Disclaimer: This post is preeetty long, sorry! Feel free to skim through it, otherwise, prepare yourself for some entertaining stories regarding my stupid mistakes and overall horrible luck.
So before I begin, I would like to address my most popular FAQ: Do you ever go to class???
The answer is, of course, yes – however let me explain this illusion that I don’t go to class. First of all, my university has had 3 major breaks: Ski Week, Easter, and Spring Break. For ski week and spring break, we had an entire week off from classes. For Easter break, we only got Easter Monday off, but we also did not have French class the week before Easter. Also, I did not choose my class schedule – it is completely dependent on which classes I chose – none of which fell on Fridays. So I also had 3 day weekends every week. Lastly, our program is significantly longer than any other abroad program I know of – lasting from January 6 – May 22, leaving plenty of time for traveling (to be exact, approximately 20 weeks)!
That being said, I will continue with a run-down of how I spent my spring break (April 17-26). But first, I’d like to start with a quick backstory on my spring break: Remember previous my posts about how I’d been having the worst luck of my life since stepping foot in Europe? Missing layovers, laptop chargers breaking, cameras breaking, bank cards getting eaten – all in the first week? Well I thought I’d escaped the bad luck, until I tried to plan spring break. Which brings me to mistake #1: accidentally canceling my entire flight itinerary to and from Amsterdam from Lyon. How did I manage to do this, you ask? Well… originally I had booked a round trip flight to Amsterdam from Lyon, since I hadn’t finalized plans for the rest of my break yet. A couple weeks later, my friends and I decided to book Greece, so I cancelled my return flight (or so I thought…) to Lyon, and booked a new flight to Athens, directly from Amsterdam. However, another couple weeks later, I went to check on the info for my flight… and was told that it “cannot be found”. Heart racing, I attempted to actually pay my phone bill for the month so I could call AirFrance and figure everything out. But of course, no credit card in my or my family’s possession would work. The next day I tried to go to the store to pay it, but they told me my number was frozen, and that I should come back the next day – however I was leaving for Marseille at 7am the next day. Frustrated as much as a human can possibly be, I lost all hope. Until I got to Marseille the next day and walked by an AirFrance store – where I gained a bit of hope, just to find out that I had indeed cancelled my entire trip to Amsterdam (because apparently it’s not possible to just cancel one leg of a trip). So that was 150 euros down the toilet. Although I did manage to find a cheap-ish flight to Amsterdam out of Geneva, so it all worked out, despite the sunk costs that came along with my semi-stupid mistakes.
Destination 1: Amsterdam, The Netherlands
After needing Benadryl from eating a roast beef sandwich with unlabeled walnuts in it (still can’t figure this one out) and a long day of traveling, my friend Devan and I arrived safely in Amsterdam in the late afternoon. However, as we go to check into our hostel, we are told we need to be moved to another one, 20 minutes further outside the city. Why? Because mistake #2: I apparently booked the hostel for two females instead of a male and a female. Because of this, we had been put into a female-only room, and there were no other openings for him. While it was a nuisance, the new hostel wasn’t too bad, and actually wasn’t in a bad location. It was close to a good amount of things in the city, and luckily Amsterdam is pretty walkable itself anyway. We didn’t take the tram or metro once the entire trip.
We went to Rijksmuseum, a museum with works by various artists, most notably Rembrandt. It was pricey, but it was a pretty cool place. We got there a little after 4pm, walked around a little, only to find out that (mistake #3 perhaps) it closes precisely at 5 – at which point we got kicked out, before even getting to see the Rembrandt paintings. Later on that night, we did the Heineken Experience, which was basically a museum about Heineken: some history, how they built the company, how they make their beer, etc. Surprisingly it went smoothly, and I found it pretty interesting. The following day we went to the Anne Frank House, which had a ridiculously long line, that ended up being about a 90 minute wait (although I’d expected this), but totally worth it. I learned a lot, and realized I actually had not previously known much about Anne Frank – which also made me question why her book was never required reading in high school.
Other than the tourist-y attractions, I thought Amsterdam was beautiful, especially this time of year. I love being near the water, and with the infinite amount of canals, I couldn’t help but take a moment to appreciate the view every time we crossed a bridge. The main park was pretty as well, and we ate lunch there on one of the days. I gotta say though, the Dutch pancakes we had for breakfast on our final morning there may or may not have been a highlight of the trip.
We departed on Tuesday morning (4/21) and since Devan returned to Lyon, I was left to fend for myself as I traveled to Athens. Although I was a bit nervous to travel alone for the first time since I arrived in Lyon (because that went so well), I surprisingly felt pretty comfortable with it, as I’ve basically mastered the art of navigating any type of transportation in any language at this point – which any student who spends a semester in Europe will similarly admit.
Destination 1.5: Athens, Greece
So I arrive in Athens with no problems, overly thrilled to finally be in the country I’d dreamed of traveling to for years. I buy a train ticket, find a spot on the train, and just sit and relax, knowing my friends will meet me when I get off the stop. The second the train took off, the ticket police got on the train and started checking tickets. I handed him my ticket confidently, only to have him hand it back to me with a concerned look on his face, followed by him speaking Greek to me. I told him I spoke English, and then he explained my mistake #4: I didn’t validate my ticket. A classic tourist mistake – which I should have known at this point, since I’ve had to validate every other ticket I’ve bought (granted, next to none of which have been actually checked by the ticket police). Anyway, the fee was 18 euros – not super outrageous, and I figured their economy could use some extra money anyway. So I hand the man my bank card, just to find out that they don’t accept cards (which we quickly discovered was a trend throughout Greece). I had 12 euros in cash, and scrounged up some change, which equated to a total of about 16.45 euros. The man wouldn’t accept it and wrote me a slip, which I would need to bring to downtown Athens to pay my fine in full. If my luck wasn’t already bad, I thought to myself, this was just a whole new level of bad luck. This was like, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” Lemony Snicket level. But something happened that turned all of that around. As I was trying to find change, 2 other passengers around me tried to chip in the last 2 euros that I needed to pay the ticket, but ticket man wouldn’t let them. Finally a third passenger insisted on paying the extra 2 euros, and the man accepted it and told me not to worry about the ticket. Luckily I had learned how to say thank you in Greek (thanks to the ‘teach yourself Greek’ book my parents mailed to me) and the man smiled. Even though it was a moment of bad luck for me, the fact that multiple passengers on the train tried to help me out – a mere stranger, let alone a foreigner/American – left a first impression on me of the Greeks that I will never forget, and even made me proud to have Greek blood in me.
After meeting my friends Nicole, Colby and Jason at the train stop, we headed to a cute place (coincidentally named ‘Alexandra’) for dinner. Obviously, I ordered moussaka, which was absolutely delicious, and yet again one of my favorite meals in Europe thus far. After our meals, the waiter served us all free dessert. Yes that’s right – free. But – imagine this – it had nuts in it, so I could’t eat mine. I explained this to the waiter and he apologized and took it back. Five minutes later he came back out with chocolate mousse – one of my favorite desserts. This took me completely off guard, in the best way possible. It completed the meal perfectly, because it was hands down the best chocolate mousse I’ve ever had. So basically, it took me less than two hours to fall in love with Greece, despite their strict ticket fine policies (but hey, when your economy is as weak as theirs, I guess it’s understandable).
Destination 2: Island of Santorini, Greece
The next morning began at 4:45 am for us. We had to catch the ferry from Athens to Santorini, which was honestly more of a luxury cruise than a ferry, but hey, not complaining! It was an 8 hour ride, which we slept through the first part of, then gazed out the window at the breathtaking views for the remainder of the trip. Upon our arrival, an employee from our hostel met us and drove us up to our hostel closer to the top of the island. We headed to the main “city”, Fira, for dinner – which again, just had breath taking views. Like, the whole island (especially the coast) reminded me of pictures I’d re-pinned on Pinterest and re-tweeted on Twitter of it, but obviously much better in person. Needless to say, this place lived up to my expectations – even exceeded them.
The next day we slept in a bit, and then rented ATVs (quads) in order to most efficiently navigate the island. I wasn’t crazy about the idea at first, but actually ended up loving it. Despite the bitter coldness of the wind while we drove, I was probably at one of the happiest points in my life while driving around this island on an ATV. The views continued to amaze me, and honestly, even just driving an ATV was pretty thrilling in itself. We took breaks to sip on coffee and eat some snacks by the Mediterranean Sea, taking time to relax and appreciate the beauty of our surroundings. Santorini was definitely the most relaxing place I’ve ever been to, and I loved every single minute of it.
The next day we went to an archaeological museum, and took a ferry (that resembled a pirate ship more) to a smaller island off the coast of Santorini, which was the site of an active volcano. Pretty cool stuff. We spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing, because what else are you supposed to do in Santorini?!? Anyway, later that night, we all returned to the hostel to print our boarding passes, since RyanAir charges you 15 euros to print them at the airport (talk about a cheap airline… not actually cheap when you account for the added ridiculous costs). I go to print mine, and – whaddya know – it doesn’t work. I spent a fair amount of time refreshing and re-checking in until I realized mistake #6: I had booked my flight back to Athens for 3 days earlier. ???? At this point I just concluded that I had been possessed or something when I made all my travel plans. Luckily this flight was only about 40 euros down the toilet – however the new one I had to buy (luckily it was the last spot available on the plane) was about 80 euros. All of these stupid mistakes really burnt a hole through my wallet. Anyway, I bought my new ticket – only to find mistake #7: I had apparently accidentally listed my nationality as Estonian… not even close to USA. And of course, there was no way to fix this. So I printed it out in hopes that they wouldn’t notice at the airport (which, believe it or not, they didn’t… I guess good luck comes with the bad!).
We spent all of Saturday exploring Athens, the Acropolis, and the shops. The food continued to be delicious, especially the gyros, tzatziki sauce, and feta cheese (one of the things I’d been looking forward to the most in Greece). Later that afternoon, two of my friends and I met up with one of my distant relatives, Harroula, and her two daughters in a suburb outside of Athens. It was a quaint little place, with a beautiful park hosting a flower/music festival, and a bunch of cute restaurants and shops in the main downtown area. We met Harroula at a coffee shop, where she treated us all to delicious frozen cappuccinos, over conversations of education in America, the Greek economy, and the business that she owns. It was such a great experience for me to meet her and her family, since it’d been a dream of mine for years to travel to Greece and meet the distant relatives. It was so surreal to me that I was living out this dream, and I loved it. Anyway, Harroula showed us around a bit, but since it was getting late, we parted ways. My friends and I got dinner (gyros and Greek salad, obviously) at a nice little restaurant in town before heading back to Athens.
Meals eaten in Greece (respectively, a gyro, Greek salad, and Greek omelette):
Now, you’re probably thinking we made it back to Lyon with no issues, right? Wrong. To be honest, it probably could have been worse, but let’s just say the endless frustrations didn’t stop in Greece (If we’re being real technical, the frustrations don’t even stop in France, but that’s a blog post for another day). It was a generally smooth journey from Athens to Milan (to save money, we flew from Athens to Milan, then took a 7 hour bus from Milan to Lyon). However, thinking a cab would be our best bet to get to the bus station from the airport in Milan, we underestimated how far the bus station actually was from the airport – at least an hour away. So we took a bus to Milan’s city center, and 2 metros to the bus station. Mind you, all we had eaten at this point was one pastry each at around 9am at the airport, and had planned on getting lunch at the bus station. Sidenote: I bought a muffin, asked if there were nuts in it, and the cashier said no. I broke off one piece and found walnuts, so I threw it out immediately. Then I bought a chocolate croissant – type pastry, and realize that the center of it was most likely Nutella (still not sure because I never actually ate it), so I threw that one out too after only eating half of it. Sunk costs WILL be the death of me. Or nuts. One or the other…
Anyway, we get to the bus station, to find that it’s basically in the middle of nowhere. We tried to get internet, but of course the wi-fi wasn’t working, so we desperately turned on our cellular data to find a nearby restaurant. We found one, so we trekked the empty streets in the surrounding area (AKA what looked like abandoned high school grounds) for this restaurant, only to find that it was closed. Also keep in mind it’s pretty hot outside, and I’m carrying a 15 lb duffel bag and a 10 lb backpack on me. We return to the bus station to try to get food from their mini snack shack, but that was closed as well. We went inside to try the vending machine, only to find that it only accepts change, and had very limited options. My two friends scrounged up enough change to buy a pack of 2 croissants that were hyper-injected with sugar and preservatives, but hey, food is food when you’re starving.
Finally the bus came, and we planned on getting food at the first rest stop. By the time we reached the rest stop in Torino, it was about 5:30 – still with no substantial food in our stomachs. I like to think the phrase “you’re not you when you’re hungry” applies to me pretty well. So we get off in Torino and run to the nearest place with food (We only had 20 minutes there so we were in a rush). We walk into this cafe relieved, already eye-ing the sandwiches we would order. We asked the cashier if they took cards (none of us had cash at this point), to which he responded “no”. After exasperated sighs, we thanked him and sprinted to the next place that even looked semi-promising for food. Of course we ask if they took cards, and to our relief, they did – however there was an added charge of 2 euros for card-use… and the place didn’t even have real food, just chips and popcorn. Annoying, yes, but at this point we didn’t care, so we made our purchases, ran back to the bus, and scarfed down our snacks.
We made one more stop on the way back, at a gas station, where we bought actual meals (or at least, as close to an “actual meal” as you can get at a gas station), at which point it was 7:30pm. We were welcomed home to Lyon with a chilly rain around 10:30pm. At this point in the trip, we just laughed it off, along with all the other struggles we’d encountered throughout our trip. Needless to say, we sprinted home and hit the sheets immediately.
Well, that concludes my spring break of 2015… despite the minor and semi-minor obstacles along the way, the benefits significantly outweighed the costs, making it the week of a lifetime. It saddens me that I will never experience a spring break quite like that ever again (to be fair, I probably only really have one left… where did the time go?!) although there’s no doubt in my mind I will return to Greece someday. Sorry again for the super long post, but if you made it this far without skimming, thank you and I hope it didn’t bore you too much. Look out soon for my next post (which I PROMISE will be significantly shorter) about my last big trip to Barcelona!