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Morocco

A Walk on the Wild Side

sunny 75 °F

Wow. What a trip is all I think I'll ever be able to really say about my 3 day trip in Morocco, but I want to share some of the experiences from the trip that have opened my eyes and affected me the most.

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Getting There

I left Dijon in France early Saturday morning to meet up with my four American friends who I've had the pleasure of traveling Europe with this semester. When we all arrived at the train station, we were waiting to see the platform number for our train to Lyon, and in France it's totally normal to not know your gate until 15 minutes before your train leaves. Well, our train never really arrived, or never left, rather. We never did figure out if it was due to a typical French strike or if was just "supprimé" just because, but we now had to take a later train to Lyon to catch our flight, leaving us with a tighter window in Lyon. I've learned to just kind of let go when traveling and let the adventure happen, especially in Europe and unfamiliar places, because you never really know what'll happen. You just have to relax and kind of go with the flow, or you'll get too stressed out and possibly forget something important... We had to wait a few hours for the next train which we passed laughing at all our stories we've collected from this semester together. When we eventually made it to the Lyon train station we had to take a tram out to the St. Exupery aeroport, a 25 minute ride plus the usual airport nonsense. All went smoothly and we arrived at the airport in plenty of time, but because my friend had checked a bag in Lyon for his flight out, guess what he left at the train station? His passport. Of all things you can do without when flying from Europe to Africa, your plane ticket and passport are the two things you can't. So it was time to form a plan B.

We all decided that he would go back to Lyon station to get his passport and attempt to make it for the flight while we went and waited for him at the gate. At the airport we had to go through 2 or 3 security checkpoints, and the passport check was miserable. No line, mob chaos, 6 stations with only 2 open (typical French efficiency), and the four of us only made the flight with a few minutes to spare. We waited there on the plane twittling our thumbs hoping he'd show....but minutes later the flight was off and we were without our partner. I was pretty sad since I knew how bad he wanted to go on this trip, and the most frustrating part was none of us had means of contacting him to figure out where he was since we're not in our native country and phone service/wifi can be hard to get. It was a smooth flight with a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean Sea, and 3 hours later we landed at Al Massira Agadir airport in Morocco. I had officially landed on a fourth continent!

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We proceeded to take a cab to our hostel hotel only a few hundred yards away from the beach. This marks experience number one for me. If you've ever seen videos of traffic problems or wild traffic patterns in Africa in class or on the Internet, well, it really does look like that. There are medians and lanes, but no one uses them. Our cab driver drove right down the middle of the two lanes! Whenever he needed to pass he just flashed his brights and cars would move over. And most of the cars are old beat up clunkers that feel like they're going to break down every 5 seconds from the jerking while riding. All of the road signs were interesting too. Because Morocco (le Maroc) was a French colony once, all of the people there speak Arabic as their primary language but know French as well. Because Arabic is read right to left, all signs read French from left to right and Arabic from right to left. It was pretty cool to see. Half an hour later, we arrived at our hostel hotel (which was really nice and cheap too, pool, balcony, beach view, free wifi, 10€/night) and immediately jumped on the wifi to message our travel partner to figure out where he ended up. Very long story short, he ended up back in Dijon, never attempted to make the flight, and had already booked a flight out of Paris for Agadir for the next day. I was pretty excited to have him join us, but it meant that we needed to get all of our "forgetting something?" and "boom roasted!" jokes out before he arrived. We ordered room service for the night since the area around us looked kinda iffy at night and crashed, safely and soundly in Morocco, Africa.

The Moroccan Sun

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Sunday was a lazy day for the four of us, which was a really nice change from most of our travels. Europe is so packed with things to see and do that you can never really see everything, so being able to relax and hang out was really nice. We got up around 11am, and headed to the boardwalk and the beach. I haven't been to a beach in a while since I'm definitely more of a mountains and snow guy than a sand and the ocean guy, but let me tell you, this place was gorgeous. The sand was a little bit more orange colored than most of the beaches I've been too (from what I can remember), and of course I had to go stand in the ocean. I think I might have been the only of my friends who actually went and stood in the water, but I figured life is too short not to stand in the ocean on an African beach, and I'll probably never be back. So, Chaco flips in hand, I ran around in the waves on the beach. The pictures turned out really well too, which I've linked at the end of this entry. That afternoon our travel partner arrived, and now that we were a complete group, we decided to venture out a little bit.

The Souk

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This marked culture experience number two for me here. I'm sure most people don't even what a Souk is, but it's a traditional Moroccan market place of sorts where you can buy almost anything. It's partly open air, partly covered, loaded with souvenirs, trinkets, foods, black market goods, fake bags and shoes, and everyone is in complete Islamic attire. Wowee wowzers. I felt pretty uncomfortable in there at times, but I kept reminding myself that I didn't go to Africa and Morocco to feel comfortable, I went to take a step out of my comfort zone at times, eat weird foods, see a new part of the world, and learn and grow a little bit bigger as a person. The place was crazy. Agadir is loaded with shop vendors eager for your money, and it's not quite as easy to hide as in Europe since we're all white and obviously not Muslim, so we were hesitant to talk to people who approached us. But, a very nice man who works for the government of Morocco gave us a nice short tour of the Souk, and didn't ask for money afterwards. I also considered it an accomplishment that I spoke French to him initially and he didn't guess correctly that I was from the US until after trying France, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand first. I was weary to let on to anyone we were Americans while we were there for fear of being judged, so I played the French card as much as possible on the trip. This brings me to another observation.

On our way to the Souk when we refused to take directions from a Moroccan (since he was probably going to ask for money after), he called us all racists. It's really depressing me that the world feels the need to judge people, anyone for that matter, in any way. You either talk to the man and take his directions to get to the Souk where he asks for money and you lose, or you refuse and he calls you racists for refusing to talk to him. Saying no isn't an option with these people either, it's more of an invitation for them to try harder to sell you. The media today plays up stereotypes and creates false perceptions of people often times in areas of the world that they don't understand. You always fear what you don't understand, but that doesn't mean it's bad for you or even wrong in any way. I wish people would stop judging. We met plenty of very helpful and nice Moroccan people who were delighted to talk to us about America and why we had chosen to visit their country. It's too bad, really. Not all Americans think every turban wearing guy or woman in full Muslim dress is sent to blow up a car in a town near you these days. I should add that it's pretty fascinating to spend time in a country where Islam is the national religion too. Every room has a sign somewhere that points the direction to Mecca, and during the day you can hear loudspeakers come on with a call to prayer and sometimes people just stop to pray. It's a pretty mind blowing experience to me. I don't agree with their religion necessarily, but to see someone's devotion to their faith can be a powerful thing sometimes, and I think it's always important to understand where someone is coming from too because it helps you better understand why you believe what you believe. And if you can't justify why you believe what you believe, then, well, what do you really believe in anyways?

The Camel Ride

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Monday afternoon we had reserved a 5 person camel tour, since we all thought it would be insanely cool to "ride camels in Africa". And, it was. And, we took tons of hilarious pictures that I'm sure will soon be on Facebook... But the camel experience was something pretty special in a lot of other ways too. We rode the camels through a little bit of a desert, national park, to a bird estuary, and through some small African villages. First, the bird estuary and national park on the Sous River was gorgeous. I've never been anywhere quite like it. It was kind of like the stuff you see in Planet Earth in some ways, but to actually be there was amazing. And the African sky is just...unique. It's different and unlike anywhere I've ever been, too. We rode through some African villages on our way back too, which was eye popping in an incredible way. On our left side we had a walled up lush, green, golf course with gorgeous sweeping views of the mountains near Agadir, on our right we had fences where African villages were, and around our path there was trash. Tons of trash. It was striking to me how polar the world is sometimes. We continued forward into another village where kids were kicking around a soccer ball, women were hang drying clothes, and men we in shops. Buildings were just concrete and cement blocks, most of which had wavy tin rooftops held down by more concrete blocks. And around all of it - was trash. It was a, although brief, look into the world that some people live in. I mean, it wasn't your typical commercial of starving kids in Africa who are paper thin and dying where they ask you to call and make a donation, but it was pretty eye opening. It fascinates me to think that that's the way of life for some people, and yet we listen to people in American complain sometimes about stuff. Never again. It's a reminder to how lucky some of us really are. At the end of the ride we parked our camels at a fence, yes- parked our camels, and enjoyed some traditional Moroccan tea before heading back to our hostel hotel.

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Meals with Friends

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We headed out for dinner on the boardwalk shortly after arriving back at our place (and after posting our obnoxious camel pictures on Facebook and Twitter, of course). I decided that for dinner I should probably try some traditional Moroccan food, so I ordered a Tajine, which ended up being really good. We were able to watch the African sun set over the water on our way to the beach too, which was gorgeous. We had had lunch earlier in the day on the boardwalk as well, so the dinner topped off one hell of an amazing day with friends. It hit me again how polar the world can be though, it's all happy and fun on the beach and the boardwalk (minus the panhandlers) but half an hour away it's poverty and a fight to live day to day. I was awesome to enjoy such good meals and scenery on the beach with friends though, since we all have to part ways tonight to fly home this week. I'm going to miss these kids, that's for sure, but hopefully we'll all be able to visit each other though, since we all live in the same country at least.

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The Journey Home, or, Europe, Rather.

Tuesday morning we all woke up much too early to catch a cab to the airport, which again was somewhat eye opening. We got to see the sunrise from the cab, but drove through some pretty rough looking areas. Again, concrete apartment buildings, many without windows. Trash was everywhere, and people were all standing around at what appeared to be a bus stop. The apartment buildings were unfinished concrete walls, and in some ways resembled a bird coop in ways, grey, dull, dirty, boring, and darkness inside the window without a window pane. It was amazing to see something like that. Shortly thereafter we arrived at the airport, passed all security and passport check points (yippee! no more visa drama or Préfécture visits!) and are now sitting on board a plane back to Lyon. Hopefully we have smooth travels from here back to Dijon where we'll all have to say our goodbyes and part ways to head back to the good ole US of A in a couple days (Africa today, Europe tomorrow, North America Thursday...woo!). It's going to feel good to be home, no doubt, but I wanted to write an entry on my short time in Africa that has taught me so much more than I expected. I left Dijon knowing next to nothing about Morocco and Agadir and attempted to let down all walls and become a sponge to absorb as much as I could from the new cultural experience. I think I succeeded, and I hope you've gotten a few things out of my experiences too.

Cheers!

--Scooter
--@scott_treks

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Picture Gallery

Photo Album

360s

Stand on the beach in Agadir

The camel tour at the estuary and National Park

Posted by la vita bella 10:22 Archived in Morocco Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains lakes beaches bridges churches buildings skylines people animals birds sky snow night planes boats trains rivers desert paris hiking france culture history travel hotel bus train trekking village river backpack friends garden life live country family africa love hostel photos language french bike morocco europe happiness camels mtn graduation denver international college dijon eye student abroad american chapel panoramic atv experiences residence osprey catholic cultures marrakesh relationship lose learn lyon scout study teva iphone agadir laugh learning euros 360 scouting scouts nigeria girlfriend esc camera+ francophone sncf listen Comments (1)

Time Flies

rain 45 °F

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With so much to talk about, I really don't even know where to begin to write this post, but I guess the title says it all. Time flies by so much faster than you ever think it will. I remember when I moved to Vail at the beginning of June this summer thinking, man, I have 3 months ahead of me of living in one of the most beautiful and most desireable places to live on Earth! This is going to be amazing! And then at the end of August, I began to realize how quickly that time had passed. Here I am now, with only 12 days left of my study abroad experience, and 4 of those will be spent in Agadir, Morocco, and one of those is the travel day home. So really, I only have one week left here in Dijon. I am absolutely positively ready to come home, but that's not without a bittersweet feeling of everything here that I'll miss. The people I've met here have been amazing, and the friendships I've made are incredible. I'm going to miss the moments and memories I've shared with every single person here, especially the wild travel adventures. All of that said, here's what I've been up to for the last couple weeks as well as everything that's on the horizon.

Paris

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After I wrote my last entry, I headed off to Paris for a few days to join my family. I can't believe they flew all the way across the world to spend a week here with me. It was great to see them, spend time with them, and have them on this side of the great pond for a bit. In Paris we spent time seeing most of the major attractions, the Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs d'Elysées, Arc de Triomphe, Mont Parnasse Tower, Musée d'Orsay, as well as a few other highlights. I had a few interesting observations too. First of all, the Notre Dame in Paris is no doubt impressive, but I've seen plenty of Cathedrals in Europe now ("oh god, we're going to see another cathedral in <insert city name here> tomorrow?") because that's just the way Europe is and it is by no means the most impressive cathedral in Europe. My travel advice would be to see the cathedral in Strasbourg instead, which is much more impressive and equally as ancient... or old, rather. The Louvre was pretty impressive too, and the amount of famous artworks in there is phenomenal. The Mona Lisa? Not as phenomenal as everyone thinks. It's small, has a room dedicated to it, is dark, you can't get close, is behind bulletproof glass, and is surrounded by a horde of people. It was cool to see the world's most famous painting, don't get me wrong, and the thing is invaluable, but it's not nearly as impressive as I thought it would be. The artwork at the Vatican Museum in Rome or the Uffizi Museum in Florence is much more impressive to me. Everything really is better in Italy.

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The Eiffel Tower was pretty cool to visit, and it's cool that I can now say I've been up to the top of it. We were pretty lucky to have such a great day for weather when we visited it too since almost every other day was foggy or gray. The disappointing thing with the Eiffel Tower to me was the sheer number of Asian tourists that were there. It's not really the Paris or France experience I was looking for. I'm really glad my brother can say he's been to the Eiffel Tower now though since he's always talked about it like it existed in some far off place. The Champs d'Elysées and Arc de Triomphe were also pretty cool, though we didn't go up inside the Arc. The Mont Parnasse tower was cool too but we had terrible weather so the view from the landing pad on top wasn't very impressive (and cold!). The Musée d'Orsay was probably one of my favorite things we did actually. The artwork in there from van Gogh, Renoir, and other famous painters was cool to finally get to see, and I got some awesome pictures from inside there too.

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Dijon

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After visiting Paris for a few days, my family and I took a TGV to Dijon, which was their first real train experience. It's kind of a weird thought to me since I've traveled all over Europe on nothing but trains, so the train station drill is normal too me. My dad has also never taken the Denver lightrail, so it was his first actual train experience too. I explained to my parents how gates are announced just 15 minutes before departure most of the time and is pretty normal in France, which is a totally foreign idea to us Americans who are used to getting to the airport hours before a flight and knowing exactly which gate to go to. We spent the next few days in Dijon, which was nice. It was actually kind of funny when my parents asked me what there is to do in Dijon and I felt kind of clueless because I've been traveling Europe so much this semester. I'm really only in Dijon when I have class or on weekends when I feel the need to stay here to get classwork done (which has only occurred in November). But it was nice, we did part of the owl tour around the town, visited a few cathedrals, yes, more cathedrals, and just kind of explored Dijon. We also rented a car, which was quite the experience... With all of the tram construction going on in Dijon right now, the entire city is screwed up for traffic purposes, so driving is far from ideal. We took the car out to the Burgundy wine region though, which was fun for the day, even if there were moments where I thought we were going to die. We drove part of the Rue des Grands Crus, and actually had a really sunny day for it, which was great. After a few days in Dijon, my parents boarded their TGV train back to Paris to fly out the next day. All in all it was a fun few days in Dijon and great to spend time with my family again.

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What's Next?

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I've spend the last few days since they left wrapping up school papers and projects and random ends trying to get ready for the end of the semester. I've said it already but I'll say it again, time flies and I can't believe I only have one week left here. I finished my last paper last night which leaves just a French language exam this week and a French Culture exam this week. After that, it's off to beautiful Agadir in Morocco for a few days with my American friends to send off the semester the same way it began and then a quick turn around in Dijon to Paris and a flight home. I have a few odds and ends things left to take care of here in Dijon like the OFII forms (that I was supposed to do months ago), close up my French bank account, and hopefully finally resolve things at the residence, but then it's time to go home. I'm going to miss this here, no question about that, but it will be nice to go home and return to a life and culture that I fully understand, and hopefully I can make use of everything I've learned here back home and in future adventures.

That's all I've got for now, and this may be one of my last real entries, but make sure to stay tuned for my blog that sums up 6 months into one word, which I'm planning to start working on today. I'm really pouring my heart into it in the hopes that others will be able to get as much out of it as I have writing and living it. Looking forward to seeing everyone back home soon!

Au revoir!

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Pictures
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2755652452477.2148433.1292672395&type=1&l=a3693937bc

360s
http://360.io/EhT3vt Burgundy wine region
http://360.io/CkKFkE Dijon mustard store
http://360.io/jUZmMv Paris old military courtyard
http://360.io/2RzAn8 Near Napoleon's tomb
http://360.io/4vHKdv Standing under the Eiffel Tower
http://360.io/kaXxQ5 Standing inside the Louvre pyramid (my favorite!)
http://360.io/hHXhpx Standing outside the Paris Notre Dame

Posted by la vita bella 03:06 Archived in France Tagged landscapes mountains beaches bridges churches skylines people animals snow trains castles cathedrals paris france travel hotel colorado train trekking austria italy pisa backpack city aspen ski museum friends philippines florence garden cathedral family africa castle hostel rome photos language french morocco europe painting camels vatican pantheon denver international housing college dijon united eye swiss student abroad alps michelangelo american panoramic experiences residence catholic cultures notre dame architechture marrakesh renaissance relationship massive law jardin study iphone agadir learning strasbourg euros 360 emerson scouting nigeria beaune esc dieu camera+ francophone uffizi Comments (0)

Paris, Morocco, Home.

All good things must come to an end...for now.

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A lot of things have transpired since my last entry, so here's everything you need to know about what's changed and what's coming up in the next few weeks.

Dijon

Since my previous entry, I still have not managed to leave this country, or this town for that matter. It's been kind of weird not being constantly on the run with traveling like the first two months of my stay here, but definitely nice also. I was talking to one of my Filipino friends this week who traveled with me those 8 weekends in a row and the 12 day European Excursion (http://lavitabella.travellerspoint.com/29/) and he's been traveling every weekend still. It was interesting to hear him say that he's starting to feel a little "jaded" now with all the traveling going on. It's an awesome like and I wouldn't trade being able to travel like this for anything, but it wears on you more than you ever think it will. That said, resting in Dijon isn't half bad either. It's allowed me to go out to the bars and clubs more with friends here, which is a cultural experience in itself. I've also learned a ton about Dijon weather... Fog. And more fog. Since arriving home in Dijon on November 2, I have seen the sun twice. Today and two days ago. As a Coloradan, we get over 300 days of sun every year. You really learn to appreciate that sun when you don't see it for days and days on end. It was starting to drive me crazy even on some days when you couldn't see more than 10 meters in front of you. So, I'm thankful I don't have to live in places like San Francisco or Seattle.

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Travel

My favorite part of every entry is writing about travel, so here's what's coming up since I haven't been anywhere recently. This week I am headed to Paris on Thursday morning to be reunited with my family for Thanksgiving. I think it has the potential to be the best Thanksgiving of my life to date, too. I can't imagine a better way to spend the holiday than with family and to have them fly around the globe to celebrate it here is incredible. I am so lucky and thankful for that, and I plan on giving them all a huge hug when I see them on Thursday. I'm spending the following few days with them around Paris visiting all the sites like the Notre Dame, the Louvre, and of course the Eiffel Tower, before heading down to Dijon for a few days here with them. In Dijon I think we'll just enjoy the little town and it's Notre Dame, do some wine tours of the Burgundy region, and possibly visit Beaunne, which is an absolutely awesome tiny little town outside of Dijon.

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After they leave, I have about 10 days more of classes to conclude the semester and then my American friends and I are flying to Agadir in Morocco for a few days on the beach down there. This trip still blows my mind. I've never been to Africa. It will mark my 4th continent I've visited, it looks absolutely gorgeous, and it should be an incredibly different cultural experience than anything else I've ever walked or breathed in. So, I'm super excited, and the trip isn't even very expensive ($170 roundtrip plus hostels!). I am still slightly worried about safety and water and stuff, but the more research I do the more my fears are lessened. I'm pretty excited to end this study abroad trip the same way I started it to. Four American friends of mine and I spent 3 days in Rome together during our first week abroad, and we're ending it together too, complete with African beaches and camel rides to a wild bird reserve. Feels pretty awesome. It'll be pretty weird to travel from Africa to Europe on December 13, and then Europe to North America on December 15 too, 3 continents in 3 days. That blows my mind over and over again. That all said though, it's also time to start thinking about home.

Home

I can't believe it's already here. While I'm certainly ready to go home to familiarity and a culture and language I fully understand, I've enjoyed my time here too and learned a ton. I learned everything I didn't expect to learn and nothing I expected to learn. This past week, I've been in touch with my boss back home working out my schedule for work when I get home, which will be gladly welcomed since I'm starting to feel the pressure on my wallet after no paychecks since June 1. This past week I also registered for graduation. Good lord, how did that come up so fast?! I guess people really aren't kidding when they tell you college will be the best and fastest four years of your life. It's a surreal feeling, but also one of accomplishment and satisfaction knowing that I've made it this far and successfully completed the major and double language minor I aimed for the day I accepted my letter from DU. It's weird that now I have to start thinking about the future, the real world, and planning for the rest of my life. I won't rest until I find a job in the mountains somewhere working in the ski industry, but I don't know exactly how I'll get there yet. I've explored the ideas of coming back to the French Alps or Italy to work in the ski industry as well, but who knows where I'll end up yet. First up is completing the Colorado Trail this summer after graduation, a goal I've had for a long time. It's amazing how fast time really does fly sometimes. Only 25 days left until I'm home in beautiful sunny Colorado! Thanks for reading, and I'm looking forward to seeing all you all soon!

PS. I'm working on two epic blogs currently, one to wrap up all of study abroad with tons of pictures and my favorite experiences, and another to take the last six months of my life and sum them all up into one, simple, word. Props to anyone who can figure out the word!

Au revoir!

--Scooter

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Posted by la vita bella 10:31 Archived in France Tagged me landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains beaches bridges buildings people parties trees animals snow night planes trains beer cathedrals desert tower paris hiking france culture travel hotel bus colorado train trekking metro river backpack city ski friends philippines cathedral sculpture family africa castle hostel photos language french hike eagle wine morocco europe camels gondola mtn graduation switzerland denver international housing college dijon swiss student abroad alps american panoramic experiences residence osprey catholic cultures notre dame architechture marrakesh relationship law lyon scout study iphone agadir learning euros 360 prepared rmvr scouting scouts città nigeria beaune girlfriend esc dieu camera+ Comments (0)

12 Days of Traveling Europe

...and all of the adventures in between!

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After my last class for the last two weeks on October 20th, I went home to pack up my backpack for 12 days of travelling across Europe. The things I saw, the things I learned, the strangers I met, and the adventures I had along the way were fascinating. Since it's impossible to cover 12 days, 8 cities, and 4 countries and everything that happened in one post, I'm going to do my best to hit the highlights: the things I enjoyed the most, the best adventures, and the most impactful moments and memories. Take a seat and get ready to travel!

October 20th - October 21st: Milano and Venezia

We left Dijon for Milano in Italy via a night train at 11:30PM on the night of the 20th, ready to rock. All of my friends were traveling with two bags or a backpack and a suitcase but I traveled with just my backpack. Definitely the right way to go, since I had being held down by luggage and reduced mobility when traveling. The night train was 6 hours, so we arrived in Milano at about 6AM. I'm not a coffee drinker, but when we arrived in Milano I was exhausted so I ordered a true Italian cappuccino, and let me tell you: that will wake you up FAST. Wow. It was so small too, like a shot sized cup, but bam, I was awake a ready to explore Milan for the half day we had planned there. Milano is very industrialized, so there's not too much to see there, and it's absolutely loaded with people ready to steal your stuff and steal your money. The Africans who gave me a wristband and asked for money afterwards received nothing, especially since they called me a "playboy" once I told them I was from the US. Another lesson learned in the stereotypes people have of Americans outside the US. We saw the world's largest Gothic church in Milano, took some photos, and moved on for Venezia (Venice for those who don't speak Italian). When we were waiting for our train's gate number, all of a sudden the board begins to read "cancellato". Leave it to the Italians to cancel a train half hour prior to departure. I asked the staff what we should do since I speak Italian and they told us to get on the next train half an hour after hours no problem. Sure enough, it all worked out. Some of my travel companions were stressed over the change, but that's part of learning how to travel: nothing ever goes as planned and life's an adventure. Expect the unexpected and have fun with the adventures that follow. After a pretty simple train ride, we arrived that night in the hostel in Venezia, which was great, and then headed to the city for some late night gelato.

October 22: Venezia

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We got up this morning ready to explore Venezia, which is too romantic and beautiful for words. It's the only city I've ever visited where I think you could legitimately walk through the city with Sepia or black/white lenses on and everything would still be absolutely beautiful. The domes, the churches, the bridges and canals...it's a pretty special place. We spent most of this day wandering around the city, getting lost, and just generally enjoying the city. We also took a "gondola" ride, which is really just the fancy canoes they paddle around the city. It was pretty pricey, but definitely worth it to see the city from ground level by water, travel through the narrow canals, and see the old and famous buildings in Venice. This canal ride is probably one of my two best memories from Venice. The other is when we were trying to find our way out of the city and while we were a bit lost, a French couple came up and asked us for directions. Since I had just asked the nearby police officer in Italian where the way out was, I was able to explain to them in French how to get to where they wanted to go on their map. Although I'm nowhere near fluent in all three, being trilingual and able to manuever in three different languages is awesome. After this we headed back to our next hostel in a different location in Venice for some rest before leaving the next morning for Vienna.

October 23 - October 24: Firenze

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We had to catch an early train out of Venice for Florence this morning, and we arrived in Firenze at about 10AM and headed for the hostel to check our bags for the day. Our hostel in Firenze was a bit special and unique, because they let all travelers write on the walls who pass through. I took a 360 of this and some pictures, so be sure to look at those below after reading. After checking our bags we headed out to explore Florence. Not long after arriving I purchased my new leather jacket at the world famous San Lorenzo leather market. It's an awesome looking jacket, and has a design I've been wanting for a while. It's handmade from Italian leather, and had a surprisingly good price you wouldn't find in the US. I normally don't splurge on fashion, but this was the exception. I found some great leather gloves also to spruce up my existing leather jacket, and bargained with the seller in Italian to knock the price down. Again, a pretty cool experience. Later in the day we explored the famous Duomo in Florence, and I was able to go up into the tower next to it. I got some awesome views from there and some pictures as well. That afternoon we went to the Uffizi Museum which houses some pretty famous artwork, and is right next to the Piazzale Michelangelo, where the Statue of David is. Florence was key in the Renaissance era, so the artwork and architecture there is amazing. Italy is so amazing, the history is just so rich everywhere you go. That night I could tell I was starting to come down with a cold, so I called it a night early.

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The next day I was definitely down with a cold, but I got up and went out on the walking tour anyways because I knew I wouldn't be back anytime soon. My friend who I was going to go with didn't show (he overslept) but I went anyways. It was a great walking tour, and many hostels offer free walking tours, so I definitely recommend doing them whenever you find them. We saw some great examples of renaissance and gothic architecture and artwork, the Salvatore Ferragamo building (didn't know who he was...but I definitely do now!), found the oldest wine bar in Florence, the Ponte Vecchio where lots of really expensive jewelry is sold, and she tipped us off on where to go for the best view of Florence. After the walking tour I headed there to get some pictures which turned out great, and while I was up there I had the best hot chocolate of my life. I was five euros, but I'm pretty sure it was just melted chocolate and milk and came with a world class view, so....I have no complaints. While sitting there I took some time to reflect on things, where I was, what I was looking at, where I was going, and how lucky I am. Sometimes I lose sight of how lucky I am, and every now and then there are moments like that that just sock you in the face and say "you lucky bastard look at this!" Definitely one of those moments, and it made me that much more thankful for the awesome friends and family I have that have helped me get here/there. After this, I left for the hostel again and went back to hang out and relax. That night we went out for dinner and I showed my friend where Italy's best gelato is (the walking tour tour guide tipped us off!). It was SO good. The texture was indescribable, like something in between ice cream, milk, whipped cream, frozen but not quite frozen, and super fresh made that morning. I'm definitely going to miss that.

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October 25: Pisa and Roma

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Another travel day was upon us, and today we traveled in the morning to Pisa for a few hours to see the leaning tower, which is basically all there is to see there. That building really IS leaning, by the way. Pictures make it look leaning, but until you see it in person with the buildings around it you don't really understand how much is actually is leaning. The 360 I took posted below shows that pretty well I think. After visiting Pisa for 3 hours, we headed back to Florence and then took a train to Rome. We arrived in Florence about 5 minutes too late and ended up missing our train to Rome. Again, my travel companions were freaking out, but we got on a train to Rome about half an hour later and all worked out. It's all part of the fun of traveling.

October 26 - 28: Roma

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I had already visited Rome once before a month prior with my American friends, but you can never visit a city of that much historical significance too many times. That night we relaxed in the hostel, getting ready for the next day. On the following day we went to the Roman ruins and the Colosseum and spent about half a day there. I was like a kid in a candy store all over again. Having studied Latin for 5 years in high school, it knocked me off my feet all over again seeing all of those ruins in person. Life is so awesome sometimes. After spending time in the ruins we went into the Colosseum. That place is incredible and it's hard to imagine what it must've been like two thousand years ago full of Romans cheering on gladiator fights. That stuff still fascinates me, and although the Colosseum isn't as big as the football stadiums modelled after it today, it's still an incredible feat of architecture for it's time. We went back that night to see the Colosseum at night, which was pretty cool to see too. It's equally as impressive at night as it is during the day.

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The next day we visited the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, and the Vatican Museum. Too much for one day for sure, but we still managed to hit the highlights. We saw the Vatican relics and artifacts in the exhibit inside the Vatican, went to the top of the dome that looks down on the Obelisk in front of the Vatican where masses are held, and inside the Vatican museum we saw tons of famous works of art: statues from the Trojan war, the Sistine Chapel, the School of Athens paintings, Caesar sculptures, and so on. Pretty phenomenal stuff. Out of all of this though, the two highlights of the day for me were none of these.

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On the subway in the morning, we passed a group of about 8 autistic adults heading to the Colosseum for a visit. They were SO excited! Two of them were even gladiator fighting each other with sounds effects and invisible swords. I was able to understand most of what they were saying and they were all super excited to see the Colosseum. It was another reminder to me that I need to volunteer with some organization when I get home to work with autistic kids and adults because they always make me so happy. The other moment was when we were at breakfast. We sat down at a table with an older man who was 80 years old. I began conversing with him in Italian and we later learned that he was from Spain, lived in Portugal, retired and loved to travel, married to a French woman, and spoke French, Italian, German, and of course Spanish. He bought us all a second round of breakfast cappuccinos, but most importantly he reminded me of my grandfather who passed a year ago. His thirst for knowledge, love for travel, and desire to learn new languages was fascinating to me. I hope to be like that when I'm 80 years old, speaking multiple languages and traveling. Sometimes the people you don't even know can having an incredible impact on you. It's one of the many awesome things about traveling the world and living in other cultures. After this day of exploring, we left Rome for Bologna where we then took an over night train to Vienna, Austria for the last city on our grand voyage.

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October 28 - November 1: Vienna

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I had incredible luck with overnight trains on this trip, and the overnight train was no exception. Again, sometimes the strangers you meet traveling can make the trip that much more incredible. When we got on the train, I asked the man across from me if it was ok if we traded seats if necessary since he was traveling alone like myself and I wanted to sit with my two friends for the overnight train (we had opted to sleep in the chairs instead of the cars with beds to save money). He agreed. Later that night, at about midnight, he and I ended up engaging in a discussion on history, Italy, the US, African cultures, and more for about 2 hours until 2am. He was from Nigeria and spoke all three languages fluently from Nigeria, English, and Italian and was in Rome to study history and archaeology. One of my courses last year for Italian was on the history of Italian from the 1000s on, so we had a great talk about that, cultures, forming new cultures, differences, the US, and lots of other awesome stuff. Again, I was fascinated not just by his knowledge and proficiency in languages, something I desire too, but his thirst for knowledge. He was headed to Vienna to visit his brother who had lived there for 15 years to visit his brother but also because he wanted to study German next for history and language purposes. Fascinated, and a sure inspiration to me. He even offered to have his brother help us find our hostel when we arrived in Vienna the next morning. Another lesson learned: strangers are not always bad people when you're traveling foreign countries and are in some cases awesome.

He taught me another lesson that I think is worth mentioning and had been on my mind the past few days coincidentally. Live in the present. Not the past, and not the future. I read a book recently that talked about how the imagined future is as real as the past in affecting our decision making, so live in the present and the now. As I was standing in front of the Colosseum the day before, I was thinking the very same thing. There I was, standing in front of the Roman Colosseum. THE Roman Colosseum. And for the rest of my life, I'll look back on that time I was standing there looking at the Roman Colosseum from the Palatine hill, and I'll remember the excitement from that morning on my way to visit it again, but there, there in that moment, I was in front of it. Take it in. Enjoy it. Savor it. You may never be back. So live in the now. Lesson learned.

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We arrived the next morning in Vienna, ready to explore again. We headed to the hostel first to drop our bags, and then headed out to explore the city. That afternoon we found our way to the Schonbrunn gardens and palace, which are incredibly gorgeous this time of year. It's basically a bunch of very well groomed trees, gardens, and foliage, and we got lucky and caught it all in full fall effect. You won't believe the pictures I got of it, attached below. After exploring here for a bit, we made our way to the Austrian Zoo for a few hours, which is probably the prettiest zoo I've ever visited. Very clean, neat, well organized for seeing all the animals, and the foliage added to the visit. We saw some awesome animals here as well, including the baby panda bear they have. There was an amazing sunset that night as we were leaving, which was a nice pre-end to such an awesome trip. We found a great student bar that night too, where the bartenders working there gave us a free round of welcome shots and showed us a place for food across the street with a student dinner not on the menu to help us save a few bucks. We stayed here for a bit drinking, which is where I met the bartender from my hometown. We live in such a small world. We started talking about where we went to high school, and all the stereotypes we had of each other's schools. Lesson learned: where you study and studied, whether you fit that school's stereotype or not, where you're from, and what you do with your life and the reputation you have will follow you everywhere, even to the other side of the world sometimes. Never forget that.

We spent our next day in Vienna renting bikes for the day and biking around the city siteseeing. It was a pretty cool way to see the city, and on this trip I had now seen some of Europe's most famous cities by foot, bike, train, and boat. Not a bad way to see the world. We met up with two other American students from Dijon for lunch and their American friend studying in Vienna, which was awesome. Always nice to see some fellow Americans when traveling. We ate lunch at a "pay what you wish" all you can eat Indian buffet in Vienna, which was also awesome, especially for a tired traveler on day 12 of an epic journey. We spent the afternoon seeing sights before leaving on our train at about 6pm for Munich. We connected in Munich to a sleeper train headed for Paris. We were finally heading "home". I've spent the last half a year or so asking myself where is home with this wild life I lead, whether at DU, the summer internship in Vail, my parent's house in Parker, Dijon, or somewhere else whoknowswhere in between. But, that's a blog entry for another time... I had good luck again on the sleeper train ending up in a seat area that wasn't completely full and lots of room to spread out and sleep. We arrived in Paris right on time, took the metro across town form Paris Est to Gare de Lyon, and caught our train home to Dijon. We arrived home in Dijon after about 15 hours of train travel across 3 countries coming home.

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November 2: Home in Dijon

Needless to say, after a journey like that, I'm not travelling anywhere this weekend. It'll mark my first weekend in Dijon since arriving on September 5th, 2 months ago. I can't believe I've traveled that much in so little time. I also can't believe I've been calling Dijon home for 2 months now when it feels like I just arrived. I think the next items on the list are local travels around France. I can travel to Paris for free with my rail pass and I can see lots of things in Paris for free with my student card including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tour, The Versailles, The Arc de Triomphe, and more. I'm not broke yet, but I think it's time to slow down for a bit and enjoy France for what IT is. I went to my first class in two weeks tonight and sure enough my French speaking kicked right back in. Being able to convey your ideas in so many different ways is amazing to me. It's like an art but you're able to paint the same story in so many different colors. I am tutoring two French girls starting this week in English and can't wait, the language nerd in me is freaking out a tad bit. I can't decide now if I should learn German or Spanish next, though Spanish would be more useful in the business market right now. Maybe I'll be lucky enough to learn both someday... As for life in France, there's actually homework due during the month of November as the only work I've done thus far is a mid term in a class and light homework here or there, so it's time to get to work. I returned to more residence problems (of course), but I'm not going to ruin an epic blog entry like this with so many positive lessons learned in it with residence drama. I'm still probably coming home 10 days early as a result of the residence problems, but more on that later. I've posted the links to pictures and a few 360s below, and I hope you've enjoyed reading about all of my travel adventures!

Au revoir!

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Full Picture Gallery

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2595779575755.2145267.1292672395&type=1&l=f5042237d3

360s

Piazza in Milano: http://360.io/9w3fUN
Standing alongside the Grand Canal in Venice: http://360.io/2qnnhV
Renaissance Architecture in Florence: http://360.io/5vyfcV
Best view in all of Florence: http://360.io/24Z2m9
The Hostel in Florence: http://360.io/NrBVnz
See the Leaning Tower of Pisa: http://360.io/kN4wdz
Stand inside the Vatican: http://360.io/wvYzAT
Visit the Colosseum at night: http://360.io/YLPczF
The Roman Ruins: http://360.io/fW6aUv
Emperor Nero's private garden: http://360.io/NfHVVW
Inside the Roman Colosseum: http://360.io/5EB35W
Standing inside the Sistine Chapel: http://360.io/TkCn9Z
Study at the School of Athens: http://360.io/Gw5nyJ
Palace in Austria: http://360.io/YpbEUn
The Schonbrunn Fall Foliage: http://360.io/49yuCx

Full account page for all of my 360's: http://occipital.com/user/ccc6-62663/scott-larson

Happy travels everyone!!!

Posted by la vita bella 13:32 Archived in France Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains lakes bridges churches art buildings skylines people children animals sky snow night boats castles beer london cathedrals venice vienna tower paris france history travel hotel train trekking village zoo metro river austria germany italy pisa backpack city ski museum friends philippines florence garden cathedral sculpture family africa castle hostel rome photos language french roman wine boy bike europe painting gondola mtn greek vatican pantheon international pope housing schonbrunn tiergarten dijon german united republic latin colosseum milano abroad michelangelo munich forum american bern chapel panoramic residence osprey catholic ville dame architechture renaissance tiber caesar jardin gelato lyon study iphone learning sistine euros 360 prepared princeton città nigeria esc maximus archbishop trajan brutus augustus ponts couverts camera+ mannheim francs francophone sncf trenitalia sinking statesuffizi raffael Comments (1)

Switzerland!

My long lost home.

sunny 60 °F

There's a lot to cover in this entry since a lot has transpired since my last entry, so here goes...

France

Life continues here in France without too much excitement aside from the housing challenges. I'm basically only in Dijon Monday through Friday, sometimes only Monday afternoon through Friday afternoon even, so there's not too much to say. The housing situation continues to drag on and on and at this point I'm ready to put a bullet to it. They've continued to ask for the money, reducing it by not returning my security deposit (ok, I guess), but the bed bug problem continues. I've taken every step I can to lessen it with bug sprays and washing my clothes and so on, but I'm refusing to pay until they're gone. At this point it's beginning to look like I may even by flying back to the States two weeks early solely because of this problem, instead of flying home on 12/20 like initially planned. That means my travel plans to Scandinavia may not happen, nor the plans with my friend to visit northern Africa, but such is life. Anyways, on to the exciting stuff...

Switzerland!!

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All I can say is wow. Have a lot at the pictures linked below and especially the 360s to have a glimpse into the Swiss Alps, and you'll see why. As a mountain man, skier, hiker, climber, 14er addict, and so on, this place was like a place of dreams for me. Seeing the Matterhorn in person and visiting Zermatt ski resort was phenomenal, and we had exceptional weather for all of it. Friday night we left Dijon at around 730pm on a train for Lausanne Switzerland. The French train company SNCF was delayed slightly like usual, and thus we missed our connecting train to Luzern by a few minutes. Stuck in Lausanne at 10pm is not exactly ideal, and our hostel only allows check in until midnight. So...we proceeded to take a variety of trains towards Luzern, and arrived there at 12:45. The hostel remained open for us until 1:10, but charged us 2 Swiss Francs per minute after midnight, so we had to pay a pretty penny (about 13Euros/person) for being late. No travel is complete without a bit of adventure though I suppose, so I didn't let it bother me too much.

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Saturday we got up to a gray and cloudy Luzern, bummed with the weather but ready to explore anyways. We checked out the local market, which was rather cool, and then headed towards Mt. Pilatus, a towering peak near Luzern. I had never heard of this place, but it was spectacular. We took the world's longest gondola to mid mountain and explored for a bit there. This put us above the clouds, before taking a second larger gondola up to the top where a hotel and restaurant are. We walked around here for a bit, and I took some pictures and 360s. You really are above the clouds and the views of the Alps are unworldly. After exploring here for a bit, we took the world's steepest cog train down to a lake where we took a tram back into the town of Luzern. It's incredible how well connected Switzerland is by rail. You can get on trains all over the country with camping gear, ski gear, mountaineering gear, and go to a mountain to play outside. It's amazing. And, Subaru is the official car. It's incredible. And the people in Switzerland are gorgeous. Surely my future wife is there somewhere...

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Anyways, Sunday we got up super early to head to Zermatt for the day before returning to Dijon. We took a series of 3 trains from Luzern to Zermatt which went through Bern and other places. We arrived at Zermatt at around 10am, and I was like a kid in a candy store. There were people on the train with skis, getting ready to go skiing. People in the ticket line were buying lift tickets. If only I had known I could ski, I would've rented gear if only for one run in the Alps. It was a bluebird day, so the pictures and 360s turned out absolutely spectacular. We took a cog train up to the top of the ski area, which is surrounded by 29 peaks higher than 4000m, so you can imagine on a bluebird day what it's like. We all took pictures and enjoyed lunch up there, explored a little bit, and took it all in. There's also a small church up there we found, so I lit a candle for my grandfather who passed last year. If you asked me why, I'm not sure I could tell you, but it just felt right and something moving was telling me to do it. After this, we all headed back down to catch our train back to Lausanne and then back to Dijon. We arrived back in Dijon at about 930pm Sunday evening, wrapping up a phenomenal weekend. The inflation in Switzerland is outrageous, so I nearly bankrupted myself and had to use my American card once to save myself, but it was worth every single penny to see that place and those mountains. I'll be back to climb them someday.

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday here in Dijon, which was relatively uneventful. I'm not a big fan of celebrations, so it was nice. I really wanted to go to Paris to celebrate in a more exciting place, but it's not about when you celebrate, it's about who you're with, so maybe some other time. Today and tomorrow I'll be prepping for my French test tomorrow night, and it's odd because it's one of the first times I've actually had actual work to do here with any level of pressure. After the exam we're going to go out to some French clubs to celebrate my birthday though, which should be fun. I put together my schedule for next quarter tonight as well, which means it's time to start looking ahead, as much of an adventure as study abroad has been for me. Speaking of adventures, the school has a holiday week next week, so some friends and I are taking off Thursday night for 12 days of traveling! We're heading to Italy, visiting Milan, Florence, Venice, Rome, and Pisa before heading to Vienna in Austria for a few days and then looping back through Paris to Dijon on the 1st of November. Not a bad adventure, and I'm saving tons of money with my Eurail pass too (this trip is costing 150 Euros in total for transportation...that's all.). I've learned a ton from experiencing other cultures first hand, which has been awesome. All this traveling is going to bankrupt me soon, but I'm ok with that because of the places I'm seeing and how much I'm learning. Hopefully I can practice my Italian more in Italy too. That also means there probably won't be another blog update until I get back around the first or second of November. That all said, I should probably go study some more for that French exam tomorrow night... Be sure to check out the pictures and 360s below though for a look inside Switzerland!

Au revoir!

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Pictures:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2538515184181.2143410.1292672395&type=1&l=a994aaa417

360s! These are both my favorite ones I've taken so far.

Top of Mt. Pilatus: http://360.io/dff38k
Top of Zermatt Ski Resort: http://360.io/4dqBdB

Posted by la vita bella 13:33 Archived in France Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises mountains lakes bridges churches art skylines people snow night boats trains paris hiking france travel hotel train trekking village italy backpack ski bells friends philippines cathedral family hostel photos language french hike wine torino europe mtn vatican switzerland international housing dijon swiss milano alps american panoramic residence osprey law scout study iphone learning vail euros 360 14ers maroon rmvr scouting scouts esc camera+ francs Comments (0)

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