“…and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together” – Beginning work with GoOverseas

About a semester back, I was contacted by Bus2alps to write an article for a company called GoOverseas. I was to write about ten common mistakes that Study Abroad students make when they’re studying abroad and, in exchange of having the article on their website, Bus2alps would maybe get a little bit more traffic on their site. 

I was excited to have an article of mine published on another website but my schedule at the time of the assignment was insanely hectic. I was the single guide running a tour called Best of Italy which brings students from London, Paris, etc, to see the sights of Italia for eight days covering Rome, Florence, Venice, Verona, and Milan. But between the trip prep, the emails, the guide plans, the mishaps and the fixes, I managed to complete most of the article – it was literally my down time/fun throughout the stress. And, at some ungodly hour in the morning on the deadline, I completed the article in a Roman hostel room, slept for a few hours, and got up to meet all of my new students for the week. 

In the days following, I was entirely too occupied with where my group was, if they were happy, if Venice was going to flood, if they were going to complain about something, if I was going to lose one of them, if they were going to like me, etc and completely forgot I had even submitted an article. Then, a while later, I was notified that it was posted. So exciting! Technically my first published article (on a legitimate website – for travel, no less!) and a humble accomplishment for me. I started exploring GoOverseas.com myself, and saw that there was an option to become part of their Writing Corps. Of course I want to do that. I applied, and a little later was contacted by a GoOverseas employee who personally congratulated me on my article and was very happy that I wanted to continue writing for them.

*Note: What is GoOverseas, you ask? It’s a first for the internet and explained extremely well in their About Section if you want to check it out (and you kinda should because they’re splendid) but, to sum it up, they are the Google of finding a Study/Volunteer/Teach/Intern/Travel Abroad program that is exactly perfect for you.

It was a relief to finally hear praise and to finally be doing something I truly appreciated in its entirety. Writing is not a struggle. Writing about traveling? It’s like asking me to house sit your beach house for a week…oh and we have a two month old puppy that we need you to take care of. WHAT? OF COURSE!

So through this debacle of my Bus2alps career dismount, I was happily writing for GoOverseas. Was I making money? No. Was I getting published? Yup. Was I enjoying it? Absolutely. So when Megan Lee told me I could possibly begin to work for GoOverseas, I was ecstatic. I filled out the application, crossed my fingers, held my breath, turned around three times, threw a coin in the Fountain of Neptune, rubbed the Boar’s nose (this is a pro of living in Florence – there’s a ton of “good luck” things to do around here) and hoped that this’d be the start of something wonderful. Low and behold, I received an email.

 

“Hi Lisa!

 

Great news. Go Overseas is excited to welcome you to our excellent team of Contributing Editors. Welcome to the fam!”

 

 

Finally, I have a writing job. I am an editor. Not only that, I am an editor for a company that is so awesome, they titled my task sheet “GoOverseas <3’s Lisa Harvey”. Talk about making a girl feel special.

 

Today, Florence is dreary, puddles are forming, and my internet has decided that the monotony of staying stable is overrated. I donned my Timberland boots, and, because I had some free time, scaled Giotto’s Bell Tower solo. As I reached one of the terraces, the swishing of the bells could be heard. And soon the giant pieces of metal clanged and my chest hummed with the vibrations of these masterpieces that have sung for so many hundreds of years. I leaned against the marble and looked up at them swinging freely, then glanced out at the city beyond, dappled with rusty terracotta roofs and towers of royalty long-passed. But as the mist of the oncoming rain swirls through the tower, I can’t help but smile. My mind is void of worries about lost students, complaints, or that someone will be miserable simply because they need to tote an umbrella throughout their day. Instead, my thoughts are on the beauty of the Duomo in my view, the glorious smell of the mountains beyond the ancient walls, and the barely-contained anticipation for where the next few months will take me.  

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Moving Forward in a Backward Manner – From Tour Guide to Student

Tea Time near the Duomo

After my recent post about leaving Bus2alps, I have been repeatedly pummeled with a single question: What now? Friends and family from home, friends here, and even some that I haven’t spoken to in ages want to know what is next in my non-traditional life. I wish I could tell you. But the fact is that it isn’t as easy as that. I can’t just blurt out an answer that will solve all of my problems. But I found a small, temporary solution for the time being.

Working with a student-travel company that has a customer base almost completely of american students, even though I have been living in the heart of Tuscany and dating a Florentine (for those of you that don’t know, though, Rami is absolutely fluent in English and sounds American – which doesn’t help my situation), my Italian speaking skills are male – aka “bad”. More like terrible. It has come to the point where my non-american friends immediately switch to English when I enter the conversation. Shop owners (if I don’t dress correctly) welcome me with “hello.” What a tragedy I am.

Because of this and because I now have time on my hands, I have decided to go back to school.

I set off one morning in the Italian sunshine with a simple list of language schools that I thought looked promising. Finding them is somewhat of a challenge at times, for the first few I entered were in old palaces – set on the upper levels of grand staircases that left me out of breath. I’d have to stop before the doorway and collect myself before going in (I also need to start going to the gym again if you haven’t noticed) – then decide if I was going to attempt to ask for information in Italian or English.

A few were boring – the women at the desk uninterested in me. Some lazily shoved papers across the counter with price lists, while others dragged their feet in true Italian lackadaisical fashion while I followed, peeking in the classrooms they motioned to on my “tour.” I wasn’t impressed and slightly nervous that I was expecting more than I could find. Rami was getting frustrated with me sitting around the house with nothing to do and knowing how much inactivity made me restless – even after only a week. I needed to find something.   The last school I looked at that day was the one I chose. Located near the church of Santa Croce, Parola is a small language school that just so happened to be referred to me by my friend, Jess Dante, who now runs The Abroad Guide. Because it was later in the day, the school was quiet when I walked through the door, but a man was behind the desk, speaking with another potential student in rapid Italian.

My speaking Italian is a catastrophe, but my understanding has gotten significantly better in the past year so I could understand down to what type of classes she was asking about, but whenever she walked out the door and he turned to me, I faltered.

Voglio…lo stesso…di lei,” I pieced together – and even though that isn’t remotely correct for numerous reasons, he smiled and began the conversation in Italian – which, as a respect thing, made me feel better. It’s like when you let a toddler dress themselves for school. Probably can’t do it, probably will come out with a tutu, two left shoes, and a belt around their face, but they want to try and feel important so you let them struggle until they decide to ask for help. He continued with Italian for a bit but then did transfer over to English once it was understood I couldn’t possibly ask the questions I wanted to ask in Italian. He explained that I could begin a class within the week if I wanted to, and told me that it would be 490 Euro for a month-long group class with lessons Monday through Friday for four hours a day. When I asked why this was so inexpensive compared to the other schools I had looked at, he grinned and shook his head.

“We aren’t trying to push up prices just because we can,” he shrugged as he did the chin-jut that most Italians do when words seem to fail for a situation. If you want a demonstration, I’ve found myself doing it at times as well. Body language Italian is another whole class in itself, though I believe it is much easier to pick up. He introduced himself then as the director of the school, Simone, and said he had even taught in Boston College for a few years.

“We’ve kept the same prices for years because we can afford to,” he said. “It also allows our classes to be full. We don’t want to offer a class, and then not be able to fill it. We’re here for you; we’re not going to take your money just because you expect higher prices in Florence.”

He persuaded me to take the evaluation test right there, even though the school was officially closed for the day. As I struggled through the questions, mumbling apologies the entire time over my shoulder that this was the first test I had taken in three years, he was very patient and simply waited for me to finish. He told me I was an advanced beginner and that I should start class the next day.

After that interaction, with genuine care about me enrolling in his school, and even though I was out at a club until four in the morning that Monday, I dragged myself to school last Tuesday at 8:45 and began a pretty intensive course that involves two hours of grammar, and then two hours of conversation. I couldn’t be happier.

Though I’ve talked up the school so far, and the first few days have gone extremely well, I’ll wait until I finish the program before I review it fully on here. Hopefully after a few more weeks, I’ll be able to at least begin to insert myself in the Italian conversations that happen in front of me every day.

This week has been a little hectic with the World Championship Cycling Races being held outside my window and I’ll try to write a post about that a little later, as well as a follow up as to my plan for life after my class is up. Because obviously a month long class doesn’t really fix my long-term predicament. But for now, I’m focusing on parole or “words” for a bit.

**Thank you to everyone who has supported me through the past couple of weeks (nevermind years) and helped me with their advice, or simply just listening to my stories and complaints. You don’t know how much it means to me. And of course, a special shout out to my Mum, brother Ned, close friends here and at home, and Rami. Without you, I’d just be empty words on a page.

“Sometimes on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one”

When anyone asks me if they should apply for Bus2alps, to begin the process of trying to take flight and become a traveler, adventurer, and tour guide, the first sentence out of my mouth is always the same:

You are an idiot if you don’t at least apply.

I was stuck. Sitting in a glass cubicle in an office that I hated. My headset clamped onto my temples too hard. My eyes strained from looking at a computer program built in the 90’s (don’t ask…the company had many problems. Being computer unintelligent was one of them). I had been out of college for almost a year and I had an hour-long commute to a dreary, cement building by a decaying harbor in the horrible town of Lynn, Massachusetts. On my lunch breaks in early spring, I would launch out of my seat, grab my sandwich and run out the door and down the street to the sand. The beach was the only comfort in that place. I would roll up the legs of my ugly office pants and stand in the numbing water, watching the planes take off from Logan Airport, and wishing I was on one of them. If I had a really horrible day, I’d let my hair down and jump on the swing-set, pointing my feet to the sky, wishing I was looking down instead of up.

And then I was; peering out of the little oval window down onto the same exact beach I had paced for months. The nose of the plane was pointed toward Rome.

I had thrown myself into a life-changing opportunity that began with a delayed flight and a last-minute solo trip through multiple countries. Which was appropriate, according to my track record of travel previously. And then it began. Life as Bus2alps knows it. And it was beautiful, and I learned. 

In the past year and a half, I have accumulated so much knowledge, experience, stress, life lessons, and happiness. I conquered public speaking. Give me a microphone and I can ramble for hours. ( I can even tell people to “PLEASE LISTEN BECAUSE THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT” without sounding like an incredible snot). I have learned to navigate cities I haven’t even been to. I have more patience with people than I ever thought possible. I have learned the art of persuasive speaking – in ways that can make a rainy day seem like just the waiting time for a rainbow. I can communicate in languages you have never even heard of. Not fluently, but, you know, like hand signals and stuff. Try asking for a fork in Croatian and see how far you get…I got salad tongs on my first try. I can also actually communicate in Italian, though it’s broken, and I sound like a two-year old. But I can understand almost everything, and if a bus driver comes at me in rapid Napolitano dialect, I can get the gist of it enough for me to know if I should duck and cover, or simply nod in agreement.

I can stomp up to a hotel manager and demand that his night staff treats my students more professionally, and he actually listens to me.  Like, he actually takes me seriously. I can discover alleyways that lead to perfect views of perfect historical monuments that allow travelers with me to take perfect pictures that make their trips perfect. I am proud of my fun facts and secrets too. I can work my way through the Constant Contact program with ease and send out mass emails like it’s my job. I can give a walking tour of Venice, Milan, Verona, and Florence. (And piece one together in Rome if need be) I can use Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, every major social media program in ways that help build a company, instead of just ways to pass around cute cat videos. (Though I can do that well too) I can make friends in any country, in any language, but I can also make business contacts as well. I can suck it up even when I’m having a bad day – because I have to – because my happiness is the key to others. I can sell you something without coming off as a pushy sales person. That may not mean that I am a salesperson or make millions, but if I am telling you to buy something, it means that I believe that you are perfect for this product and this product is perfect for you. (Sorry I’m not sorry.) I can now explain to you in great detail about international immigration laws. I can find beauty in even the most desolate parts of a town. I can be planning on leaving for Oktoberfest one minute, and be absolutely (ok not right away but I got there) ok with going to Croatia instead. I can navigate the Rome bus and subway system, the Venice vaporetti system, the Milan Subway, and the Vienna subway with ease. I can multitask like a mofo.  I can live out of a suitcase every weekend and be organized enough that I have everything I really need. I have learned how to look completely (ok not completely but close) calm when going through passport checkpoints.  I can pick a movie for a group of fifty individuals and have the majority like it (most of the time). I can give a pretty kick-ass boat tour around the isle of Capri. I can say I have grown to be more confident in myself with asking for directions when needed. I can say that I have matured more in a year than in all of high school and college put together. I can dress so that I look European enough that I don’t get questioned on the streets. I can find cheap flights easier than most.

I have learned so much (that list is only what comes to mind right now but it is so so so much longer than that)  and have been able to experience so much: Flying off into narrow canyons in the shadows of the Alps, diving into the crystal-blue waters off of Capri, making friends in Sorrento, eating too much chocolate in Perugia while winding down its narrow cobblestone alleyways, parading up the same church isle as Julie Andrews, skiing the Jungfrau area until my legs gave out and my eyes hurt from the greatness of the ice, snow, and rock of the Eiger looming above, eating fish off the bone on an island hopping cruise that took us to the tiny towns of Croatia boardered with colorful, worn, wooden boats, falling asleep while looking at the white-washed world under feet while heading to the top of Mt. Solaro, having a humbling conversation with a weathered Roman man on the bus to the Vatican, diving through canyons full of glacier runoff, discovering secret gardens, making gelato, finding the closest thing to Belle’s library and dancing around in it almost alone, seeing the Lippizaner Stallions breathe white puffs of air as they rest in their stalls in the center of Vienna, sledding at night under the biggest sky with the brightest stars I have ever seen, walking the halls of an emperor’s summer home as the moonlight glints on the marble floors – still in tact after centuries.  I’ve hiked up mountains as I listened to the sound of Swiss cowbells, swam through caves trying to avoid the sting of jellyfish – pink against the green water, glowing and reflecting on the rocks above.

I’ve listened to so many stories, of old men when they were young and fit, diving into the water from the nearby rooftops, I’ve met aspirational rappers, and mothers missing their children as they study in other parts of Europe. I’ve met butchers, farmers, and jewelry designers. I’ve met American students that fit the stereotypes so perfectly, I have to apologize for them, and others that have baffled me as to how inquisitive, smart, and kind they are – and how willing they are to learn about the world. I have met bearded guys on the train that kept me company, I’ve met pilots with daughters my age that are working in South America, I’ve met crazy, crazy people who like to base jump on their days off (and secretly wish I could go with them). I’ve met people who have followed their hearts across oceans, and now live completely different lives than they thought they would – simply because of love. I’ve  met many that have felt unwanted and discriminated by the United States, and because of this, I have learned even more than if I had just stayed home. I have met many, learned so much, but there is one that I have met and learned from that is above all of this: Rami.

Before Bus2alps had an office, our hours of internet were to be held in Astor Cafe – left side of the Duomo, you can’t miss it. And if you know me, you know the story. But Rami Saltagi was different and because of him I survived and thrived in this past year. I met him early, but soon was in love with him and soon my dream of living and working here with Bus2alps, coincided with living and working on my relationship with him.

Maybe that was my downfall, because I wanted to spend time with my boyfriend and my company. For, truthfully, Bus2alps is a lifestyle, not a job – and having anything else is definitely difficult. Maybe it was because I didn’t entirely “fit in” with the group of people who were my co-workers. Maybe it was because of mistakes I made early on in my life with Bus2alps that I couldn’t fix or make up. Maybe it was simply because I could not be a salesperson.

But recently, Bus2alps told me that I had to make a decision. One way, I would salvage my history with them and maintain my position in the company so I could travel with them and do what I love for at least another semester – but I would be making a conscious decision that may put my relationship in more legal trouble than it already is in. In the past year, I had given the company my everything. I had worked my ass off. I had done everything they asked of me legally to do to the point where I had nothing else to give. But this was asking too much.

The other option? Quit.

Sometimes, on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one. I got lost. Lost in the foam of a perfectly created cappuccino, lost in the echo of “BUONGIORNORAGAZZE” every morning, lost in the shadow of the Duomo, and lost in the brown eyes of a European.

Bus2alps was my dream, and I lived it for a year and a half. But now, I’m sitting in Florence, jobless, but completely satisfied knowing that I have found so much of a better dream than what I had in my head when I flew over that beach.

Maybe the second sentence about Bus2alps will be filled with painful truths and some warnings, but I shake them when I say the first. I make it stick, because flying here on that first plane, was the best decision I have ever made.

So, though I never was given a thank you, I will give one to them.

Thank you, Bus2alps, for allowing me to learn, to grow, to see Europe. Thank you for the opportunities, the lessons learned, the tough skin, the lows and the highs. Thank you for the stress – it only made me learn to deal with it better. Thank you for the demotions. It only made me work harder. Thank you for the days at the lake, the nights on the mountains, the dinners under the Tuscan sun and the toasts of Champagne to being young, wild, and free. And thank you, more than anything, for putting me in Florence, when I asked to be in Rome. And for having office hours at Astor every morning at 10 am.

Thank you, so.incredibly.much, for that.

Stop worrying, start dreaming.

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It’s August. Breathe in. Breathe out. Stop looking at those plane tickets sitting on your desk. Stop counting down the days. It’ll come soon enough. Stop stressing about what to pack, will I miss home, will I miss peanut butter too much, how will I make friends, what will my room be like, will I eat too much Nutella and gain the study-abroad fifteen, will I be able to wear my clothes and not stand out, what will my nights be like, will I have fun, how in the world will I only bring fifty pounds of stuff, where do I want to travel, how many toiletries do I need to take with me, will I make friends, can I pass my classes, will I be able to get around without constant connection to the internet, what do I do about bidets, how many classes can I skip to travel, will I like the food, what will I do for fun, will I make it to Oktoberfest, can I get to learn the language, can I use my straightener without it blowing up, will my family miss me too much, will I hate not being at my college, will I be able to fit back in when I get home?

Stop it. Stop the worry, stop the stress, stop the thoughts. (and if you’re truthfully that worried, talk to one of our guides. We can honestly answer all of your questions.) But first, instead of doing that, take a break.

Instead focus on something like this: Walking cobblestone streets and calling them home, smelling fresh baked bread early in the mornings, the feel of your body plunging into waters off the coast of somewhere beautiful – the deep aqua-blue that you’ve only seen in pictures. Sitting in class and learning about the Coliseum, and then reaching out and touching its worn stones only hours later. Skyping your family from your apartment as you look out your window onto an incredible view of Dublin, the illuminated streets of Rome, or the late night street performers in Florence. Getting lost in the narrow streets and canals of Venice while you find the perfect Murano glass ring to give to your mother, paddling out into the surf off the coast of Portugal and catching your first wave back to shore, or walking out of the club as the sun rises over a new city you’ve come to love for it’s vibrance, music, life. Grabbing a ticket on a tour, getting on the bus, and sitting down in a seat next to a stranger, that you soon decide to jump out of a plane with a little later in the weekend, or fly down a canyon with in nothing but a wetsuit, life jacket, and funny helmet. Laughing at new inside-jokes at a local pub, learning the public transportation system down so well you begin helping tourists, and truthfully, becoming a local in a place that you have only dreamt about visiting. Living in, and loving Europe.

Imagine that.

Tipping in Italy

When studying abroad or simply traveling, there are certain things that your school, program, or the internet may tell you that aren’t necessarily true. Who made up these info sheets for you guys? Sometimes I wonder if the writer has even been to the places that they’re writing about, or are they simply stealing information from other sources on the web. Because there’s a certain rule that I was even told before flying over the big blue ocean to Italy that really doesn’t hold any water – but I only realized it when I got here and met the people that were getting cheated. 

Fact: Though waitstaff and bartenders do get paid more than in the US, in Italy, tipping is still nice to do – and most importantly, appreciated. Many believe that in the tourist areas the “coperto” or cover charge is in replacement of tipping, and even after excellent service on a 200 Euro bill, get up and walk out with (hopefully) just a thank you. However, that cover charge does not usually go towards your excellent waiter as it should, but simply to the owner. 

 

It has been the case for years that it has been said that tipping isn’t mandatory and I’ve even heard that it is deemed ignorant and rude to tip in some areas. But in most cases, especially in the tourist areas of Italy, a tip is appreciated, if not expected. These people run themselves ragged serving thousands of customers in the high tourist season and truly do not make that much. 

Tipping should simply be the same as in the states. These people are not millionaires off of a waitstaff salary – and bartenders here maybe earn half of what bartenders do in the States. So when you get an amazing Spritz or Bellini, or a Florentine steak cooked to perfection (meaning rare, guys! anything more is a tragedy), throw a few extra Euros on the table. Especially if you’re a regular, the service after tipping becomes substantially better. 

Behind the Mainstream Study Abroad – Moments that are worth Duplicating

Sitting in my apartment, I can hear tourists pass by on the Florentine street outside my window. Some complain about the rain, others comment on how beautiful the Duomo is. Some girls pass talking about day trips they’ll do while they study here, while others scoff at the fact that there’s a Subway Sandwich shop across the street. “Are you kidding?! When there’s an amazing Panini place right around the corner?!” All the conversations are varied, yet so much the same – living or visiting this beautiful city and looking at it through the eyes of a foreigner. But sometimes, I wish I could tell them that they need to stop and step off the main path. Adventure. I wish I could share some experiences that are my favorite – but if you’re reading this – maybe you can recreate these moments.

 

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Sunrise somewhere: Before the tour groups step off their busses, before the restaurants open up their doors and unfurl their tablecloths out into the summer air, stroll the streets of dawn.

We woke when it was dark out and crawled out of bed, fumbling in the unfamiliar hotel room – donning jeans, a sweater, boots that I thought would make me fit in while I was in Italia. Caitlyn looked at me and questioned this decision, is it worth it? I responded with a resounding yes. I had done this before. We stepped outside our hotel – a small canal silently greeting us, a red rowboat sleeping peacefully in off-season air. And then we began, a walk through twisting and turning streets of dormant shops and ornate doors to come up upon the Grand Canal of Venice – just in time to see the golden sunset begin to shed light on the City of Bridges. Below us, the only boats were of the Venetians – Gondoliers uncovering their golden gilded boats, their striped shirts contrasting upon the rose and faded walls of an exhausted city. But in this moment, senza touristi, it became alive again. The real Venice; radiant in life instead of a travel book.

Conversation without Social Media: Turn off your phone when you travel. The person next to you could change your life.

I was lost in Rome, again, but managed to find a bus stop that seemed to point me in the right direction of the Vatican, I hoped. It wasn’t too crowded – not like rush hour when you are pressed up against other bodies, all just desperately clinging onto the bars and handles available. Now, in the evening chill, I stepped lightly into the orange bus and faced forward, beginning to search for signs that confirmed my arrival at the heart of Catholicism. He was quiet at first, and maybe it was my outfit that gave me away, but when the bus came to a stop at the next station, he patted my wrist. “Due piu” he smiled at me behind thick-rimmed glasses. Two more stops until the Vatican. When he realized I could speak minimal Italian, his face brightened, his brown eyes swam and he began teaching me the landmarks that were passing by the window. He spoke about the beauty of women when they don’t wear makeup: “that is when they look most beautiful, when they first wake up in the morning,” and as the Vatican came into view, he grinned, told me to drink the water from the fountains in the square and sent me off. A true Roman, he will be in my memory forever.

Adrenaline: Do something that scares you:

“I can’t wait,” I had boasted as we rode through the Swiss Alps. I saw the guide’s eyes flicker to my face in the rear-view mirror. I loved heights and adrenaline. I had seen my friends jump before, but canyon jumping was new to me – and as we pulled up to the bottom and saw another jumper fall gracefully into the crevice with a loud WHOOP, I was terrifyingly ecstatic. And the higher we climbed up to the platform, the more nerves began to creep into my system. The tremors in my legs began as I was fixed into the harness. I stepped out onto the metal grate with the guide. His smile was trumped by the sheer drop off behind him. “Are you ready?” he asked, and as I turned to face forward, I looked around. The Eiger was to my right – in the setting sun, in all of its glory – a Swiss Alp towered above us. Below, so, so far below, the river crashed over the rocks, daring me to jump, daring me to try and fly. Split second decision, my muscles moved, my feet left solid ground and I was falling, falling so fast, so far, my stomach clenched, my heart raced, it was too far, too fast, a free-fall like a bird soaring, and then the rope caught – swung me through past those that had already jumped, and back again. I could breathe, and as I looked up from where I had just come, I gave a “whoop” of my own. No roller coaster will ever compare.

Delve into other cultures: Break out of your comfort zone to begin to understand others.

“Here, I cannot speak with a girl like this,” he says. His dark brown eyes squint into the Moroccan sun, searching the horizon for the next surge of water from the Atlantic. I don’t understand what he means. I lean forward to look at him closer and the nose of my board settles into the water. He turns and glances at me and then back to the water, his dark brown shoulders glistening with droplets of salt water.

“If I want to speak with a Muslim girl, it is secret. No one can know. Here is one. Turn,” he leans toward me and pushes at my leg, eyes still on the ocean. I look out, see the swell, and obediently turn and lie on my blue and white surfboard, chin hitting wax, resting my eyes on the golden Moroccan sand with Mounir’s board and back to my left. Still sitting, his muscles ripple as he balances.

“That’s stupid,” I say over my shoulder. “How can you talk to them in private if you don’t know them?” The sun is hot. He chuckles and tickles my foot.

“Paddle.”

“I couldn’t be Muslim,” I say as I feel the wave build behind me. He laughs again and takes hold of the back of my board, one hand resting on my calf, he pats it twice. The earthen scent of Argan Oil from his skin drifts towards me on the breeze.

“No…you are too strong….paddle,” he reminds me.

I sweep my hands into the water and under my board, pushing. I hear the wave crashing to the right of me. I feel Mounir push me forward.

“Stand up!” he calls under his French/Arabic accent. The wave carries me from him, surging me toward the beach. I can feel the board bouncing on the tumult. My hands push up against the board, my muscles tense, legs bend. I stand and shift my weight, easing the board into the side of the wave, gliding it down the stretch of water. I push against the water, up and down, pumping the board parallel with the wave until it breaks. I glide to the shore with the foam, jump off, feel the grit of the sand under the soles of my feet. I turn toward the horizon, raising an arm up to shield the sun. His silhouette gives a thumbs up as the ocean glistens behind him.

Run, hike, bike, climb – while you are still young enough:

“You won’t last in jeans,” I tell the guys as they stand in front of me. It’s autumn in the Swiss Alps, about fifty degrees, and I’m in a tank top and shorts. “It’s too rough and you’ll be sweating in about fifteen minutes.” But they were stubborn and came anyway, and as we started our ascent, the hike grew steep and they started stripping layers. I hated to say I told them so. But it didn’t matter – because they were doing it. We talked as we hiked, getting glimpses of the snow-covered alps on the other side of the valley – with the town of Interlaken nestled before us. I learned about the group, their time abroad, their home life, what sports they played, and we stopped to take pictures along the way. It grew steeper, and sweat started pouring, the banter stopped, for we needed to breathe and muscles ached. We climbed up into the mountain pastures, collected water from a hollowed out log used as a basin for the spring water used to satisfy the thirst of the cows that grazed there in the summer – their bells chiming in an unorganized harmony. When we reached the summit, I turned to the group and was met with smiles and astonishment as they looked out over the lakes and mountains. “Thank God I did this and have the ability to do this,” one said to me. Take care of yourself and challenge yourself – for sometimes the best views are at the other end of a climb.

Summer is a’comin!

The street musicians are back in the cities and the coastlines are warming up, flowers are blooming and outdoor seating in the piazzas is popping up as quickly as the tulips; summer is coming, and Europeans couldn’t be more excited.  Stepping off the plane for a summer in Europe is exciting, stupendous, astounding, breathtaking, and sometimes a little annoying because of things you may miss from home – but seriously, it’s guaranteed to be one of the best summers of your life.

The heat of the summer is inevitable in Europe – especially in Italy, and other more southern areas. Regardless of where you are, there are ways to beat the head (even if you don’t have AC where you’re staying). Eat lots of frozen treats – granitas and gelato in Italy, for example. Have a fruit smoothie with locally grown fruits. Staying hydrated isn’t usually a problem in the cities (or even the little towns like Interlaken, Switzerland) because of the numerous water fountains located around the area. Some, like the one in Piazza Signioria in Florence, even have sparkling water as an option. This water is either glacial or at least pretty cold and much better than spending your money on bottled. Take advantage of it.

Also, make sure you stroll at night – when the city comes alive after the sun has set. Dress up for it and sit outside the bars or in the outdoor seating areas in restaurants (no open container laws usually!) and enjoy the summer night surrounded by the beauty of Europe. Take the high road and go to a vantage point above the cities as well. Most illuminate their most coveted monuments so a view of the cities at night is just as beautiful, if not more so than the day. Plus, the heat has resided so you may even enjoy yourself a little more. *Side note – in some cities at night, the mosquitoes are out. Prepare yourself by bringing repellant or at least a lotion to cool the bites afterwards!

Make sure to hit the beach at some point. Most Europeans do during the summer to beat the heat as well. Difference is – most beaches are paid here – meaning you throw a couple Euros their way, and you get to be treated like royalty with beach lounge chairs and your own umbrella. Usually this cost also includes showers (because the seas are pretty salty here) and sometime of changing area and food shack. Though different, it’s cool to feel welcome and fit in on a beach here. If you really miss just lying on the sand with your towel, you usually still can on a small area of “free beach” but it definitely isn’t as nice as the others.

But most of all, experience the European lifestyle as it is in the best season to see it – when everything is bustling and booming, and the European citizens are happy that the long winter is over. What you may miss with barbeques and Fouth of July parties, you’ll get back with food festivals in piazzas and beauty that is insurmountable. Good Luck with the flight over, and we’ll see you in the city!

            

You know you’re studying abroad in Florence when:

Just a start to the list. Feel free to add your own!

You know you’re studying abroad in Florence when:

  • You use the sight of the Duomo to find your way back to the apartment.
  • You completely give up wearing heels because of the cobblestones.
  • You get arms of steel while carrying groceries back to the apartment.
  • You have to go up a million stairs just to get to your front door…that is, your second front door.  
  • You personally recognize all of the gypsies but still refuse to give them money.
  • You only get leather products from Massimo. 
  • You have an Astor Coffee Card and use all four. Every. Day.
  • Pino knows you by name when you walk in, and what you order.
  • You get aggravated by the throngs of tourists in front of the Duomo because you’re late to class.
  • You can get shots anywhere, but you go get and Eby’s shot on special occasions.
  • You get your pizza in a heart shape at Gusta.
  • You start stopping to pick up change from the ground because it could be 2 Euros – not just a quarter.
  • Running into a random event/parade/music performance is normal.
  • You know there are cat-sized rats living in the Arno.
  • You know the best wifi spots in the city for when the router in the apartment goes on the fritz.
  • You never ever will take a very long, hot shower for granted ever again in your life.
  • You don’t flinch at the mention of brain, tongue, or stomach as food items, though you aren’t sure about the idea of eating them yet.
  • You know about the guy that roams the streets around Dante’s house quoting his work…and refuse to make eye contact.
  • You have succumbed to the late night Kebab. And hated yourself the next morning.
  • You have tried pear pasta and have fallen in love.
  • You have a favorite gelato place, and get in aggressive arguments if others have a different opinion.
  • You hate the umbrella sidewalk battles when it rains.
  • You miss insulated houses…and rugs.
  • You want to pet every dog that walks by because you miss yours way too much.
  • You secretly want to eat at the HardRock but feel embarrassed to admit it.

Flickers

Sunrises and sunsets pass by my brown eyes like flickers in an old movie – the film running through the reel so fast it’s a blur, yet I can still pick up the individual photos. But my eyes are supposed to be blue here, according to the Italians. Mostly, the men who, with their withered hands painted a ruddy brown by years of the Italian sun, grab my freckled arms and shake me into believing I’m as bella as they say I am. 

A year is nothing, yet it is everything. And I walk these cobblestones with a new-found confidence that I know this area well enough to strut through it like I own it. But yet, I don’t, for I crumble under the pressure of ordering a simple meal in Italian when the right people are sitting across from me. Awaiting the stumbling over words and mispronunciation, as my tongue gets caught on the “r’s” that they so seamlessly purr among the Medieval towers I now call somewhat of a home. 

So it is that “hanging-in-the-balance” life I’m living. When I fit in but don’t. When I breeze by century old buildings without a care, but then discover a peculiar stone that fascinates me for days. I am over pasta, but under the impression that I will never have enough wine, or kisses, or sunsets. I will never have enough sunsets. Not here. I know that I will always want one more. Even if I leave, I will need to return. I will have to. My brown eyes couldn’t bear it if I didn’t. 

Why We Do What We Do

As we come off the high of spring break and the craziness of realizing that the semester is already over halfway through, we realize that all of us here, while we are driven by crazy schedules and all go off in different directions every weekend, still have complete common ground when it comes to why we are here, doing what we do.

Yes, we brag that our weekends are spent on the black sand beaches of Positano, or perched up high in the Alps of Interlaken. And our jobs may look pretty selfish (if we hear that we have the coolest job ever one more time, our egos may explode) but truly, we’re here for you, and because Bus2alps was here for us when we studied abroad.

We do this job for the travel, yes but we do it to travel with people who love to travel as much as us. We do it to hear the whole bus ooh and ahh as we turn the last corner and see the lights of Sorrento cascading down to the ocean at two in the morning. We do it to see the pride on the faces of those that just finished the hike to Monterosso al Mare in Cinque Terre. We love having you walk into Balmers with wet hair and a smile on your face as you start telling us how incredible canyoning was. We love seeing your eyes light up at the architecture of Prague, the sunset on the islands of Greece, and the taste of the prefect gelato. We love seeing a group from all over the country and from different schools coming together to play cards, kick a soccer ball around, and toast to new friends. JMU with FSU, the artists of SACI collaborating with the chefs of RMU. This is why we’re here. We do it to hear that famous line; “this has been the best day/weekend/week of my life.”

Our aim is to make your experience here more fun and allow you to see sights you may never have the opportunity to see otherwise. We did it while abroad, and now we’re spreading the secret to making study abroad the best memories of your life with the best and fastest growing student travel company in Europe – your favorite Bus2alps. Thank you for the memories of the past couple weeks, we can’t wait to spend more time with you in the next few!ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage