As you all know, I was in Europe for 3.5 months. I have been home for over a week and the time for reflection on this dreamlike haze has commenced. Sometimes, I found myself asking other people “Is this real life?” Because, sometimes I felt like I was just waiting to be woken up from it all, because there’s no way it could have been real. From meeting friends all over Europe, to Paragliding off of an Austrian mountain, to traveling Europe by myself, to riding a gondola, to teaching Polish students English, to living life as a true vagabond, in a troop of what seems like wandering gypsies, I have learned about a million lessons. I’ll just share a few with you. I realize I showed you all a lot of where I have been and what I was doing but not a lot of what that did to me or how much I have changed so, here goes nothing. (No specific order in terms of lessons, all are equally important and intertwined.) Also, a blog about Rome is coming. When I got home I had to catch up on homework and write some final papers so, I’m working on it!
1. Always be yourself, do not conform. Once you start conforming and changing who you are to fit in, it will never end, it’s a slippery slope. By the end, you won’t even recognize yourself. Even though being yourself doesn’t always allow you into every social group, it’s a million times more gratifying to be accepted into a group for who you are. Also, if people don’t accept you, it’s not because there is something wrong with you, or even them really, you’re just different. Understand that being different is a good thing! Do not be ashamed of who you are, ever.
2. With that, understand that: There are people all over the world that will like you for who you are. There are amazing people out there, all you have it do is step outside of your small world to find them. If you have lived in the same city, same state, same country your whole life then you’ve probably been in the same social group as well. Surprisingly enough, there are people everywhere, outside of the place you are from and you may find them to be amazing. I met people on this trip from different countries, different cultures, different backgrounds, etc and after a week of knowing them, I felt like they were family. Sometimes you just click with certain people and you can’t explain why, you just do. Embrace it, find people that love you for who you are. It will help you be the best version of yourself. They will encourage that in you
3. Material things are trivial, unimportant, and when traveling, they are an added stress, physical baggage that you carry that makes you hurt all over and …sweat… It really isn’t worth it. Material things do not define you. I’ve seen some of the top designer stores all over Europe. I went to the fashion capital of the world, Milan and I strolled the champs élysées in Paris, passing by Chanel, Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Prada, the list goes on for days, really it does but, I would see people buying things at those stores and I thought to myself, “Well, that’s one more thing that they have to worry about.” My only thought was that they would then be more weighed down, less free. I love things, I always have. I enjoy possessing nice materialistic belongings and I pride myself on looking the best I can, whenever possible. But, this trip has been the first step in teaching me the lesson I had heard all along… “You can’t take it with you when you die.” So, collecting things, giving physical space to fragments of my life is a waste. All that is important is people and experiences in the end. I can spend my whole life accumulating beautiful things but do you think that when/if I get to heaven, God will say, “Abby, you had a very cute wardrobe, such nice things you had.” No, I highly doubt it. But, he might say something about what I did for other people, what kind of person I was… How much I helped others to serve Him. Focusing on others can be the most enriching experience, finding that you don’t need those materialistic things can free you from selfishness.
4. People will make or break an experience for you. Just as I struggled with negativity, other people struggle with other things. It is very important to not only surround yourself with people you like but people who are as excited about something as you are. I’ve had a few experiences where I was with people who weren’t as excited about an experience as I was and it totally ruined it for me. Surround yourself with people who want to enjoy life with you.
5. Take a step back from the camera when traveling! Self explanatory, if you find yourself traveling anywhere, take pictures, sure, but also take a step back and put the camera down, look at what is in front of you and take it in. Take a mental snapshot of what you are seeing hadn’t remember the feeling, the moment. Enjoy it!
6. Self-growth is truly what the life process is all about. If you’re not growing, what are you doing? Don’t be stagnant. Keep trying to broaden your mind and expand your thinking! It is truly a disservice to yourself and the rest of the world to stay content with mediocrity.
7. Planning is useless. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good plan more than most but usually they don’t go accordingly anyways. The best days I had in Europe were the ones I stumbled upon when I was wandering. In the past I have been someone who puts a lot of stock into my plans and I generate high expectations which are usually dashed. I have learned to let God show me where to go because He knows better than I do what’s coming.
8. You can be as independent as you want but you need to realize you will always, always, always need community. Being in fellowship with other people is what makes life worthwhile. One of my favorite quotes is, “The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care.” This quote by Hugh Macleod truly showcases what the price of being on an extreme end is like. Live in the middle. Understand that being alone and independent is a blessing but share your life with people too.
9. Try to change the way you think about things. How you think about things is the most important thing in life. You can make your life a prison or palace depending solely on how you thin, how you respond and how you decide to look at a situation. You will be much happier if you choose to think differently, more positively.
10. Being a leader isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s pretty overrated actually… Be okay with not being a leader. That doesn’t mean that you’re a follower and it doesn’t mean that you’re a silent member in a group but instead not being a leader can allow you to express your opinions without the fear of having to appease everyone as the leader would. Being a leader means showing by example, making sure every member is heard, sometimes reserving your own comments to further group development. Not being a leader gives you the freedom to voice your opinion.
11. Home is where the heart is, but home is not a building. Home is where you make it, where you are with people that are close to your heart. I realized when I was in Europe that I had left my heart at home but after meeting Brooke, Francisca, Tomasz, Domi, Ania, My german class, countless other people, I realized I hadn’t truly left it at home. I had just simply chosen not to make Europe my home for those three months, but when I did, my oh my, did I enjoy it.
12. Life is only as exciting as you make it. Some people think that my European adventure was the most exciting thing to ever happen to me, and it was, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get bored. There were moments where I actively chose not to have a good time. I was in a new country more times than I could count and yet I found myself bored, that isn’t a problem with the traveling or the place I was, that’s a problem within me. Finding excitement isn’t about where you are, but who you are. I know people who can explore the city they have lived their whole lives as if it is some exciting new playground. Be like them and be excited in every moment God gives you.
13. Life goes on. It is more than okay to be sad sometimes, but note that I said sometimes, not all the time. MODERATION IS KEY for absolutely everything. Don’t do things in excess! The ancient Greeks knew it long before any of us, moderation is the key to a good life.
14. Remember through your little mess, how big you are blessed. Try to remember that things will be okay, you will be okay. God is always giving you grace, so give yourself a little. You are blessed.
15. Not everything is the end of the world. Realize what the big stuff is and what the small stuff is. Sometimes bad things happen, you lose something, or you don’t get invited to something, you don’t get exactly what you want. You’ll survive, just remember someone out there has it a lot worse than you. I witnessed a lot of homelessness in Europe and it made my heart ache. It really puts things into perspective for me. I truly appreciate all that I have and all that I am able to do. It would be a waste to not recognize it.
16. Flexibility is your friend. If you’re willing to be flexible, anything is possible. The most amazing things can happen if you just let go of some of that control you have your grip so tightly around. Predicting outcomes rarely produces anything except maybe disappointment.
17. When traveling, understand this: Less is more. Chances are if you’re in Europe or anywhere, you will want to buy tons of stuff because it is all so different and well, why not? But if you already brought with you a ton of stuff, then you won’t have much room for your new stuff. So pack light in both expectations and material belongings and see where life takes you. I can promise, if it takes you to Europe, you’re already winning.
18. LOOK UP, REALIZE THIS: PEOPLE AROUND YOU ARE GOING THROUGH STUFF JUST LIKE YOU. Surprisingly enough, you are not the only person on the planet that has issues and problems. That should be a comforting fact. But, my point is… look up, try to help, be there for people, they’ll hopefully in turn be there for you, just realize everyone is walking around with their own scars and many of them are still licking wounds that you have no idea about. Be mindful of others. Try to help if you can.
19. There are blessings in disguise everywhere. Try to look for them, be open to them and let God work in your life. Open your eyes.
20. At the end of the day, stuff is only stuff. Don’t place too much stock into earthly items and materialistic belongings, you can’t take them with you when you die anyways.
21. Don’t be too prideful. It will only leave you hurt, that moment when you’re too prideful to tell people how you feel or go that extra mile for someone or do anything… It’s too much and chances are God will call you out on it. Remember He knows the true you.
22. Realize that you cannot expect the same treatment that you give someone. I’m not refuting the golden rule here: treat others as you want to be treated but… you can’t expect someone to have the same strengths as you. You may be a very skilled interpersonal communicator but the other person does better in groups, you may think they aren’t interested in you but they just aren’t good at what you are good at. Also, say you are very skilled at being empathetic and you can cry with your friends because you care so much but you have a friend that isn’t capable of that, that does not mean they don’t care. All that means is that they are better at something else, like helping you process your thoughts or helping you solve problems. Accept people for what they are and the strengths they possess. Don’t be upset that they can’t love you exactly the way you want.
23. It is good to have moments when you realize how very small you are. When I was standing at 12,000 feet on top of the Swiss Alps or when I was floating amongst the mountains when I went paragliding or any of the countless experiences I had… I had moments where I just realized how truly small I was in comparison to the vast majority of creation. I am a blip on the radar yet the Lord knows the number of strands of hair on my head. The Creator who created all that I have seen, and more knows that much about me. Feeling small is good, it keeps you humble and in constant praise of the Creator.
24. Communication styles are different, adjust or move on. Some people are aggressive, some are reserved, some are confrontational, some are not, and the list goes on. If you don’t like the way someone communicates, understand it or move on.
25. Live a life you can be proud of. Make your mark.
So, it has happened again. I have become intensely busy with all that study abroad entails, and much to the surprise of many, that actually includes studying. Since I left London and went to Portugal, and then back to Vienna and then from Vienna to Millstatt, Austria, my group has phased into a time in our trip where the course load is heavy and classes actually happen… that actually isn’t a joke. For the first 2 months of the trip my group had class with our professor Peggy when it was possible. Once a week after our German classes, then sporadically as we traveled, once we had a full discussion class period in Peggy and her husbands hotel room. My study abroad trip is very unique, being able to travel with my professor and 25 other students is unheard of. I am very blessed by this trip. But, as we have transitioned into this new time at the castle in Millstatt, Austria that my group is living in, we have begun to have class every weekday from 9 to 1. So we went from very little class but sizable amount of homework to class and homework. Therefore, I barely have time to do this and experience life so I took some time off to experience and now I will share. My 5 days in Portugal are the topic today and the story of how I got there alone… Get ready
So, keep in mind I have never traveled alone before, not even in the US. I have never had to go on an airplane by myself or fly to a different city without the security of someone else watching my back, until I had to fly from London to Lisbon alone. My mindset towards this was avoidance until the day before I actually had to fly there… I kept it in the back of my mind trying to have as much fun as I could in London while I was there. But then, the day before I was to fly to Lisbon it hit me, Oh crap, I have to get from my hostel in London to my friend’s apartment in Lisbon alone tomorrow. What was I thinking? But, the day of travel I woke up determined to accomplish what I believed I could do. I woke up, got dressed, finished packing and set out on my journey.
First, I rode the subway with my friend DJ, who I was in London with, to a certain stop where we split and took subways heading opposite directions for opposite train stations. His, to King’s Cross, mine to Victoria. When I got to Victoria Station, I realized I had to figure out how to get to the airport from there… I walked out of the subway to see this train station and instantly felt a little overwhelmed, I remember thinking “Oh man, I am officially traveling Europe alone and there’s no turning back now.” So, naturally, I asked for help. Luckily, everyone in London speaks English pretty much so I just asked an old man and my goodness was he nice. He pointed to where I could buy tickets to the train that took people to the airport and was just so helpful in my moment of confusion, his words to me “Oh dear, it’s right there, you can’t miss it! There’s a sign and many people, oh I am sure you will see it if you just walk over there! I hope I was helpful.” and boy was he. I found it perfectly, bought tickets for the train that was to be 45 minutes long and set off in search of my train. Once I found it, I settled in at a table and began journaling.
I remember thinking, this will be the perfect time to journal a lot because I have been lagging on my journal updates. That was the moment when out of all the 50 seats on the train, this man sits right next to me. His name was Edward and he was a Londoner, maybe in his late thirties. He first offered me a banana, I declined. (HE WAS A STRANGER, WHAT ELSE COULD I DO?) But, he persisted and I accepted one of the 10 he had… Then, he offered me a juice box, I couldn’t say no. I know, I know, most of you are cringing, and thinking to yourself, Abby, why would you accept food from a stranger when traveling alone on a foreign continent? and ya know, my answer would probably be, I HAVE NO IDEA. Luckily, it was not poisonous or drugged and the only positive thing I received by meeting Edward was the banana and juice box because he was a jerk.
Background on Edward, born, raised and educated in London. He had the attitude of an elitist with the accent to boot. He began our discourse by asking me where I was from, etc… He guessed Canada and was hoping I was not from the U.S., I obviously disappointed him when I stated that I was in fact from the United States. He then went on a rant about how “my people” or Americans have bastardized the English language. As a lover of language and of course rhetoric (as a rhetorical communications major, duh) I was very offended. He began to correct the English that he believed Americans have corrupted by throwing away the Queen’s English and adopting their own false way of speaking. I hid my disdain as best as I could by quietly absorbing the information he was attempting to impress upon me, until I couldn’t take it anymore. Excuse me, but if you know me, you know I don’t keep silent for very long especially if I do not like something. If something seems not right to me, I will say something. So, I called him out, began to challenge him conversationally and started a controlled but important conversation with him. We dug out some of his clear prejudices against America and the United States. He claimed he never had any desire to go to the U.S., I told him that I had just been in London and wasn’t super impressed. He respected my opinion but then informed me that he would be going to New York and Miami in the Spring on his way to Rio. I told him that those two cities are not true representations of the U.S. and not to judge the entire nation based on two cities and he agreed. He asked me what my state was famous for, naturally I said 10,000 lakes and the Mall of America. He said the lakes were more impressive, my inner fashionista might disagree. Edward has been traveling for 15 years, he made all of his money off of a club he started after university and then sold it and has been traveling ever since. He is single with no children, trust me, that makes sense when you meet him… Once we FINALLY arrived at the airport (I was four hours early because I hate being late so I went way early… I know, lame) He followed me through the airport because we had the same terminal, we shook hands and he corrected me on how to say my own name because he believes my name is just a play off of the abbey’s and monasteries throughout his home country, but that’s fine, I was happy to see him go. BYE EDWARD, FOREVER. Was not sad to see him go, so that started my free travel adventure by myself.
Then, I had four hours of waiting at the airport to go. I checked my bag, went through security, was frisked by a airport security woman who thought I was concealing something within my bra which was interesting… I obviously was not. She was feeling the under wire of my bra and said “I just need to make sure these aren’t harnessing anything other than your breasts…” Like what? Ew stop. So that was an experience… I walked around the airport, ate at a restaurant by myself, read a little, wrote a little… No wifi, so I couldn’t work on a blog but I found ways to pass the time. Then, after four hours, I got on my plane with no hassle and had no one in the two seats next to me! How nice is that. It was glorious, so I napped all the way to Portugal, just a quick 2 hours.
When I arrived, I had to find a taxi to the apartment that I was staying in. My friend Francisca, who I met in Vienna in my German class and she also lived in my dorm, contacted her friends who she shares an apartment with in Lisbon and they offered to host my friend Brooke and I. That was the biggest blessing of free travel. Once I got a taxi, I hopped in (BMW, not bad eh) and he began to drive me with the windows rolled down past palm trees through the warm night air. Feeling the warmth over me was just a sign that I was in for an awesome 5 days. When I arrived at the apartment, I went up to the door but didn’t know which apartment it was so I just did what any lost person would and pressed all of the buzz buttons on the outside of the door thinking, someone has to let me in… hahahah so many people did. Then, I had to wander up tons of flights of stairs, trying to find the apartment. Then, I heard my dear friend Brooke’s voice and I was ecstatic, I sprinted up the stairs to her and we went into the apartment to debrief about our travel days. Brooke had traveled from Switzerland alone to meet me so we both had stories to share. It was so nice to see a familiar face and be finally comfortable after a long day of traveling alone. We talked, and went to bed to rest the night away.
The next morning, we decided to sleep in a little and then went to lunch, on the way to lunch in the subway, we saw this cool thing below… had to take a picture with it.
We had an awesome lunch and YES, I ate that whole pizza, no shame.
Then we decided, this is basically our vacation, let’s take touristy pictures and get our nails done and massages. We did just that.
Brookie and I 🙂
We tried on weird clothes… I actually almost considered buying this, no joke. It’s kinda cute in a totally ugly way.
That night, we went back to the apartment and did homework, went to bed early, relaxed finally.
The next day, we took a train to Belem. So, Santa Maria de Belém, or just Belém, whose name is derived from the Portuguese word for Bethlehem, is a civil parish of the municipality of Lisbon, in central Portugal.
And of course went here to get the famous Portuguese egg tart pastry!
Wikipedia says “It is believed that pastéis de nata were created before the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jeronimos Monastery in the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belem, in Lisbon: for this reason, they are alternately known as Pastéis de Belém. During Portuguese medieval history, the convents and monasteries of Portugal produced large quantities of eggs, whose egg-whites were in demand for starching of clothes (such as nuns’ habits) and also in wineries (where they were used in the clearing of wines, such as Porto). It was quite common for these Portuguese monasteries and convents to produce many confections with the leftover egg yolks, resulting in a proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country.”
All I know, was the pastry was AWESOME.
Pictures of da pastryyy!
Also, got some Starbucks orange juice. So, clearly I started off my morning right.
I also bought this bag the day before when Brooke and I were out pampering ourselves. I really love it.
The beauty of the sun… Seeing the sun after being in Czech and Poland where it was quite cold for weeks was so nice. I also had just left cold and rainy London so this was so nice.
Saw this cool thing…
Then, as Brooke and I walked towards the Tagus river we saw the Monument to the Discoveries. It is a monument in honor of the Portuguese discoveries and exploration, through which they explored the African coast as well as colonizing selected areas of Africa. Discovered an eastern route to India that rounded the Discovered Brazil, and explored the Indian Ocean. They also established trading routes throughout most of Southern Asia, and sent the first direct European maritime trade and diplomatic missions to China and Japan. Very cool stuff!
It was such a beautiful sight.
Brookie lounging in the sun.
Then, that same day we took a train to Cascais… WHERE WE FOUND THE BEACH.
Finally a reason for sunglasses!
Then, after a day of lounging in the sun and absorbing as much sun as we could, we headed back to the apartment to go out to dinner with our lovely hosts. We were hosted by two girls and a boy, Maria, Claudia and Daniel. They were so awesome.
We went to dinner with Maria, her school colleague Jorge and Claudia and it was a blast to get a chance to talk and learn from each other. Then, we went walking the town! Jorge and Maria are both studying tourism and so they had fun showing us the city and sharing its history with us. Seeing how much Maria loved showing us Lisbon, her passion, made Brooke and I fall in love with it.
Coolest elevator I have ever seen.
Beautiful overlook of the city.
Claudia and Jorge!
After dinner we headed down to a bar in bairro alto to meet up with Daniel, our other host. It was such a fun night full of laughter. Our hosts were so amazing.
Of course the next day, Brooke and I went back to Cacais, to the beach.
Toes in the sand 🙂
Then we had dinner at Cascais and took the train back to spend the night at the apartment packing to leave. But not before Brookie told me to take a picture of the awesome view from our hosts balcony!
The next day was travel day! We were to travel back to Vienna. So we woke up and walked around Lisbon in the morning.
Brooke and I 🙂
I love being near the water.
I had some gelato for breakfast and lounged on this fountains ledge.
Coolest entrance to any Starbucks I have ever seen.
We spent the morning relaxing before going to the airport. I had some earl grey tea 🙂
Bronek is my new nickname for Brookie. I love it.
Anyways, I had an amazing time in Portugal. It was such a restful 5 days that I got to spend with a dear friend and meet new awesome people as well. My hosts were so kind, fun and hospitable. Seeing Lisbon through their eyes was more valuable than anything I could have imagined for free travel. I can’t thank them enough for being awesome and letting us stay with them! I will always remember the memories I made in Portugal. Looking forward to the day I can come back!
A little update on where I am now: CROATIA. I am currently in Lovran, Croatia in a hotel that overlooks the Adriatic Sea. It is a very beautiful place and my group gets to be here for the next ten days! My next post will be about my time at the castle that my group stayed at in Millstatt, Austria for three weeks. That post will include details from the visit from my parents, my weekend in Salzburg and my paragliding experience! Hopefully, I’ll have that coming soon for ya’ll. Until next time!