Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy: Day 3

My last day in Cagliari began with packing up my things. Exciting, right? Enri went to school and everyone else went to work, so I went into town to have a wander around through some shops before meeting Enri back at his house around lunch time.

During my wanderings, the craziest thing happened. I was just walking everywhere and anywhere and a man approached me asking if I could help him. I explained that I did not speak Italian. In very broken English, he told me he needed to get to the bus stop near the university. He asked if I would mind standing at the bus stop. What did crazy ole me do? I stood at the bus stop for 10 minutes. After that, I left. I am still not entirely sure what transpired, all I know is the whole experience was bizarre. Enri laughed when I told him this story.

After Marella’s family birthday lunch at home with the whole family, Enri and I took one last walk around Cagliari. The sunny weather was perfect for some gelato and some park sitting, both of which we managed to accomplish.

Me and Enri. I feel lucky to call him my Italian brother

To top off the afternoon, Enri showed me the Roman ruins near his home. Then, we walked briskly back to his house where I grabbed my bag and hopped into the car, so Marella could drive me to the airport.

After a kiss kiss on the check from Marella and an American hug for Enri, I parted ways and headed through security to head to Venice.

One flight, one bus ride, and short walk later, I arrived at Anda Hostel Mestre. Hands down the NICEST hostel I stayed at during my time in Europe. I cannot recommend it enough!

I cannot emphasize enough how thankful I am for the generosity of Enri’s family for hosting me for a few days. Without my family opening their hearts and home to hosting exchange students, I would not have had half of the experiences I had during my semester abroad. Hosting exchange students and being an exchange student yourself is life-changing!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

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Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy: Day 2

On Sunday, Enri, Marella, Emilio, and I went to a local pastry shop for a sweet treat and cappuccino before heading on a mini road-trip to Barumini, an archaeological site in Sardinia. During the drive, I saw artichoke fields for the very first time. I found the swaying plants to be mesmerizing and wholly unique.

Now, I the day prior, I had learned about the nuraghi at Cagliari’s archaeological museum. Marella suggested taking the drive to see the nuraghi in person and I of course said yes! Luckily for us, an English guided tour began as soon as we arrived. The guide explained the history of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, how the towers were built, and the daily life of the clans. I could not believe how thick and tall the walls of the towers were and the narrow spaces the people squeezed through on a daily basis. To this day, archaeologists do not know how the ancient people managed to transport the stones to build the towers. Very interesting!

After the tour, we piled back into the car and headed back to Cagliari. Emilio, Marella, Enri, and I went to an Italian restaurant and ate some delicious pasta and dessert before heading back to the house. Enri and I rested for a little bit after our food coma and eventually ventured out to the city to walk around. We went to Enri’s favorite lookouts and a few churches.

While wandering around, Enri and I stumbled across and artist’s shop and studio. He welcomed us both inside after seeing my admiration for his paintings. Enri served as the translator and the gentleman explained that he taught classes in his studio. As a parting gift, he gave me a little shell known as The Eye of Saint Lucia. This particular shell is meant to bring good luck. I was absolutely touched by the thoughtfulness of such a little gift. The shell is now tucked in my passport cover as a good luck charm.

For an hour or so, I wandered around on my own, while Enri went to church. After reuniting, Enri and I walked down near the harbor before heading back to his house. Later on, we walked back to town to grab some Margherita pizza for a snack/dinner.

A laid back Sunday!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy: Day 1

Hi friends! I am back to the blog space and United States. My first two weeks back “home” have been a whirlwind…more on that later. In the meantime, I am going to continue to recap my last trips in Europe.

Where was I? Oh, yes! I had just arrived to see my host brother Enrico in Cagliari, Sardinia.

I woke up on Saturday morning after a restful sleep. By the time I made my way upstairs, Enri, his father, and brother had already left, but I had breakfast and coffee with Marella. Afterwards, I left my laundry with the sweet housekeeper (I cannot even begin to describe how crazy I felt doing so) before heading out to the archaeology museum. Enri unfortunately could not join me as he had school.

As I walked to the museum, I soon learned just how hilly Cagliari. Lots of steps and steep hills, but tremendous views.

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

Once I found the archaeology museum (after getting lost), I entered free of charge! I learned about the Nuraghi, which were an ancient civilization in Sardinia while looking at pottery and statues. After I finished walking through all the exhibits, I made my way to National Pinacotheca. This museum contained biblical artworks painted on both canvas and wood. Then, I made my way to Museo d’Arte Siamese, which housed swords, statues, and pottery from Thailand.

By the time I wrapped up my time at the third museum, lunch time had arrived so I walked back to Enri’s home. Altogether, the five of us had a wonderful lasagna lunch cooked by the housekeeper.

After lunch, Enri and I made our way to the beach by bus. The weather all day had been pretty grey and overcast, but we both had our fingers crossed that the sun would peak out. Lucky for Enri and I, our wish came true and I was able to see the Mediterranean and its sparking turquoise blue color which is a moment I never will forget. The whole year Enri lived with my family, he claimed no sharks swam in the Mediterranean. I can vouch that I did not see any and my toes were safe!

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Once we wrapped up our beach walk, Enri and I reverted to the sidewalk where we ran into Eugenio and one of his friends. The four of us stopped at a seaside restaurant and chatted over coffee. Eventually, Enri and I left to head back to the city center to meet two of Enri’s friends, Rafaele and Chiara, for Spritz. Rafele said I could not leave Italy without having this traditional orange Italian cocktail made of prosecco, aperol, and soda water, so I drank one along with everyone else. To Enri’s dissatisfaction, the drink was too strong which made everyone laugh. Both Rafaele and Chiara had also gone on exchange the previous year when Enri stayed with my family. I loved hearing about their experiences in Australia and Utah. After drinks and nibbles, the four of us headed out to see Cagliari at night. Not long into our walk, Enri and Chiara realized they both desperately needed a restroom. This led us to go on a hunt for a restaurant where Chiara and Enri could convince the working staff they were dumb tourists (Chiara sounds very American when speaking English) or find a sympathetic server. The sympathetic server won out. Soon after, Enri and I parted ways with Chiara and Rafele.

While walking back to Enri’s house, we caught the tail end of the traditional Sardinian parade (all week had been a holiday).

Day 2 in Cagliari, coming up next! Head back to the home page to read my next post!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Hvide Sande, Vedersø Klit, & Ringkøbing, Denmark

After a full Saturday in Copenhagen, my Sunday started out pretty relaxing with a nice breakfast of toast and pancakes with Louise and Kristian.

Soon after, Louise and I hopped into her car to drive to the fishermen village of Hvide Sande. There, various competitions were taking place. Louise and I arrived just in time to see the fishing waders beauty pageant.

Danish models in the making

After the beauty pageant concluded, Louise and I walked to the top of the nearby bunkers and beach. Nothing quite screams Denmark like windmills near the ocean.

Once we wrapped up our seaside walk, Louise drove us to Vedersø Klit, which is a popular area for Danes to have summer houses. Prior to our beach stop, we pulled off the road at a little shop to have some ice cream and to sample some rum. When we arrived at the coast, the sun decided to make an appearance. Perfect weather for a seaside walk!

Am I really in Denmark?

With sand in our shoes, Louise drove us to the old Danish town of Ringkøbing. There, we did another seaside walk before heading back to Herning.

Bench views in Ringkøbing

For dinner, Louise cooked some delicious Thai food. Upon sitting down to eat, the food was piping hot. While Kristian, Louise, and I waited for dinner to cool down, we started to play the board game Ticket to Ride. As the game began, I noticed Louise and Kristian were playing by different rules than what my family does at home. I pointed this out to Louise and Kristian explaining how I usually play. Kristian made the executive decision that we play by the “American rules.” As the game progressed, both Louise and Kristian said the “American rules” made a lot more sense which made me laugh. Louise ended up sabotaging one of my routes I needed to complete and I ended up losing terribly to Kristian who came in second and Louise who came in first.

A relaxing Sunday!

Leave a positive impression,

Sydney xo

Copenhagen, Denmark

On Saturday, I headed to Denmark’s capital by myself — thanks Louise for sponsoring my ticket!

I boarded a bus at 7:30 am and arrived in Copenhagen around 11:30 am.

As soon as I disembarked, I quickly made my way to Amalienborg Palace to watch the changing of the guards. Quite honestly, I did not stay for the whole thing as I did not have the best view. Arrive earlier if you want to see the changing of the guards!

After snapping a few photos, I walked across the street to the Marble church. Like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Marble Church is Roman-style with its large dome.

Once I finished taking in the beauty of the Marble Church, I headed towards the famous Little Mermaid Statue. Along the way, I made a pit stop at St. Alban’s Church, which is the only Anglican church in all of Denmark. I adored the location of this particular church. Gardens, water, and a fountain surrounded the building which made the area very picturesque!

Finally, I arrived at the Little Mermaid. While waiting to take a photo of the famous statue, a boat drove by with a bunch of Danish (I presume) men drinking for a bachelor party (once again I am presuming). As I am standing on the steps, the men collectively turn around and pull down their shorts mooning everyone with their beers in their hands. Hilarious! I wish I would have snagged a photo of the white butts behind the Little Mermaid, but some things are best not to be photographed!

The Little Mermaid

Once I escaped the swaths of tourists at the Little Mermaid, I began walking in the general direction of the Round Tower. I managed to walk through another beautiful park and through a residential area with some colorful buildings.

After my wanderings, I made it to the Round Tower. I purchased my ticket and began walking up the spiral floor to the top of the building. Throughout the climb, the building had different museum exhibits you could pop in to learn about the tower’s history. Eventually, I arrived at the top and had a beautiful view of Copenhagen. Out of all of the churches and towers I have climbed this semester, the Round Tower had the most space for visitors to spread out so I did not feel claustrophobic at all!

Copenhagen from the Round Tower

Eventually, I climbed down and started walking towards Nyhavn. This is probably the most photographed and iconic area of Copenhagen. The buildings are colorful and the canal is filled with boats, which brings forth thoughts of Amsterdam.

After taking an excessive amount of photos of the buildings and squeezing in a couple camera selfies, I went in search of a boat tour. I purchased a ticket and hopped aboard a boat and listened to Vincent, the guide, enlighten myself and everyone else on the boat with information about Copenhagen and various buildings. Copenhagen is in fact based off of Amsterdam. A past king of Denmark wanted to not only encourage Dutch people to emigrate to Denmark to pay taxes, but also wanted them to recreate Amsterdam. Additionally, the Danish flag is the oldest flag in world. As such, the Danish flag can be seen everywhere. All in all, the boat tour lasted an hour and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Once I disembarked, I walked to Freetown Christiania. This area of Copenhagen lives by its own rules. Most notably, weed/hash is openly sold on the streets. I found the whole area to be very free-spirited and artsy. For me, the murals were neat, but I did not stay long as the smell of weed was overwhelming. Not my scene! If you happen to visit Freetown Christiania, do not take any photos as you will get reprimanded.

Freetown Christiania happened to be the last stop on my Copenhagen “to-do” list so I spent the rest of my time wandering the streets, going in stores that were open (by law stores close early 5:00-6:30 pm), and looking at the architecture before catching my train to Herning.

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