course we made a scene yelling “Woo Pig Sooie”. The man in line behind us ended up being a Mississippi fan! After walking through Notre Dame and admiring the architecture, Casey and I got baguette sandwiches from a street vendor and ate in the gardens behind the church. It was a blast to catch up and eat delicious sandwiches.

We spent the afternoon at the Louvre museum. I saw the Mona Lisa in person. It’s a lot smaller than I thought it would be, to be completely honest. My favorite part of this museum was definitely their Egyptian collection. There was SO much to see. Lots of hieroglyphics and sarcophaguses. I’ve always been fascinated with Egypt and their history, so it was exciting to see how much was preserved just in one museum. Sadly, I couldn’t really read any of the descriptions of the pieces because it was all in French. Casey and I stayed at the Louvre for a long time, and it was probably my favorite museum I’ve ever visited.

The Louvre was definitely not a bust!

The Louvre was definitely not a bust!

Just chilling with the sphinx

Just chilling with the sphinx

Legit golden sarcophagus

Legit golden sarcophagus

Casey and I and the Egyptian Zodiac Calendar on the ceiling

Casey and I and the Egyptian Zodiac Calendar on the ceiling

Super old mummy remains

Super old mummy remains

That last evening in Paris, we ate dinner and then took pastries and baguettes and a blanket to the Eiffel Tower and hung out for several hours just talking. We saw a teenager steal a bicycle cops bike and then get arrested. The Eiffel Tower is an awesome place to people watch. There was a man walking around looking for women that were alone or with only other women and he was just basically asking to sit with them/hit on them (this happened to two girls sitting behind us). Another couple a few feet away didn’t talk to each other at all. They simply posed and took pictures of each other cutting cheese and holding wine glasses. It was hilarious.

Just hanging out on the Eiffel Tower lawn, nbd

Just hanging out on the Eiffel Tower lawn, nbd

Weston in his natural pose while in Europe (avoiding second hand smoke)

Weston in his natural pose while in Europe (avoiding second hand smoke)

Just munching away

Just munching away

Carly and I

Carly and I

We've always wanted to travel better. Paris was a best friend dream come true.

We’ve always wanted to travel together. Paris was a best friend dream come true.

Our group outside Notre Dame

Our group outside Notre Dame

U.S. in the U.K.

Squad at the Buckingham Palace

Squad at the Buckingham Palace

Today, Carly, Hayden, Weston, and I flew from Stockholm to London, England. It was super exciting, simply because this was the first step to our journey through Europe that we planned on our own terms. The “early” group of students going to the airport had to wake up at 2 am this morning, and then be in the cab by 3am. Talk about sleep deprivation! Our flight left at 7am, so we were literally the first people through the TSA line and the baggage line.The flight went seamlessly and we arrived in London at around 9 am. Then the four of us were blindsided by the U.K. and their customs process. The line was super long and everyone was questioned. It was pretty stressful, but we made it through. Then I ended up getting lost at the baggage claim because I thought there was only one for the whole airport. I finally reunited with the group and they had found all my luggage, because of course I was at the wrong baggage claim.

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Hyde Park Garden

Hyde Park Garden

The rest of the day was a blast. We walked over 8 miles all around London, plus took the subway system and road a double decker bus. I got to see Westminster Abbey, the Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, and the London Eye. Tomorrow we are going up in the London Eye, which is a giant ferris wheel with amazing views (or so I’ve heard). Hyde Park was definitely my favorite, because it had gorgeous flowers and there were tons of adorable puppies romping around in the grass.

Weston messing with the Swans

Weston messing with the Swans

The most riveting part of today was what we had for dinner: MEXICAN food. In Arkansas, this is a staple food group. In Sweden, it does not exist. Hayden found this awesome little Mexican place and it had the greatest spicy burrito I’ve eaten since I left the states (and the only burrito I’ve eaten since the states). The restaurant was super home-like too. In Sweden, the restaurants were usually pretty quiet until our group arrived. Today at the restaurant, there was the normal banter from customers and the waiters were conversing as well. We decided that we should probably go ahead and claim that Mexican restaurant as American soil. I will hopefully be going back before we leave London.

My Week in Stockholm

This past week has been a whirlwind. We have visited more churches and museums than when I visited Washington D.C. It has been very insightful into the Swedish Culture and what they value. One interesting observation is that all these Swedish churches are extremely unique, and yet as a nation today, Sweden is not considered religious at all. While we were visiting one of the churches, they had candles you could light and say a prayer for someone. I thought it was a cool idea, and my church at home has nothing like this, so I participated.

Prayer Candles

Prayer Candles

We also visited the Nobel Peace Prize Museum. We only had 30 mins inside, but it was one of the coolest museums we visited. I got to read about lots of people who impacted the world through medicine and chemistry. The second woman to ever win a Nobel Prize in Medicine won it by discovering a method for testing hormones and other molecules traveling through blood. She then proved that Type 2 Diabetes is caused by inefficient use of insulin, not lack of insulin, by tracking the insulin molecules in the blood.

Nobel Prize Winner/Super Cool Lady

Nobel Prize Winner/Super Cool Lady

Stockholm has been awesome for us as a group. We ate breakfast and dinner together every night and then got ice cream at amazing places downtown afterwards. I think this is why our tuition for the trip was so expensive, haha! The best ice cream combination was definitely the passion fruit sorbet mixed with raspberry sorbet. Our last night at the ice cream shop, the owner took a picture with us (probably because we paid her SO much money!), it was pretty cute.

Sweets in Sweden are on point, and so is our Squad.

Sweets in Sweden are on point, and so is our Squad.

A couple nights ago, the group of girls on the trip sang karaoke at a karaoke bar. It was a blast. We sang “Bye Bye Bye” by the Backstreet boys and killed it. The whole place was singing along/videoing. Hopefully someday I’ll get a copy of that video!

Another fun event this week was the ABBA museum. It was extremely interactive. The very first part had a face in the hole. Peyton and I decided we would turn our ABBA face in the hole picture into a t-shirt for a fun home-made souvenir. They also had a “recording studio” where you could karaoke and it would tell you how on pitch you were (kinda like rock band). Towards the end, there was a “Just Dance” type stage where you danced with ABBA holograms. Two of our professors participated and I cried I was laughing so hard. The professors made us promise not to video them, but I will forever have that funny memory in my head.

The ABBA Museum

The ABBA Museum

Today ends my stay in Stockholm, tomorrow I head to the U.K. and then on to Paris where I get to meet up with one of my best friends, Casey! I can’t wait, and hopefully I will write a few more blog posts while abroad!

Rockin’ the Boat

Sunsets in Stockholm by the Sea

Sunsets in Stockholm by the Sea

Today we took a 5 hour bus ride from Jönköping to Stockholm. It felt like forever, just because we stopped a lot to let people on and off. When we finally got to Stockholm, it was gorgeous. We are on the Baltic Sea, and residing in a Hostel Boat. It’s beautiful. The weather was sunny and less windy. Everything seems to be aligning for this last portion of our trip. We picked “bunk buddies” and then went out to an Irish Pub with the faculty for dinner. They served fish and chips or hamburgers. I tried Hayden’s mashed green peas, and I was not a fan!

Swedish Royal Guard Selfie outside the Castle

Swedish Royal Guard Selfie outside the Castle

I’m super thankful I brought motion medication, because when speed boats go by, this place is rockin’. The view from our boat is AMAZING. You can climb up on the roof. Peyton and I watched the sunset from the roof of our boat over the sea. It was absolutely stunning.

View of Stockholm from the boat

View of Stockholm from the boat

Visingsö – Definitely My Favorite Day

Tandem biking with Alex was such a blast! It was rough starting out, but by the end we had mastered it.

Tandem biking with Alex was such a blast! It was rough starting out, but by the end we had mastered it.

Today was by far the most amazing day of our trip to Sweden. We transported by bus to a city named Gränna. It’s known for home made candy sticks and a man who once tried to fly to the North Pole in a hot air balloon (Spoiler Alert: He didn’t make it).

A candy maker in Gränna

A candy maker in Gränna

View of Visingsö from the ferry

View of Visingsö from the ferry

We rode a ferry across Vättern Lake to the island of Visingsö. It was slightly cloudy and the water was choppy, but it was still a beautiful ride. When we got there, we had the options of tandem bikes, single bikes, or basically a horse drawn hayride. Alex and I chose the tandem bike option, because when else in your life are you going to get the chance to tandem bike the perimeter of an island in a foreign country. It was definitely the best decision I’ve made on this trip. From our first bike mounting attempt till we got off the ferry on the way back, I was laughing the entire time.

I snapped this picture while simultaneously steering a tandem bike, that's got to be a world record, right?

I snapped this picture while simultaneously steering a tandem bike, that’s got to be a world record, right?

We biked through gorgeous wooded areas with beautiful trees and foliage. Next we pedaled on small country side roads and came across the most amazing field of yellow flowers. When I imagined what my Swedish experiences would consist of, this day fulfilled all my study abroad hopes and dreams.

The gorgeous field of flowers with the Swedish flag flying majestically above

The gorgeous field of flowers with the Swedish flag flying majestically above

Alex and I stopping to smell the flowers

Alex and I stopping to smell the flowers

After the fields of flowers, we came upon coastal ruins. These ruins are where the ancient kings of Sweden used to reside. The island was small and easy to defend, making it the perfect place for royalty.

The church and graveyard

The church and graveyard

An ancient tombstone

An ancient tombstone

As we coasted back towards the ferry port, we encountered an ornate church building and a historic graveyard. One of the tombstones stated that the woman buried there was born in the late 1800s.

Peyton and I at the coastal ruins

Peyton and I at the coastal ruins

Cute lakeside house with an amazing view

Cute lakeside house with an amazing view

Cruising back to the port, we stopped to explore the other castle ruins and remains. I discovered a tiny hole towards the base of the castle that was not gated off. I shimmied down into it, and discovered an extremely creepy dungeon. When I crawled back out, I was covered in mud and slime, but I got to see the interior of the dungeon that most tourists would completely overlook.

The hole I crawled into (dungeon access!)

The hole I crawled into (dungeon access!)

Dungeon interior (yikes)

Dungeon interior (yikes)

Oh and I forgot to mention, the weather today was LOVELY. A balmy 40-ish degrees F with LOTS of rain… But that didn’t stop the HTA group from having a blast and pedaling our hearts out.

More castle ruins close to the ferry port (this is where I explored the dungeon)

More castle ruins close to the ferry port (this is where I explored the dungeon)

I know when I look back at this trip in the future, today will be one of my fondest Swedish memories. Bicycling the island with great people and learning about/viewing first hand some of Sweden’s earliest royal residences. I am beyond blessed to have supportive family and friends that made it possible for me to go on this amazing trip.

Our more

Our more “posed” initial tandem bike picture

Mid-Bike Ride Snapshot - Alex ended up having to pedal in the back because she was too short to reach the pedals in the front

Mid-Bike Ride Snapshot – Alex ended up having to pedal in the back because she was too short to reach the pedals in the front!

Fun side note: I think I’ve taken over 550 pictures on this trip already!

Either My Stomach is Learning Swedish or I’m Starving

woopigsweden

Have you ever heard of a famous Swedish dish? Probably rare that someone has, but maybe you’ve heard of Swedish meatballs. Other than that you don’t hear too much about the Swedish cuisine. Well as I spend more time in this beautiful country I realize why this is the case. The food, is nothing like what we are used to…I’ve never been so hungry then during my time here. Our first meal was amazing. It was a schnitzel with a lemon sauce.

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But that meal must have set our standards high. We eat lunch at the University for lunch. I’ve honestly never experience such “interesting” food in my life. We’ve had everything from mystery meat and potatoes, maybe pasta, and surprise leftovers from the days prior. Most days I end up eating some very tasty bread and butter. Yummy.

Lunch... Lunch…

We quickly figured out where the nearest McDonalds is, and…

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Hiking in the Jönköping area

Stereotypical Study Abroad Pic

Stereotypical Study Abroad Pic

Today was definitely one of my favorite days in Sweden so far. A group of 8 of us on the trip decided to try and explore the area and find a hike. This turned out to be slightly more difficult than we originally thought it would be, simply due to the fact that Swedes consider jogging trails “hikes” also. Marilou and I tried emailing the night before and figuring out somewhere to go, but nothing ever lined up. I was feeling slightly discouraged by all of this. Also, the law the Swedes have that says you can hike anywhere/stay one night on a person’s property without permission (as long as you leave it as you found it) made finding legit hiking trails difficult.

Awkward group pic w/ selfie timer #WooPigSweden

Awkward group pic w/ selfie timer #WooPigSweden

Gorgeous Overlook of the City

Gorgeous Overlook of the City

While roaming the city after lunch, we walked into the tourist center of Jönköping. A few of the girls with us talked to the women working there and found out a short hike to an overlook of the city. Excited and slightly confused, 8 of us hopped on a bus to Huskavarna. After getting there, the bus driver was extremely nice and pointed us to the next bus we should jump on to find the hiking location. We explored the area around the bus stop for a few minutes waiting on the connecting bus. Then we hitched a ride on bus 33 and Anusha chatted it up with the bus driver, who actually made a special stop just for us out of the kindness of his heart!

Swede SwagThe way the city was set up was extremely cool. It was sort of a suburban area of Jönköping. We walked through a cute little neighborhood and then found the trail. The overlook was breathtaking and the weather was perfect. It was everything we had hoped for in a mini hike. The actual hike itself was maybe 20 minutes, but we spent a good couple of hours just goofing off and taking pictures. The flowers on the sides of the trail were beautiful too. While we were at the overlook, some Swedes were having a mini gathering. It was so cute, they had picnic blankets and dogs and their infamous sparkling water (basically carbonated water without flavoring).

Swedish picnic/party

Swedish picnic/party

As we hiked back to our original bus stop, a lady and her shitzu were hiking the other way, and she let us pet it! It was so fluffy and reminded me of home and my amazing puppy. We also finally saw one of those automatic lawn mowers in action. Below is a picture of the mower in it’s little “dog house” type shed! I have never seen these in America, but they are definitely a trend here Jönköping. People also seemed to have lots of cute greenhouses in their backyards. Gardens were also very prevalent, and I believe this ties in with how conscious the Swedes seem to be about issues like recycling, the environment, and “going green”. Exploring the outskirts of Jönköping was really exciting and made all of us feel super independent on our day off. The hike also reminded me a lot of home. If you’re in Arkansas or the surrounding states, GO HIKE. You definitely won’t regret it!

Automatic mowers!?

Automatic mowers!?

Puppy love!

Puppy love!

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Backyard greenhouses!

Backyard greenhouses!

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Trends in Sweden: water, toilets, & recycling

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A pretty cool pier we found close to Jönköping

While in Sweden, I’ve noticed some trends that seem to be across the board that would NEVER work in the USA. It’s super interesting, because they’re small things, but people in the US would be outraged about them. One is being charged for water at restaurants. At least 3-4 times, we have go to restaurants, and they have charged us 10 SEK for a cup of water (without ice). This is the equivalent of basically $1.50 USD. One of our group members tried approaching a waiter about this, but they simply stated it was on the menu (we didn’t notice?) and that we had to pay anyways.

My amazing Hawaiian calzone from Evergreen (probably the cheapest & best meal we've eaten here)

My amazing Hawaiian calzone from Evergreen (probably the cheapest & best meal we’ve eaten here)

On this same note about restaurants, tipping waiters and waitresses is not a custom in Sweden. I feel as though this system causes the waiters to simply not care about refilling drinks or making sure you have everything you need. The rewards system of tipping we have in the US keeps waiters on their toes and constantly trying to help you, whereas here, they bring you your drink once, your food once, and then never come by again. If you want a drink refill or need sauce, you have to hunt them down on a crazy wild goose chase!

One more thing I will never take for granted again when I return to the States is definitely FREE bathrooms. Some bathrooms here are free, but most of the ones in convenience stores or on the street cost 5-10 SEK which is about $0.50-$1.50 USD. This charge does not include soap.

ICE. Ice just isn’t served in restaurants here. The fountain drink machines do not have ice makers. The drinks you order contain (if you’re lucky!) 1-2 cubes of ice. I’m not sure if it’s a cultural thing due to the fact that it’s always freezing here, or if they just don’t want to go to the struggle of buying an ice machine.

The recycling here is almost a religion. It’s pretty awesome but also EXTREMELY confusing. There is not just a simple “trash can” when you are at a store. There are about 10 holes with pictures and Swedish words telling you where each individual item from your tray or trash goes. Even the McDonald’s here has this. They separate cups, cup lids, trays, fry cartons, ect. I thought the U of A was progressive as far as recycling goes, but after this trip I’d say we have quite a ways to go. The Swedish recycling system, however, would not actually work if implemented in the same ways in America. The Swedes have a very strong belief in their government system and a desire to better their communities through recycling that has not caught on in America. When talking with my colleagues, we all agreed if this complicated system came to America, it would simply cause more litter because of confusion!

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Armin demonstrating the confusion that is Swedish recycling

So all you Americans enjoy that Sonic ice and free toilets for me!

Birthdayz

Bikes Bikes & more Bikes

Bikes Bikes & more Bikes

Not many people can say they got to spend 5 weeks and 2 days in Europe for their birthday, but I most definitely can. Yesterday, I turned 21, and got to celebrate in Sweden with really fun people from the University of Arkansas plus one girl from the Netherlands. My favorite part of the whole day was probably meeting her, just because of how sweet she was. She was on the bus back to our dorms and goes “Are you guys the Americans?” which of course made us laugh, because we are the loudest group, and super hard to miss. We ended up chatting and it got mentioned that it was my birthday and that we were all going out to eat. We invited her and she decided to come. She brought me this super cute little birthday flag sash type thing and a Danish cookie.  It was also cool to hear her talk about the Swedish culture, since she too was “studying” abroad, even though her home is a much shorter distance away.

Birthday Dinner!

Birthday Dinner!

Speaking of transportation, TONS of people here bike. And not only do they bike, they don’t lock their bikes up while they are shopping or in class. It’s not uncommon to see rows and rows of bikes outside the university with maybe only one of them locked up. At the U of A, you would NEVER see this. Bikes that are not locked up are instantly stolen, and even bikes with locks on them can still get parts stolen off of them. Here, bikes are some students only modes of transportation. The Swedes seem to respect this and not disturb other people’s ways of getting around the city, which I think is super neat. This built in trust they have within the community creates a safer “feeling” atmosphere.