Betws-y-Coed, Wales: Day 3

On Sunday after breakfast, everyone checked out of their rooms to make the journey back to Harlaxton with a few stops along the way.

Our first stop into our drive was Swallow Falls in Snowdonia National Park. Visitors pay 2 pounds to see the marvel and let me say the view did not disappoint! Honestly, who doesn’t love a waterfall?

After the brief waterfall pitstop, we continued onwards to Betws-y-Coed. This village is just downstream from Swallow Falls and has numerous local shops, hiking trails, and cute cafes and restaurants.

Since I had only a couple of hours at Betws-y-Coed and the weather lovely, I decided to do one of the shorter hiking trails before grabbing a quick lunch and hopping back onto the bus. I chose to do the easiest and shortest path that went along the river. With the sunny weather, trees, and river rushing by me, I felt so relaxed and just in awe of the Welsh nature.

Once I wrapped up my hike, I went and grabbed a quick lunch from a cafe. I opted for a brie, cranberry, and bacon panini, which was fantastic! The cafe also had traditional Welsh cakes too. Of course, I purchased one to try! I would say the Welsh cake is dense like a biscuit in pancake form. The “pancake” had cranberries and sugar coating the outside, which made it sweet.

Cranberry Welsh Cake!

After my quick lunch, I walked around and stumbled upon an Art Gallery dedicated to exposing poaching and saving wild animals. The artwork and photographs were vivid and unique.

An orangutan sculpture made from beach waste

By the time I finished looking around the art gallery, I had to get back on the bus for the remainder of the drive back to Harlaxton.

My time in Wales was very relaxing and beautiful! I am glad I decided to go on this trip last minute with the school. If I were to return, I would probably spend my time hiking in the National Parks versus staying along the coast because I feel the Welsh nature is worth exploring and I did not exactly get the time to hike.

I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Caernarfon Castle & Llechwedd Slate Caverns: Day 2

After breakfast at the hotel, I boarded the bus to head to Caernarfon Castle. This castle was built by King Edward I in the late 13th century. In British Studies, I had learned about Edward I’s reign and how he built several castles throughout Wales to exude his dominance over the country. I was looking forward to connecting the information I learned in class to the physical evidence in real life.

Once we arrived at Caernarfon, I found myself seeing a quaint little town nestled near the coast. Our whole group walked to the castle entrance where we were given our tickets and permitted to go inside the castle to explore and learn at our leisure. I headed to one of many entrances and scaled the spiraling staircase to the top of a turret and saw a wonderful view of the town. During my time at the castle, I continued to go up and down the sets of stairs (there were quite a lot) and walked along the wall connecting all parts of the Caernarfon Castle. In the first few areas I went, there was not any information regarding the construction of the castle. As I made my way around, however, there happened to be informational exhibits about the myth behind the castle, Wales’ role in wars throughout history, and the well-known and highly regarded Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife to Edward I. Truly, my photographs do not adequately capture the size of the castle and its maze of passageways and stairways.

After exploring for 1.5-2 hours, I left the castle in search of lunch and to explore the quaint town.

For every country or city I visit, I have been trying to purchase a Christmas ornament. My goal is to have an international Christmas tree in my home that brings about memories of my travels when I put it up each year. However, I do not purchase just any plain ornament from a tacky tourist shop. I seek out local stores that sell ornaments made in the country and made by local artisans (if possible).

The reason I bring up my ornament mission is I happened to find a local shop selling handmade ornaments in Caernarfon. I selected a slate ornament with a red sparkly dragon on the front, which pays homage to the Welsh flag. When I made my purchase, I spoke with the shop owner about the ornament purchases I have previously made during my European travels. Come to find out, his wife had handmade the ornament I purchased and the slate is Welsh. He said himself shopping local in tourist destinations truly makes a difference for the local community. His shop specifically serves as a storefront for 30 different Welsh artisans. With both of my parents being small business owners and self-employed, I found myself relating to his statement. Local purchases make a HUGE impact for families in small towns and tourist destinations. Maybe it seems like I am rambling, but I hope that this little off-tangent blurb will cause you to intentionally seek out local businesses to purchase souvenirs. For me, I have found my ornaments hold a lot more meaning to me because of the care that has been put into each unique piece. Just some food for thought!

Speaking of food, I ended up at a local cafe for lunch with some students and had a falafel sandwich. Absolutely delicious!

A falafel sandwich with some fresh greens! Yum!

After lunch, I boarded the bus again with my cohorts to go to the Llechwedd Slate Caverns for an underground tour. During the tour, we went underground and learned how slate used to be mined in the 1700s-1970s. I saw rickety ladders the workers went up and down, the chains in which the men would wrap around themselves carefully to avoid cutting off circulation, and the tools used for harvesting the slate. Our guide’s father and grandfather both worked in the slate mines. He experienced firsthand the detrimental impact of mining slate on a workers’ health through his family. The tour lasted about 1.5-2 hours and all-in-all was very interesting!

So much slate!

When the slate tour concluded, everyone hopped back onto the bus to head back to Llandudno for the evening where a beautiful sunset greeted us. In the distance, you can vaguely see the offshore windmills working hard to generate power.

Sunset at Llandudno, Wales

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Llandudno, Wales: Day 1

On Friday morning, I boarded a bus at 8:30 am to head to Llandudno, Wales.

I elected to do the Northern Wales trip with the school for a few different reasons:

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed my day trip to Lincoln, England. The courier for that day trip said, “If you love Lincoln, you will love the Northern Wales trip!” Well, sign me up!
  2. By visiting Wales, I would have seen the entirety of the United Kingdom.
  3. I do not think I would ever travel to Europe to specifically visit Wales; therefore, I figured I should grasp the opportunity before me to see another part of the U.K.

After driving for three hours, we stopped near the England/Wales border in the town of Chester, England. This city is known primarily for its clock, which is the second most photographed clock after Big Ben. Chester also holds a lot of Roman and medieval history, which is seen through the remnants of an amphitheater and the wall that surrounds the city respectively.

We were given roughly three hours of free time in Chester. My friend, Tenshi, and I started off by visiting Chester Cathedral. Admission to the church is free, but donations are accepted. The interior of the cathedral was very beautiful and had a courtyard area with a fountain. There were volunteers selling lego bricks to help fund the building of a 4-meter high replica of the cathedral out of legos. Pretty cool!

When we had our fill of the church, Tenshi and I walked towards the Roman amphitheater to eat our packed lunches in the sunshine. The weather in England has been unseasonably warm and sunny as of late. I am not complaining! On our way, we saw the famous clock of Chester and walked down the shopping area known as the Rows.

Our next stop happened to be another church, which was much smaller. Then, we decided to head down to the river where a super cute suspension bridge served as a walking path.

Next, Tenshi and I walked to a nearby set of steps that would take us up onto the wall that surrounds Chester. We walked on the wall for a little bit until we arrived under the clock and back to the Rows again. At which point, Tenshi and I disembarked and traversed the Rows during the rest of our free time. I was surprised at the lack of local shops in Chester. Perhaps Tenshi and I did not go to the area of the city with local businesses. We mostly encountered chain stores.

At 2:30 pm, I hopped back onto the bus for the 1.5-hour drive to our final destination: the coastal city of Llandudno, Wales.

Around 4 o’clock, the bus arrived at the hotel. I checked in, ditched my suitcase, and headed outside to walk around this beachy town before sunset.

Like Chester, I did not find there to be a lot of small businesses in Llandudno. Granted, February is the off-season for a beach town so some stores may close up shop during the winter.

However, the town had a great little hike that provided a fabulous view of the city.

After my hike, I decided to walk to the opposite side of the town to catch the end of the sunset.

A beautiful Welsh sunset!

When the sun sunk below the horizon, I went in search of dinner. I ended up at a pub with Tenshi and two other Harlaxton students. Once dinner wrapped up, I headed back to the hotel for an early night.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Ireland: Day 3

My final full day in Ireland started off with hopping back onto the Paddywagon tour bus at 7:30 am to head to the famous Cliffs of Moher.

On our way, we stopped at a castle to take photos and to stretch our legs. There were some tourist shops and a cafe at this rest stop, so I spent some time browsing before getting back onto the bus.

An Irish Castle

After the castle, our journey continued onwards until we finally arrived at the famous Cliffs of Moher. Here, we were given two hours to see the cliffs and eat lunch.

My friend, Maria, and I decided to walk/hike the Cliffs of Moher first before getting our lunch. There were two path options: one with a stone “fence” and one without any barrier. For part of our journey, we opted to stay behind the safety of the stone fence. This path happened to be crowded and narrow. At some point, Maria and I decided to hop over a low part in the stone wall and walk on the other side where there were fewer people and we could see the beautiful Cliffs of Moher more easily. The farther we walked, the better the view of the cliffs became, which is seen in the progression of photos I took below. I am sure I said many times “this is so beautiful.”

I definitely think some form of a water-resistant shoe is needed when going to the Cliffs of Moher. Rainboots or hiking boots provide warmth and grip on the muddy/wet path and traction with the high winds. I could not believe the number of tourists that wore impractical shoes to the cliffs. I am talking about high heels or white shoes…crazy! There were also the risk-takers who chose to get as close to the edge as possible for the PERFECT Instagram photo. I had to look away several times.

After taking tons of photos and admiring the view, Maria and I made the trek back so we could grab some food.

I think it was at this point that I decided I am not a fan of organized tours. If you are only in Ireland for a brief time (or any other country for that matter) and want to see the highlights or main attractions, booking a day trip like a Paddywagon tour is perfect! You hop on a bus and the driver drops you off at all of the sights for a limited amount of time. What I did not like is that I had a limited time at each designated location. We drove around 4 hours from Dublin and only had 2 hours at the Cliffs of Moher. For me personally, I wanted to walk/hike along the path more, but there simply was not enough time. When I go back to Ireland (someday), I will rent a car or take a train myself so I can go at my own pace.

When our time was up at the Cliffs of Moher, the Paddywagon driver took us to the Baby Cliffs. This area we only spent 30 minutes at and the views were gorgeous! Once again, I had to look away several times because of how close to the edge my peers were getting for photographs.

Our next stop happened to be a small Irish fishing village. It worked out that this was not a long drive from the Baby Cliffs because someone ended up getting carsick and we had to do some cleanup on the bus. The buildings were colorful and fun!

After our brief pit stop, we drove the rest of the way to Dublin.

For dinner, my friends and I went to the Brazen Head, which is Ireland’s oldest pub! We all had some Irish cider and Irish food. If you are in Dublin, I think the Brazen Head is a must! The atmosphere is fun and live music occurs on certain nights of the week. Unfortunately, we did not experience said live music because we did not stay late enough.

Our group split in different directions after dinner. I went with Maria and Taylor to get ice cream at Cloud Nine, which is right across from Temple Bar. The area around the bar was bustling at night and very lively. A great place to people watch if you ask me!

Kinder Bueno icecream…yum!

Well, that concludes my time in Ireland. Please stop back here tomorrow to see my day one recap of Wales!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Dublin, Ireland: Day 2

On Friday, I had a free day in Dublin. My day began with eating a quick breakfast with my friend Maria at our hostel. Then, we left to explore the city.

Our first stop was the famine memorial along the river. The statues were extremely eerie in the daylight.

Remembering the Irish famine

Next, Maria and I walked to the Ha’Penny bridge. Back in the day, it cost half a penny to cross the bridge hence the name. Now, Ha’Penny bridge is free to cross and an iconic city landmark.

Ha’Penny Bridge

Once we crossed Ha’Penny Bridge, Maria and I walked towards the Temple Bar, which is a famous pub in Dublin. We then popped in a souvenir shop to look around. Afterward, we parted ways.

The Temple Bar

My next stop was Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and the Old Library. I happened to run into some of my friends at Trinity College, so the five of us went inside to see the Gospel Latin manuscript and old books in the library. Quite honestly, I went mostly to see the library over the Book of Kells because I am a book lover at heart and am not religious. The exhibit detailed how the Book of Kells was written and how the drawings were made, which I found extremely interesting. I could not take pictures of the two books on display. However, for being written in 800 AD, I was wholly impressed by the detail and neatness of the drawings and writings in the books. Next, I headed upstairs to the library. When I stepped upstairs, I smelled the air of dusty books. BEST. SMELL. EVER. I 100% spent more time here just gazing at the books than I did reading about the creation of the Book of Kells. #noshame

To enter the exhibit, student admission costs 12 Euros with a normal admission 1 or 2 Euros more. For what I saw, I felt the whole experience was overpriced. However, I am glad I went to see the Book of Kells and the Old Library. It is definitely not an exhibit I would return to see.

After Trinity College, I walked to a nearby park because the weather was amazing! Sunny outside and warm, which is highly unusual for Ireland since the weather is typically rainy like England. The park had fountains, beautiful flowers, statues detailing the history of the park, and a nice pond. I was half tempted to pull out my Kindle to sit and read on a bench for a while, but I did not. Too much to see in so little time!

Once I walked through the whole park, I decided to traverse some nearby streets that had cafes and shops. I found some neat alleyways, local stores, and unique buildings!

By the time I wrapped up in the covered area (pictured above), I had to start walking towards the Guinness Factory for my 1:00 pm tour. After a 15-30 minute walk, I finally made it to the building where I met up with my friend Kirby.

Once 12:45 pm rolled around, Kirby and I headed inside. The tour was completely self-guided, which I liked because I had time to read the information on each floor. Of course, the museum is set up to resemble the largest pint of Guinness in the world as you ascend to each level.

Throughout the tour, we learned about the different ingredients that are put into the Guinness, how each batched is processed, and the evolution of Guinness advertising. My favorite portion of the exhibit was learning about how the barrels were coopered. A cooper had to spend 7 years as an apprentice before being able to make the barrels on their own. Crazy!

Most importantly, though, Kirby and I learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. All Guinness has to be served in an official Guinness cup with the gold harp facing out. When pouring, you line up the tap with the harp and tilt the glass at a 45-degree angle. You pull the tap towards yourself so the gas and liquid mixes together. As the glass begins to fill, you slowly tilt the glass back up to a straight position. Once the Guinness reaches the harp symbol you stop and let the glass sit for approximately 119.5 seconds. This allows the beer to settle and separate. After the 119.5 seconds pass, you fill up the rest of the glass pushing the beer tap away from you so only the liquid comes out. This step is the most difficult because you want to top off your drink with a nice “bubble” over the rim without the drink overflowing.

Now, the most important part…the taste test. I actually enjoyed the Guinness, which I was not expecting! Typically, I am a cider or sweet wine type of gal. However, this ruby red drink (Guinness is not black in case you did not know) was really delicious! Kirby and I headed up to the 360 degrees bar area to drink our pints. We each made it about halfway through before calling it quits. Neither of us wanted to chug our drinks in a short period of time and wanted to get on our way to explore the city.

All in all, I spent around two hours at the Guinness Factory. I think if you go to Dublin, it is an absolute must! The ticket for a student is 18.50 Euros and includes a pint of Guinness, which you can choose to pour (like I did) or have a bartender pour for you. For non-beer lovers or even kids, the voucher can even be used for a soda.

Farewell Guinness!

After the Guinness tour, Kirby and I walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I believe admission was 6 Euros for students. Kind of pricy depending on how long you stay, but worth the money!

Once we wrapped up at St. Patrick’s, Kirby and I wandered in and out of some local shops and admired the building art of the city.

Pretty soon, both of us found ourselves REALLY hungry. We opted for a restaurant called Elephant and Castle, which had burgers on the menu. Now, I know burgers are not Irish but a burger sounded delicious and the restaurant looked so cute! We were both under the impression Elephant and Castle was an Irish burger establishment. Come to find out after reading the menu, the first Elephant and Castle was opened in New York City. It was not until the Irish cook could not get his visa to return to the United States that he decided to open a restaurant in Dublin. No wonder the burger tasted like home (haha). I had the Elephant burger and let me just say it was delicious!

The Elephant Burger! The sauce is curried sour cream. Yum!

After dinner, Kirby and I meandered back towards our hostel. We stopped in a department store to look around. The store had so many departments and floors that Kirby and I could not find the way out. We had to ask an associate how to exit the store. How embarrassing and hilarious!

If you plan to visit Ireland, you definitely need more than one day to see Dublin! There were so many museums that I simply did not have the time to go in and have a look around. I think two days would be the perfect amount of time to see the sights and get a feel for this lively city.

Stop back Monday to read all about the famous Cliffs of Moher!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Northern Ireland: Day 1

After my first British Studies exam of the semester wrapped up last Wednesday, I hopped onto a bus with some of my peers to go to Birmingham, England. From there, we flew to Dublin, Ireland, for the first of two long weekends of the semester. Upon arriving at our hostel, myself and my roommates went immediately to bed because on Thursday we had to be around and ready to go at 7:30 am.

On Thursday morning, I hopped onto the green Paddywagon tour bus with my fellow students to head to Northern Ireland.

Now, call me ignorant, but before coming to England, I thought Ireland was its own island-country. However, this is not the case. Ireland is located in the south with Northern Ireland up above. Furthermore, Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, and Wales). This is making BREXIT even more of a headache because goods will not be able to pass between the country borders easily once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. Another thing to note is currency. With Northern Ireland being a part of the United Kingdom, the pound is used while Ireland uses the Euro.

Our first stop of the day was at the Dark Hedges in Stranocum, Northern Ireland. I had absolutely NO idea that our tour would be stopping at this iconic forest.

Years ago, I pinned a photo of the Dark Hedges on my “Traveling Through Europe” board on Pinterest. I did not really believe I would see the Dark Hedges in person because I assumed the trees were in the Irish countryside.

When Aaron the bus driver announced stop number one of the day was the Dark Hedges, I was ecstatic! We had 20-30 minutes at the Dark Hedges, so I hopped off the bus and walked quickly to see the mesmerizing trees. My Pinterest dream came to life before my eyes! In the pictures, the trees look a bit lackluster and nothing special. In person, however, the branches interweave with one another in a magical and eerie way.

We loaded back onto the bus and headed to the Carrick-a-rede bridge in Ballintoy, Northern Ireland. The rope bridge was used by fishermen back in the day and links the mainland to the tiny island of Carrickarede . To cross the bridge, it costs 10 Euros. I felt the money was well spent!

Upon arrival, Aaron passed out the tickets and we all began the short walk to the bridge. Once again, we had a limited amount of time as Carrickarede so I walked briskly with my friends and snapped pictures along the way of the coast.

The Northern Ireland coast

Eventually, I made it to the rope bridge. I went across and found the views of the coast to be even better!

Once I had my fill on the scenery, my friend, Kirby and I crossed back over the bridge and started to head back to the bus. We opted to take a different path back to the main one and the views were amazing! The sun decided to peek out from behind the clouds on our way back.

After everyone hopped back onto the bus, we stopped at a restaurant to grab some Irish food. I ate Guinness and Steak Pie. The food was yummy and filling! I 100% could taste the Guinness and in the pie, which had me a bit worried for my Guinness tour the following day as I could not decide if I like the flavor or not.

Guinness and Steak Pie!

Once lunch wrapped up, everyone got back on the bus to head to Giant’s Causeway. This area is famous in Northern Ireland for its rocks, which are columnar in shape made from basalt. Quite honestly, I had never heard of Giant’s Causeway before going there and the rocks did not disappoint!

Before seeing the famous columns, you can grab an audio guide and go through the museum. The audio guide also continues outside along the paved path that leads to Giant’s Causeway. I personally did not stay in the museum long nor use the audioguide. My objective was to experience the unique view in all of its glory.

After two hours, everyone hopped back onto the bus to head to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Here, we had only an hour. I felt so cheated! 60 minutes is simply not enough time to see a city, let alone in the evening. I guess it is an excuse to return…?

I would love to go back to Belfast later on in my life to see the Titanic museum and learn about the Peace Walls that are used to diffuse the religious tension in the country that is still prevalent between the Catholics and the Protestants. The capital city holds so much history that I did not have the opportunity to see and learn.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, was the last stop of the day. Aaron drove us all back to our hostel in Dublin. From there, my friends and I went in search of dinner. We ended up at a Mexican restaurant similar to that of Chipotle/Qdoba. I know a burrito is not Irish food, but man did my 6.55 Euro burrito with guacamole taste good. Sometimes, you need a taste of home while traveling.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Geneva, Switzerland: Day 3

On Saturday, Estelle and I started off my final day with eating breakfast with her whole family. The meal was filled with a mixture of French and English conversation along with laughter.

After breakfast, we took the bus into Geneva to sight-see.

We started off at the famous Lake Geneva where I could see the city’s pride and joy: the Jet d’Eau. As I would say in English, the city’s water fountain.

Lake Geneva featuring the Jet d’Eau

After I took a lot more pictures, Estelle and I walked further along the lake taking in the view.

Estelle and I walked back to where we originally started and hopped onto a boat to head to the opposite of the lake where we would be able to walk up close to the fountain. The sun decided to emerge from the clouds and a beautiful rainbow formed in the spray of the fountain.

Can you see the rainbow?

After admiring the fountain, Estelle asked me if I wanted to walk behind/through the spray of water. Is that even a question? We carefully walked along the sea wall and got slightly sprayed in the process. Staying on the opposite side of the fountain was short-lived after the wind changed direction and it started to “rain.” Laughing, we quickly made our way back the way we had come.

Behind the fountain

Next, Estelle and I walked through a park area where there were statues and a clock made in the grass. She explained the history of how the city was founded to me.

Once we finished in the park, Estelle led the way to Geneva’s cathedral. For a small fee, the two of us were able to go to the top of the church and see Geneva from above, which Estelle had never done before. While we were up top, it began to rain slightly and a faint rainbow formed (see picture two below!) Going to the top of the church was worthwhile in my opinion! My local “guide” pointed out different famous buildings in Geneva to me and was able to show me where old Geneva started and the new more modern Geneva began.

After wrapping up at the church, Estelle showed me some canons that had been used to defend Geneva along with the oldest high school in the city. We also peeked inside a Russian Orthodox Church, went to see the longest wooden bench in the world, and the reformation wall.

Near the Reformation Wall, were two of the university buildings Estelle has her college classes. She bounces between three separate buildings for her studies, which are all within walking distance of one another.

At this point, Estelle and I were ready for some lunch. I wanted to eat something I could not eat at home, so Estelle suggested Eritrean food. The dish Estelle suggested involved selecting a “curry” of sorts, which would then be placed on a crepe. When the food arrives, you dig in with your hands. The portions were enormous and the food was delicious!

Eritrean food!

After lunch, we decided to pop into a cafe for a dessert and some tea. Despite being full, Estelle and I were able to manage a sweet treat!

Sweet treats! We opted for a chocolate dessert…yum!

Once we finished tea and dessert, Estelle and I hopped on the tram and went back to her house. Then, the two of us hopped in the car and Estelle to France to an area called the Saleve, which provides beautiful views of the Alps and Geneva when the weather is clear. We almost decided not to do this because the weather was quite foggy, but Veronique convinced us to still go and I am SO glad she did!

The road was curvy and Estelle did a fantastic job managing the twists and turns and avoiding the crazy drivers. After parking, Estelle led the way to the hill we would hike. The two of us hiked and hiked through the snow. I slipped a few times and trekked onward. Let me just say, falling in the snow and battling the wind was 100% worth it! Unfortunately, my camera got a bit too cold when we reached the top so I only have one picture of myself.

Estelle and I hiked back down and decided to take the paved road, which was less time consuming and a bit warmer.

We went back to her house where Veronique and Jean-Marie were preparing another traditional Swiss dinner: raclette. For raclette, you first boil little baby potatoes. Then, you slice cheese. Next, you place the cheese on a little mini skillet. During this stage, you can add spices to your slice of cheese before placing it onto the hot plate/mini stove. While your cheese melts, bubbles, and browns, you place the baby potato onto your plate and mash it with your fork and add sides like meat or pickles. Once the cheese has melted, you pour it over your potato and eat it. Traditionally, half of a cheese wheel is placed in front of a fire and the melted cheese is scraped off onto the potatoes. The skillet version is much quicker and more people can eat at once.

Because I decided to live in the moment, I did not take any photos. Below, you will find raclette photos taken from Google.

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Melting the cheese in the mini skillet
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The final product! Cheesy potatoes!

After dinner, Estelle and I watched a movie together before heading to bed.

My three days in Geneva, Switzerland, were absolutely amazing! My favorite parts by far are the moments I spent with Estelle and her family and Jana and her family. I felt so at home and thoroughly enjoyed having a local experience. Forever thankful for all the opportunities exchange has brought into my life! Big thanks to Estelle and her family for welcoming me with open arms. I cannot wait to return!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Geneva, Switzerland: Day 2

On Friday, Estelle and I woke up around 10:00 am to get ready to ski at Monts Jura in France. All week, Estelle had been checking the weather to determine which day would be the best to ski. Prior to me arriving, she decided that Friday seemed to be the best option with clear skies. For a beginner like me, clear weather would make the experience more enjoyable and the views all the better!

Now, I am sure you are wondering why Estelle would take me to France to ski when Switzerland has mountains. Switzerland is an expensive country to live in and to travel to for a vacation. A “cheap” sit-down meal is 17 Swiss Francs, which equivocates to roughly the same price in U.S. dollars as the exchange rate is almost 1:1. Geneva is also a 15-minute drive from the French border and the Swiss typically will cross the border to grocery shop or to ski to save some money. Going to France is normal for the Swiss just like driving to another state in the U.S.

We loaded up the skis, boots, coats, and the food we had purchased from the day prior and hopped in the car. The border crossing made me laugh because all there was to signify we were passing into France happened to be a building.

The French/Swiss border

Soon after, Estelle and I arrived at Monts Jura. We both suited up in ski pants, jackets, helmets, goggles, gloves, and ski boots. I awkwardly followed Estelle with my skis and poles in hand to the window to purchase our ski passes.

Once we each had our pass tucked into our jacket pocket, we walked through the turnstile with our gear and hopped onto the gondola to head up to the runs.

Estelle and I hopped off the gondola once we reached the top and the teaching commenced. She taught me how to snap my skis onto my boots, how to position my skis to “break” or “speed up” among other things. Most importantly, though, Estelle told me to be patient. She had gone through three years of ski school as a young child.

When I felt ready to give skiing a go, Estelle instructed me to grab onto a moving rope, which would take me to the top of a beginner hill where I could practice going down. I fell down numerous times and got back up again. Every. Single. Time. Estelle had to sometimes assist me in getting up because if you do not have ANY arm strength (like me) pulling yourself to your feet with ski poles is HARD! My ski instructor of a host sister continued to give me guidance until I finally started to get the hang of things. I had to really concentrate on maneuvering my hips and angling my knees together. Once I had those movements down and they felt more natural, I was going down the beginner hill and performing turns without any issues.

Once my instructor deemed me good to go, we moved onto the larger beginner hill. I had apprehensions about going down because

  1. The hill was significantly larger
  2. There were more people going down the hill and I did not want to run into anyone since my coordination was still not 100%

Well, I gave the hill a go and guess what? I wrecked and got back up again. Estelle continued to give me pointers and I would go down the hill again. Pretty soon, I had the hang of skiing. I cannot even begin to describe to you how accomplished and triumphant I felt for learning how to ski in less than 2 hours. There is no better feeling than pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and coming out on the other side with improvement. If there is anything I can encourage travelers to do is to simply say ‘yes.’

With that, Estelle asked me if I was ready to eat. Falling down and learning a new skill is hunger-inducing! After eating, I could decide whether to go down a run or go back down one the lift to practice on the beginning hills again.

Estelle and I hopped onto the lift and headed up. We took off our skis and found a nice rock to eat our lunch. The fog had melted away and we had a perfect view of the Alps.

After lunch, I decided I was ready to give the downhill slope a go. Estelle led the way and continued to coach me nearby. I fell down and tumbled more than once. However, there were moments where I made numerous wide turns and went down the slope pizza-ing so hard and felt nothing but exhilaration and euphoria.

With the Alps before me, disbelief filled my head. At 21-years old, I had learned to ski in France with my Swiss host sister overlooking the Alps. If I never would have gone on exchange to Australia and my family would not have opened up their home that same year to an exchange student, there is no way I would have found myself on that slope with an open mind ready to experience the world.

Skiing at Monts Jura in France with the Alps in front of me. Absolutely incredible.

After completing run number one, Estelle and I went up again in the ski lift and did two more separate runs. By the time I finished up run three with Estelle, the ski resort was closing up for the night. We loaded back onto the gondola to head back down. I felt sore and exhausted, but happy and joyful at all that I had accomplished.

Estelle and I stripped down to our normal clothes and headed back to her house. She gathered up her volleyball gear and I grabbed a few things before we headed out the door again.

I was eating with Jana and her family again for dinner as I would not be able to see them on Saturday since they were heading to their chalet to snowshoe. Estelle dropped me off at the tram station and I took the tram to Jana’s apartment. There, I met up with her and Enrik and we walked to the nearby bus stop to pick up her husband, Emmanuel, who had returned the night before from a business trip to Spain. Enrik and I played with Beyblades and the four of us sat down to dinner laughing and talking.

One last photo: Jana, me, and Enrik

Jana, Emmanuel, and Enrik dropped me off at Estelle’s house where we said: “See you later!”

I sat down at the dinner table with Colin, Timotee, and Jean-Marie who were wrapping up their dinner. We chatted and Estelle arrived home soon after. The five of us ate some Swiss desserts Veronique had purchased.

Pretty soon, I headed off to bed and fell asleep sore and exhausted from my eventful day of learning how to ski.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Geneva, Switzerland: Day 1

Hi, everyone! I am back with a recap of day one in Switzerland! I apologize for the delay. Tuesday involved finishing up homework and studying for my first British Studies exam and Wednesday involved writing the said exam and traveling to Ireland where I am currently typing this blog post.

So, Switzerland. First, some back story on how I ended up in Geneva.

Way back in 2014, I was preparing to go on exchange to Australia with Rotary Youth Exchange. Since there would be a spare bed in our home, my family decided to host an exchange student. Enter Estelle, my Swiss host sister who lived with my family while I was abroad for a whole year. I did not depart for Australia until after her arrival, so I had the opportunity to get to know her for a couple of weeks before flying out.

Welcome, Estelle!
Departure day for Australia circa August 2014: Gavin, Estelle, me, Mason, and Delaney

Now, flash forward to summer 2015. Estelle was getting ready to depart and her family flew to Indiana to meet our family. I cannot say we all understood one another, but we made countless memories nonetheless.

The Americans and the Swiss

During this same time, I was battling reverse culture shock and having a hard time acclimating to life in the midwest. A coworker of mine put me in touch with her friend, Jana, a former Rotary Youth Exchange Student to New Zealand who now lived in Geneva, Switzerland. For a couple of months, I corresponded with Jana via email. Writing her was therapeutic because her experiences and mine mirrored one another.

Now, fast forward to 2019.

I flew out early from London Gatwick airport to Geneva very early last Thursday. Estelle greeted me at the airport with a warm hug. We headed to her house and our conversations just flowed despite not having seen one another for over two years.

At the house, I freshened up and we plotted out our day. The weather was projected to be rainy, so Estelle suggested we go to the Red Cross Museum in the afternoon. She asked if I wanted to eat dinner with her brothers, father, and grandparents to which I said yes.

Before lunch, we went to the ski shop to rent my skis and boots for the following day. Estelle and the ski lady conversed in French while I stood standing with a smile on my face and nodding my head because I did not know what either of them was discussing. I was so short that I ended up with junior skis and boots to match (haha).

We went back to the house and Estelle’s brothers came home for their lunch break. Colin greeted me with a hug and went in for the traditional three cheek “kiss,” which took me aback as I am not a touchy sort of person. When Timotée came in for a hug, I was prepared! Jean-Marie, Estelle’s dad, and her grandparents soon arrived. We sat down and ate a delicious meal of steamed artichokes, sausages, salad, and fruit. Colin had falafel since he is vegan.

Once lunch wrapped up and the house cleared out, Estelle and I took the bus to the Red Cross Museum. The museum covered the history of the organization, humanitarian work, and a rotational exhibit covering prisons. I felt the museum provided a great mix of interactive displays, great audio guides, and visual information. Estelle and I stayed until the museum closed and honestly could have stayed longer as we did not have enough time to get through the prison exhibit. If you find yourself in Geneva, the museum is an absolute must!

Afterward, we walked to see the exterior of the United Nations and Broken Chair. Broken Chair “symbolizes fragility and strength, precariousness and stability, brutality and dignity.” Originally, the sculpture was supposed to be temporary, but its popularity and symbolism resulted in it becoming a permanent fixture. “Broken Chair is a reminder to the world’s nations to protect and aid these civilian victims. It invites each one of us to denounce what is unacceptable, to stand up for the rights of individuals and communities and to call for their rightful compensation.”

In case you travel to Geneva, Estelle did not recommend touring the United Nations because she said on the tours you mainly see conference rooms. Seeing the free view of the exterior was very neat to see in person!

By the time we wrapped up, it was time to head to Jana’s house for dinner. First, though, we stopped by the grocery store to grab some food for our ski picnic for the following day. Estelle purchased bread with black olives in it, Swiss cheese, thinly sliced Swiss beef, along with some other sides. After checking out, we finished the journey to Jana’s house.

When Estelle and I walked into Jana’s apartment, we were greeted with hugs and a friendly smile. I instantly felt like I was meeting a long-lost friend.

The three of us chatted for a bit. Not long after, Estelle departed for volleyball practice. While Jana prepared dinner, I played with Enrik, Jana’s 7-year-old son. He was thoroughly impressed that I knew what Beyblades were and knew how to operate the spinning tops. We dueled for a bit and then I helped cut the bread for the Swiss fondue.

Eventually, the three of us sat down for dinner and I had my first taste of the fondue. Essentially, you take a piece of bread (or potato) and stab it with your fork and swirl it around in the cheese. Then, you eat it! Traditionally, wine is mixed in with the cheese, which is what Jana did for the dinner. I really enjoyed the food and am thrilled I had the opportunity to try a traditional Swiss dish!

Eating Swiss fondue with my new friend Enrik

For dessert, Enrik prepared each of us little bowls of berries. Then, he and Jana instructed me to place a little pre-made meringue on top with some Swiss cream. The dessert reminded me of Pavlova, which is a dessert I had a few times in Australia.

After dessert, I helped Jana clean up the kitchen. She tucked Enrik into bed and we talked until 11:00 pm about everything and anything.

I am so glad I was able to reconnect with Jana after 3.5 years of no email correspondence. Because of studying abroad and hosting exchange students, I am now a part of a vast network of individuals who open their arms and home to you based on a shared experience. For that, I will be forever grateful.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Travel Day: Grantham, England to London, England

Happy Monday friends!

Today I am recapping my travel day to the airport and what I did and saw while in London for a brief few hours.

Last Wednesday after British Studies concluded for the day, I caught the 1:10 pm shuttle into town to the train station. I overestimated how long the shuttle would take arriving at the train station so I ended up sitting for a solid 45 minutes. However, we all know I nearly missed my connecting train in Edinburgh, so having excess time is a good thing!

Once my train arrived at London King’s Cross, I looked at my handy CityMaps2Go app to see what attractions were nearby. I ended up walking to the British Library to find out my bag was probably too big to enter (you had to pass through security.) I opted instead to walk to the Camden Town Markets, which was roughly a mile. A few people at Harlaxton had been raving about these markets so I went to check them out myself. Looking back, I should have hopped on the tube probably to maximize my time, especially with my large backpack. Alas, the walk was refreshing!

The Camden Town Markets were not at all what I expected. In my mind, I thought the markets would be artisanal items made by locals. However, I quickly found out this was not the case. Instead, there were cheap souvenir stalls, restaurants, and really cool street art!

The whole experience I found to be overwhelming, but overall really cool to see in person. I am not sure I would go back when I return to London, but am happy to have ventured to this part of the city nonetheless.

After spending an hour in Camden Town, I headed to the nearest tube station to head to where I was meeting my friend, Kendall. With the help of the CityMapper map, I easily found which tube line to take to get where I needed to be.

Kendall and I managed to find one another and she led the way to where we would be eating dinner. Instead of heading straight to eat, we opted to explore the surrounding area for a bit, which had cute shops and restaurants. Eventually, we walked back to the restaurant and ate some delicious Vietnamese food.

After dinner, Kendall and I went in search of a pub for a drink. We found a pub close to a tube station and enjoyed a drink with one another. The pub had a great atmosphere and decor. Who doesn’t love taxidermied birds and British bunting flags hanging over their head?

Around 8:00 pm, Kendall and I parted ways at the tube station. I managed to make my way to my next train without any mishaps. Since my train did not leave until 9:00 pm, I killed some time by walking around the train station. Eventually, I boarded my train and made it to the airport.

Like my flight over to Heathrow, I was unable to go through security. As a result, I found a cozy and quiet bench and curled up to catch some sleep for the night.

See you back here tomorrow! I promise day one in Geneva, Switzerland, will be more exciting than today’s travel day post.

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo