Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Athens, Santorini, and Texas!

Well this post is a little belated but I’ve been pretty busy since I got back to the states. The past month has honestly been a blur but I’ll try and recount my last adventures and what I’ve been up to the last two weeks here in Texas.

My last few weeks in Prague were a blast. Haley and I had made a list of all the things we hadn’t gotten around to doing so we stayed pretty busy around the city. I also tried to spend as much time as possible with all of my friends since it was our last weeks together. Pretty much every night was something fun and different with many hours spent at the beer garden or in different bars. One night we even did a bar crawl down Dlouha street and hit all of our favorite places and even some new bars. It also happened to be raining that night so we had to walk between bars in the rain which was hilarious. Thomas Jack also came and played at Roxy so we had a lot of fun at that. One of my favorite things we did in the last few weeks was rent paddle boats and hang out on the Vltava River. We had three boats between all of us and just hung onto each other and floated around. Paddling was a lot more work than I thought it would be so of course Haley and I made Tate and Nick do all of the work while we lounged on the back. We also tried to eat as much Czech food as possible because we knew we would miss it. So I basically had goulash, schnitzel, tredelnik, and doner kebaps a hundred times in the last two weeks I was there.

Can't beat that view. Charles Bridge with the Castles in the background.

Love these girls. Haley and Leah.

Kristen and I at Thomas Jack.

The day after finals ended we also had our farewell boat cruise. All the USAC students loaded up on a party barge for a booze cruise. I honestly hate goodbyes and prefer to just ignore them and act normal so the last week wasn’t my favorite. I ended up not getting to say an actual “goodbye” to a lot of people but I prefer it that way. I hate when your last moments with someone are sad. 

I miss Greg already. I'm so lucky to have met such awesome people and made such good friends this semester.

This is my program director, Jan (pronounced Jawn). He is hilarious and always wears a wooden tie, weird coat, slacks, and sandals.

Packing up my stuff was another struggle. I kept putting it off because it was just too depressing and overwhelming. At one point I got home and my other four roommates were all taking stuff off the walls and packing their bags and I laid on my bed and refused to do anything haha. I finally got it done though. It was just hard because I didn’t know what I would still need for my travels after the semester. I had one bag packed though and everything else ready to be put in another bag. I was really lucky because my brother brought me another huge empty suitcase as his checked bag and let me put the rest of my stuff in there. I ended up having one bag right at 49lbs and another at around 44lbs. I’m just glad everything fit and was under weight so I didn’t have to leave anything. I seriously just now feel like I have my life back together and organized though. When I left in January I moved a lot of my stuff back to my parents and just kind of threw stuff in my room and closet. Then I had two huge bags with everything thrown in there, so going through everything and deciding what I wanted to take back to Tyler with me took forever and was a mess. I still wonder where some things are but there is no telling at this point.

Anyways, on that Sunday, my brother and his roommate, Christian, finally got to Prague! They had some delayed flights but they made it. It’s funny because they called me during their layover in Munich and asked for my address just in case I wasn’t at the airport. After I picked them up and took them on a bus to the metro, then transferred to another metro and walked the rest of the way they admitted they probably wouldn’t have been able to find it. Haha. The first night was fun though. I was scared they were going to be too tired but we still went out in the city and had a good time. I took them to the restaurant under my apartment, Pivovarsky Klub, which Anthony Bourdain has actually featured on his show. Christian had goulash and Jarret and I had schnitzel. They both liked the Czech food so I was happy. Then we went and walked around the city. We had a few beers in Old Town and hung around before going to a beer hall, Lokal. They have beer tanks there so it’s really good, fresh beer. It’s also a very traditional communism style beer hall so that was cool. It was really nice to sit and catch up with my brother. It’s weird because even though I hadn’t seen him in months we picked up like it had only been a few days.

First beers in Prague at Pivovarsky.

Old Town.

The next day I took them to Bakeshop, one of my favorite cafes, for breakfast and introduced Jarret to European style croissants and pastries. My favorite is the almond croissant (it seriously tastes like bread pudding), but they also tried the apple, chocolate, and ham and cheese croissants and loved them. They’re seriously the most amazing pastries in the world and at this point I’ve had a lot of breakfasts across Europe so I can say that for certain. After that, we walked back through Old Town and across Charles Bridge. Then we went to St. Vitus Cathedral and the Castle. We walked back down through Mala Strana and hung out on one of the island parks in the middle of the river. Then we went to Wenceslas Square where we had a snack before going back to the apartment for a bit. We still had to pack up our stuff and get ready to leave for Greece the next day. After that we went and had more Czech food at Orion. I had more goulash but Jarret actually tried roasted duck that he said was really good. I took them to my favorite beer garden, Ragrovy Sady, and we sat out in the park for awhile. Later that night we caught up with some of my friends that were still in Prague and went to Chapeau Rouge, one of the bars there. It was a long day but we definitely had a good time. Jarret and Christian probably had a little too much of a good time and were hurting in the morning when we had to wake up early for our flight, but I got them up and going and we made it to Athens okay.

Of course they loved what was written here on the John Lennon Wall. 

Before and After pictures. Prague did them dirty.

We actually had a three hour layover in Istanbul on the way to Athens and five hours on the way back. It was definitely a good airport for people watching… Even though it seriously has to be the only airport I’d ever been to that didn’t have wifi so of course we had super long layovers there. We honestly didn’t mind though because both times we were there we were so exhausted that we found and empty gate and slept the whole time. The food court was at least decent there, they had Burger King and Sbarro which was hilarious.

We finally made it to Athens and hopped on a metro train that took about 45 minutes but dropped us off really close to our hostel. We stayed at a pretty good hostel, Athenstyle, right in the Plaka area in Athens. They were pretty full when I booked it so Jarret and Christian were in one room of six, and I was in by myself in another building with a room for six girls. They had never really stayed in hostel before so I was glad they got to have the experience. I honestly don’t mind hostels. They’re pretty fun because you get to talk to people, but it is kind of annoying because people are constantly coming in and out and being loud. I usually just stay wherever it’s cheapest, whether it’s a hostel or an airbnb or what not. This one was pretty cool though and had a bar on the rooftop with a perfect view of the Acropolis. For dinner that night we tried our first gyros, which were delicious. They kind of remind me of doner kebaps but they have a few slight differences, like different sauces and vegetables, but the same basic concept. These also had French fries on them though which was delicious. 


The next day we woke up and had crepes for breakfast, which Jarret had never really had. He loved them of course because crepes are amazing. We ate as we walked up to the Acropolis. It’s kind of an uphill walk but not bad and you get some really good views of the city on the way. Athens is seriously huge. Everywhere you look are just rolling hills covered with houses and ruins. One thing that was cool about Athens though is that you just have to buy one ticket to get into all the different places. My ticket was also free because I had my Czech student ID. The regular tickets were only 12 Euros though which is a steal considering when you go to like Rome, you have to pay at least 20 to get into each and every place. So kudos to Athens for being awesome. The acropolis was really cool though. It consists of several historic monuments like the Parthenon and temple of Athena. It’s crazy to think about how old the ruins are and how in the world they were able to build these massive buildings on top of a giant hill. I seriously don’t understand how they were able to get the marble all the way up there and construct these intricate buildings with such accuracy. It’s amazing. After the acropolis we went to the Temple of Zeus and then the Agora. I really liked the Agora, which was basically the city center in ancient Athens. It reminded me a lot of the Roman Forum and Paletine Hill in Rome. It was filled with just tons and tons of ruins. The Agora also had a museum which displayed really old artifacts. Our favorite was an actual Spartan shield that looked ridiculously heavy. The temple of Apollo was really neat because it was so intact.

Later that day we walked around the markets in the Plaka area. Someone had recommended a restaurant down the street for dinner and it turned out to be really good. We had like a five course meal for 10 euros each. I had grilled pork for my main course and it was amazing. The owners of the restaurant were really cool too and gave us free dessert and talked to us a lot. We went through a couple bottles of Greek wine which was delicious. The owner even gave us some wine they make there which was infused with honey and it was seriously they best thing I’ve ever tasted. After that we hung around Athens and just walked around before turning in for the night.

The buildings just went on forever.


Erechtheion Temple

Temple of Zeus


Temple of Apollo

We had to wake up super early for our flight the next morning. I seriously got about three hours of sleep. I’m pretty sure Jarret and Christian didn’t sleep at all. We headed back to the airport to catch our 7am flight to Santorini. Once we landed there we took a short bus to Fira, the main city there and found our villa. That day we decided to rent ATV’s and explore the island since we had the whole day. It was definitely one of my favorite days of the trip. We started out by going to the very southern point of the island and checking out an old lighthouse with some really cool views of the Caldera. Really though everywhere on the island had awesome views. We kept stopping every so often to take pictures and enjoy how pretty it was. After that we went to a famous beach there called Red Beach. You had to do a short hike to get to the beach but it was worth it. The black sand beach was surround by huge walls of red. Of course my sandal broke on the hike there though so the rest of the trip I was hobbling around with a messed up sandal. I made it work though. After Red Beach we made our way to Perissa, a small town area that had long strips of black sand beaches. We hung out there for quite awhile and had some beers on the beach while we lounged and napped in the sun. I really did put on sunscreen that day and still managed to get pretty burned. It didn’t help sitting on the four-wheeler in the sun all day wither. Once the sun wasn’t as hot, we loaded back up and drove back to Fira. Navigating across the island was entertaining. You basically just had to keep following random signs with arrows and if you missed one you were screwed. I’d also like to point out that although Jarret has always been the navigator on vacations, my skills have finally surpassed his and the only reason we made it anywhere was because I was highly adept at following signs. I’ve had a lot of practice though. The Greek language is also not very easy though. I seriously doubt I could ever even begin to learn it because their alphabet is so different. We of course took every opportunity to use the phrase “It’s all Greek to me”. 

Our villa.

The lighthouse.

Red beach.

Perfect view. I love the beach.

Later that night we took the ATV’s to Oia. We ended up walking around and finding some dinner. The ride home wasn’t too great though because the evenings got a little chilly. It was also dark so trying to find your way on four-wheelers when it was cold and pitch black made it a little less than fun. It was definitely an adventure though and we actually found it back to our villa easily. 

The famous Oia.

The next day Jarret and I had our first day of diving! We woke up and got ready and found some crepes for breakfast. Our dive crew picked us up at the main bus station and took us to the dive shop. We got fitted for gear and then eventually made our way down to the water. Apparently their actual dive boat was being redone in the shop so our boat was seriously a glorified dinghy with a center console. It was also pretty windy so the ride to our first dive spot was quite an adventure. I’ve luckily grown up on boats though so I was fine. It was actually pretty fun. I got a lot of footage on my GoPro but I haven’t had time to look through it very much yet. The water was still a little chilly for diving so we wore 5mm wetsuits that kept us pretty warm. I think the water temperature was around 65 degrees. Our first dive was around an old steamboat wreck. It was pretty fun because you could easily swim all the way through the boat. Our second dive was actually off the shore. It’s crazy because the huge cliffs along the western coast of Santorini are extremely tall and they actually continue underwater much the same way. So we dove off a small beach next to the huge cliffs. These cliffs underwater were basically just steep walls that went down and down and down into the black. Walls are some of mine and Jarret’s favorite thing to dive so we enjoyed it. There was also a really cool reef on that dive where the fish weren’t scared at all. You could kneel in the middle of a sandy spot and thousands of fish just circled you. It was really really cool. I literally reached out and touched the fish.

We got back to Fira around three and met up with Christian. We had a quick gyro for lunch and hopped on a bus to Kamari, another beach town. We laid on the beach again and had some beers. I could seriously lay on the beach every single day and read my book and be perfectly happy. For dinner we ate right on the beach. I had a traditional Greek meal with roasted lamb. I had never had lamb before and I feel slightly guility about it, but hey when in Greece right?! Jarret and Christian had a meat platter that literally had pounds and pounds of different seafood and chicken and pork. It was a delicious meal. 

The next day we did another dive in the morning. Christian came along this time and snorkeled. Our first dive was at a really good reef that got pretty deep in some places. There were lots of pretty corals and fish. I liked the sponges too because they feel so weird when you touch them. Our second dive didn’t actually go too well. Funny story, the boat engine overheated or something. So then they fired up the second motor. That worked for about five minutes before that broke as well. So then we drifted around waiting for someone to come tow us in for like an hour and a half and we never got to do our second dive. It was a little frustrating but it happens. I just laid out on the boat and relaxed. They gave us a refund and stuff so it was no big deal. Later that afternoon we went back to Oia and watched the infamous sunset. We didn’t have the best weather for a sunset though but it was still pretty. In my opinion though it’s hard to beat a Texas sunset.  For dinner we had more Greek food in a restaurant hanging off the cliffs with a cool view of the Caldera. I had swordfish and chicken slouvaki. 

This pup looked like my brother's dog, Cash, just with short stubby legs.

Getting back to Prague the next day was an adventure. We couldn’t check our bag all the way through between our flights and we had a really short layover in between. So when we got to Athens, Christian and I headed to our gate while Jarret went to baggage claim and waited for our bag so he could try and check it. It was a little tight but he was able to get the bag checked and made it through security and to the gate with a few minutes to spare. Then we once again had a layover where we slept in the Istanbul airport. Once we got back to Prague we went and walked around the city one last time. We had some street pizza for dinner and had some delicious gelato for dessert. We went home and I packed up the rest of my stuff.

Two huge bags, a carry-on, and a backpack later and I was finally packed and ready to go. I also decided to bring my pillow that I bought there back with me because it was the most comfortable pillow in the world.

 I got about three hours of sleep before I had to get up. We had to take a cab to the airport because the metros don’t start running til 4am. I seriously hate Frosch (the company that my group flight went through) for giving me a 6am flight. But at least Jarret and Christian were also able to get on the same flight so we were all together. We had a quick flight to Frankfurt where we grabbed some food and then hopped on our eleven hour flight back to Dallas. I slept a little but mainly read a couple of books so it wasn’t too bad of a flight. There were tons of annoying people on it though like the lady behind Christian, the random child running up and down the aisles for hours and hours, and even Jarret because he kept leaning his seat back. Once we got to Dallas it took forever to get our bags and get through customs. It was a very happy reunion when I finally saw my parents. I definitely missed them. My mom definitely missed me. I thought she was literally going to hug me to death when she first saw me.

First stop once we were headed home was On the Border where I had chips and hot sauce, a big margarita, and enchiladas with queso. I can’t put into words how much I missed Tex-mex. Jarret and Christian kept talking about how excited they were to get home and eat their favorite foods again. I seriously could have killed them because they were only gone for ten days. It had been four months since I had eaten familiar food.

Since I’ve gotten home I’ve had a really hard time switching my sleeping schedule back. I mean traveling home I was awake for 24 hours straight, so when I got home I tried to stay away as long as I could but I couldn’t make it past 8pm. I then slept for eleven hours straight. Then something really bad happened and I started to get sick my first day back. Seriously I woke up, ran, went and had my hair cut, and then a few hours later felt like I was dying. I managed to eat a solid steak dinner courtesy of my dad but then I went back to sleep. I woke up the next morning with a 101.7 fever. That was also the day that I had to move a lot of my stuff back to Tyler. Long story short and I made it a few days trying to fight through the sickness and spend time with my friends that had come up to Tyler. Then that weekend I went back to my parents and was even sicker and basically slept for three days straight. At this point I didn’t know if it was just severe jet lag or the flu or what but it was about seven full days after I got home until I felt better. One day I slept for 17 hours. I seriously couldn’t stay away for more than two or three hours. I was feeling a little better at the end of last week so I went to Denton with some of my friends and celebrated my roommate’s birthday. Still though the last two nights were the first that I’ve slept for more than like six hours straight since I was sick. I keep sleeping for a few hours, waking up for a couple, and the sleeping like two more. It’s seriously been torture and I’m so ready to be on a normal sleep schedule again.

I also started back at work Saturday night. I was a little scared that I wouldn’t remember anything but it honestly came back like I had been doing it yesterday so that was lucky. It’s also really nice to have some money to put into my bank account for once. Seriously for four months I was doing nothing but spending money which stressed me out haha. That was the longest amount of time I’ve gone without a job since I turned sixteen and started working at the golf course. It was honestly much needed though. I had been working six shifts a week for months before I left. Now I feel refreshed and ready to work again.

I’ve been trying to get stuff done and get back into a normal routine the past week or so. I seriously forgot how much I love it here. I love my house and my room and my roommates and my job and just life. I mean I definitely wasn’t home sick for even a minute for the four months I was in Prague, but it makes it a lot easier to adjust when you get to come back to a place and be happy. I really missed my friends and family so it’s been nice to hang out with everyone.

I feel like my time in Prague did so much for my life. Not only did I get to experience a different culture and live in an amazing and historic capital city in central Europe, but I was able to travel to ten different countries and a countless amount of beautiful cities. All my life I’ve wanted nothing more than to travel the world. It’s always been one of my biggest passions. A lot of people will tell you they want to travel but there is a difference. One of my biggest goals and wishes was to travel across Europe and I went out a made it happen. I’m only 21 years old and I’ve already knocked so many things off my bucket list and accomplished a lot of my dreams. There’s not much else that’s more empowering than wanting something, working hard, and actually making it happen. I had the best four months of my life hands down this past semester. Every single second was amazing and I can truly say I enjoyed every second and took advantage of every day. Now that I’m back home I’ve been able to reflect on what an awesome experience it was. I can’t even put into words how much this semester had meant for me and how big of an impact it’s had on my life. I traveled across Europe, experienced so many amazing things, met some great people and made life-long friends, and accomplished so many of my goals. It was easily the best decision I’ve ever made.

Now that I’m home I feel so refreshed and focused. I literally just took a semester long vacation and it gave me plenty of time to think and get some new perspectives on life, what I want out of it, and who I am. I have tons of goals for not only this summer, but for the next few years and the rest of my life. One thing I’ve learned is that if you want something, you have to go out and make it happen. No one else is going to do it for you and it’s never going to happen unless you go after it yourself. And after everything I’ve just done, I know without a doubt that I can do anything I set my mind to. I know that with lots of hard work and good choices, I can do anything I want with my life and I intend to do so. 

They say there are far better things ahead than any we leave behind. If this is true, then I can’t wait for the future. If there is one thing in life that I believe, it’s that each and every day is up to you. Life is what you make it and I’m more determined than ever to make mine amazing.

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