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A Bittersweet Reunion

A Bittersweet Reunion

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of touring my parents, who flew 4,813 miles from Wisconsin, around Rome. Our time together in Rome couldn’t have come at a better time. It was exactly halfway through the semester, right when homesickness was rearing its head. Seeing them brought me comfort and being able to share my new home with them was more special than I could have ever imagined.

From strolling to Piazza de Spagna to Piazza Navona, I made sure to pack in all of the touristy stops along the way. We sampled the local cuisine at my favorite restaurants: Ristorante Edy, Old Bear, and even Osteria Dell’Anima (the Loyola famous “Pear Pasta” spot). We tossed coins into the Trevi Fountain and sipped authentic cappuccinos at Tazza D’Oro. My parents even joined my on-site Roman Catholicism class, and were welcomed with open arms by Father Rudolf as we toured the Lateran. Then, at the end of the week, we packed our bags and set out for Venice.

Venice was exactly what I imagined it to be; a sinking time machine. As expected, being in Venice was unlike any other Italian city I have traveled to, and it took a second to process that there are zero cars on the lagoon, and transportation is dominated by water. Taking a water taxi and gondola ride were experiences I will never forget, and will forever give props to the expert gondoliers that navigate the choppy waters. We had a great time wandering over bridge after bridge and watching St. Mark’s Basilica slowly start sinking underwater.

Parting with my parents wasn’t as sad as I thought it would be since there are only five weeks left in the semester. I am already getting emotional thinking about having to leave Rome, but seeing them again definitely reminded me of all of the love that is waiting for me back in the states, and that in itself, is bittersweet.

 

A Dreamy Paris Weekend (don’t mind my reminiscing)

A Dreamy Paris Weekend (don’t mind my reminiscing)

Bonjour,

There’s a certain weight to the way Paris sounds when you say it, even audibly, it’s luxurious.

I booked a Friday plane ride to Paris the Wednesday before I went, and I’ve been itching to write about it.

May I present: Paris in the fall

My trip to Paris began with me dragging my suitcase down Champs-Élysées in hopes to greet the Eiffel Tower with an insanely wide grin. My stroll across the city, paired with a ham and butter baguette, reminded me that I was walking in a city that was nothing less than a masterpiece. I sat under the eiffel tower drinking the richest hot chocolate I’ve had in my life, feeding pigeons french fries while naming them.

Paris in the fall, what a sight. I stayed in an airbnb that was neighbors to the Picasso Museum (I can’t believe I’m living a real life right now). It was a cozy studio nestled in an amazingly charming neighborhood not too far from Rue de Rivoli (I would recommend the 3rd arrondissement to anyone, although every Paris niche has it’s own charm).

What to do during a weekend in Paris, you ask?

  1. Parks Parks Parks

Jardin du Luxembourg is gorgeous all year round, but in the autumn, it’s a haven. I sat in the grass of the garden surrounded by champagne toasts, children floating mini sailboats in the fountain, and a small crepe stand in the middle of a warm hue of fall leaves. While this park is a show stopper no doubt, there are a plethora of Paris parks that reside in the city– find them, frolic in them, drink champagne, write a future pulitzer novel. The park is your oyster.

 

2.  Free museums

FREE museums. Yeah. The Louvre is free Friday nights for anyone under 26, so you bet your bottom dollar I danced throughout the ancient art and statues (and said hey to the Mona Lisa) on a beautiful Friday night in Paris. There are loopholes to getting into a multitude of museums for free (certain days of the month, certain times, package deals, etc), and if you do your research you’re bound to find something that suits your interests.

 

3. F-o-o-d

Parisian culture is smoking vogue cigarettes and drinking an aperol spritz at an outdoor cafe, but when you’re in the mood for a bite, here’s some dishes it would be a shame to miss:

  • Moules Frites – usually consist of a huge steaming pot of mussels cooked with butter, white wine, shallots, and herbs. They’re delicious and you’ll probably eat them all in like 2 minutes, but with a basket of fries to dip in the leftover cooking liquid, you have every component for a perfect meal.
  • Streak Frites – steak and fries, what could go wrong? A perfectly cooked, thin steak paired with fries is mouth watering and as french as it get. (Ask for pepper sauce if you can!)
  • Bread – croissants. Baguettes. Get them in the morning when they’re warm. They will undoubtedly change your life.
  • Cafe Noisettes  – a perfect couple of sips of coffee with a hazelnut dollop of cream. An absolute delight.

 

Looking for a specific spot to go?

  1. Café de Flore (Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît, in Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 6th arrondissement)

A corner cafe covered in flowers– how can you beat that? Café de Flore is famous for having famous writers and philosophers as it’s regulars. It’s really Paris, really charming, and really overpriced. I would recommend stopping for coffee, not a meal.

 

I stumbled across so many amazing things in Paris, I can’t even count them. Spend your days in the city of love walking around it aimlessly, you’ll venture to a million picturesque places.

Merci pour la lecture!

October 2nd Update: Seville, Cadíz, Gibraltar, Algeciras

October 2nd Update: Seville, Cadíz, Gibraltar, Algeciras

To say that the past couple of weeks have flown by is an understatement.

Almost a month ago, I completed orientation and arrived at my host house in Sevilla, Spain. My roommate and I were greeted by our host mother, and soon developed a friendship with her as she helps us improve our Spanish every day.

As far as traveling goes, my friends and I planned a weekend trip to Algeciras, where we enjoyed the beautiful beach and took a 30 minute taxi to visit Gibraltar, a British territory, where we hiked to the top of the rock and saw the only natural community of monkeys in all of Europe. The views at the top of the rock were spectacular, and the monkeys were very social with many of the tourists.

This past weekend, my study abroad program coordinated a day trip to Cadíz. On the way, we stopped in Santa Maria for a brief winery tour and tasting. Upon arrival in Cadiz, we went on a historical walking tour of the main city and enjoyed exploring the beaches and open-air markets.

Aside from my travels to Cadiz and Algeciras, I have really been enjoying getting to know Sevilla! This past weekend, a nations fair opened and my friends and I had a lot of fun trying the food and dessert from other countries. I look forward to going to; France, Morocco, and Austria, however am trying to plan as many trips as possible while I am in Europe!

One of the many monkeys we saw in Gibraltar. It was amazing how used to humans they are. We made sure not to feed any, but were told that they bother guests for a snack! Here, you can also see the view of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean sea from the top of the rock.
This picture was taken at an outdoor flower shop in Cadiz
One of the many things I love about being in Sevilla is having access to many vibrant and unique stores and restaurants. This is a local tea shop

 

Ciao, Roma!

Ciao, Roma!

It has been a little over a week since I arrived at the John Felice Rome Center, and I still can’t stop pinching myself. From the aroma of oven-fired pizza on every cobblestone street to the blooming olive groves lining Via Massimi, I am starting to see why they say living in Italy is la dolce vita. 

This past week of Orientation has been planned minute by minute by our trusted Student Life Assistants to give us a crash course in Roman life. We’ve toured the Colosseum, splurged on a gelateria crawl, navigated public transportation, relaxed on the beach, and consumed bottles and bottles of wine (thanks Loyola) to toast the beginning of the semester. This weekend we had the opportunity to tour the Italian region of Umbria, and became aquatinted with the whimsical towns of Narni, Spoleto, Foglino, and Citta di Pieve. Sometime during lunch overlooking Castiglione del Lago, or wine tasting at a countryside vineyard, or even reenacting a Roman battle we grew from classmates to friends as we learned about the ancient history of these fairytale-esque Umbrian escapes.

With the commencement of Orientation on Wednesday upon the Mass of the Holy Spirit, I do have to admit that I’m excited to explore Rome on my own terms, and learn more about exactly what is la dolce vita (with the help of gelato, of course).

Orientation in Madrid

Orientation in Madrid

Hola a todas!
Tonight concludes our very hectic two-day stay in Madrid as part of API’s orientation for Sevilla students. Yesterday when I arrived, I met other API students and the director at the airport. From there, they loaded us into a bus and when we arrived at our hotel I got to meet my roommate for this semester! I definitely appreciated how they gave us the opportunity to room with our future roommates before we even arrive in Sevilla. This allowed us to get to know each other better all while experiencing new and exciting things. After an informational meeting we all went out for a group dinner, where we were able to socialize with more students.
This morning, we got an early start as we walked from our hotel to The Palacio Real where we toured the palace. It was amazing to take the time to appreciate such a beautiful place. We had a short break for lunch and after lunch we walked to the art museum- Museo del Prado where we were able to learn about the works of Goya. Tomorrow we will embark on yet another journey to Toledo, where we will stay for a night.

Major takeaways:

– There is a certain shared sense of vulnerability amongst the students in my program- entering a new country with a different primary language. Because of this, it has been easy to make new friends. My advice is to talk to other students, even those you would not typically strike up a conversation with. A lot of times you will find that sharing your experiences abroad thus far-even some of the more embarrassing ones- will help you form connections with other students.
-People will make their intentions/goals while studying abroad very clear within the first day or so. It’s more than okay to make friends with people who have different intentions than you, but I have found that hanging around those who have similar travel goals as you makes you feel much more comfortable when exploring and makes for less awkward situations in the future. If your #1 priority abroad is to immerse yourself in the culture, you might regret limiting yourself to going out to American clubs every night because that is what the majority of your group wants.

 

Taken while walking to the heart of Madrid. I loved admiring the architecture

 

One of the many magnificent ceilings in the royal palace

 

Buen Camino

Buen Camino

During Semana Santa (which was essentially my Spring Break) I walked 165 kilometers of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. I walked for 8 days, with my only goal being to each day get closer to Santiago. There are many different routes, but I walked along the French Way, which is the oldest route and one of the most common for pilgrims nowadays to take. I began my camino in O Cebreiro, which is the first pueblo on the French way in Galicia, a northern region of Spain. Walking the camino has been a dream of mine since I began to learn Spanish, and I know that I couldn’t spend a semester in Spain and not do this.

My program ends May 18th but I don’t fly back to Chicago until June 1st, so my original plan was to walk the camino in my final week of being in Spain. A few weeks before Semana Santa I realized that if I were to swap trips around and do my camino then, I would have 10 days to walk rather than 5, so that is what I did. What that meant though, is that I had to prepare for this 165 km (approx. 100 miles) journey in just a few weeks. I have always loved the outdoors but I had never gone on a hiking excursion like this before, meaning that I had no idea what in the world I was getting myself into. I began to do what I do best– aggressively research and make so many lists to feel somewhat in control of this situation in which I couldn’t even fathom what to expect.

I am a planner. I plan down to the detail because planning,  for me, takes away the a bit of the anxiety about the unknown. I made an excel document detailing which place I would end up in that night, and which albergue would be the “best” to sleep in, but after day one, I ended up disregarding my carefully detailed work. Regardless of how much I wanted to plan, this was a time where I needed to give up control and just exist. Now, that sounds like a lovely thought, and now it is, but I figured this out because the first day I was on the top of a mountain in a middle of a snowstorm. I arrived in O Cebreiro the night before to find a pueblo covered in snow (it felt like a whole different world than Salamanca, which, that same day, was 60 and sunny). I was told by the woman working at the albergue that the following day we would be unable to walk on the pilgrimage trail, but rather we would have to follow the highway until a pueblo named Triacastela. I immediately asked myself what I had gotten myself into, and in that moment I felt entirely underprepared. I hadn’t planned on arriving in Triacastela until my second night, but that first day I hiked there along the highway and through a snowstorm.I arrived to the public albergue freezing cold and soaked to the bone, but I had arrived. Despite the wretched weather, you are always greeted by other peregrin@s with the greeting buen camino. All along the camino you hear this being spoken between pilgrims, as words of encouragement, solidarity, and community.

    

That first day, I began to develop my camino routine. Each night (minus the ones in Santiago) I stayed at the public albergue in the pueblo. The region Galicia has a network of public albergues solely for peregrin@s, meaning that you needed the pilgrim’s credential in order to stay there. Each morning we had to be out of the albergue at 8 am, which meanta 7:30 alarm so I could throw on clothes, brush my teeth, and pack up my bag. Most mornings I got breakfast in whichever pueblo I slept in, and then I walked until I reached the next place I would be sleeping, arriving anywhere between 1 and 5 pm.

Most of the time, I had no idea where I was. Along the camino there are yellow arrows marking the way, so you never had to think too hard about where you were going. A man I walked with for part of a day said to me, “out here, there are only two names for towns: the next and the last.”When you’re walking, pueblos come and go as you walk through, and time doesn’t really seem to exist because your day consists of walking and sleeping. This disconnect from reality brought me a lot of peace– I didn’t have to think about anything except putting one foot in front of the other until I reached the next town.

     

I walked the camino sola, by myself. Before leaving, both my real parents and host parents were worried about me going out into the mountains by myself for ten days, but doing so allowed for me to have one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I began my camino with the intention of using it as a time of reflection and to spend time being connected to God through prayer and nature. I left everything happening in my life back in O Cebreiro, so I was able to focus my energy on being with God. The first day of walking I listened to the playlist I had created beforehand, but the more I walked in silence the more comfortable the silence became and the more out of place the music felt. There were times when I walked with others, but most of my time was spent by myself, in silence, surrounded by incredible beauty. When I did run into other peregrin@s, though, I was welcomed with open arms– there is a wonderful community of support between peregrin@s along the camino.

After about a week of walking, I arrived in Santiago de Compostela. My last day was about a 20 km walk, and it poured the entire way. I arrived at the cathedral the same way I arrived to my albergue the first day: soaked to the bone and freezing cold. But this time, it was the end of a journey rather than the beginning. The cathedral was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I returned to the cathedral more than once so that I could really take in everything. After my first visit, I went to the oficina de peregrinación, so that I could “officially” complete my camino by receiving the Compostela stamp in my credential passport. The reality that I had arrived didn’t start to set in until the next morning, when I didn’t have to wake up at 7 to walk more. I spent the next day and a half exploring Santiago, visiting the Cathedral, and reflecting on the experience I had just had.

     

After that week, I felt closer to God than I had thus far while living in Spain. I had intended to use my camino to be in conversation with God and to strengthen my relationship with Her. I was on a Jesus high, and as always, I didn’t want that feeling to leave. Going back to Salamanca, I felt at peace. My entire body hurt, but my soul was calm. I was utterly exhausted, but recharged at the same time. There were points on my camino where I felt a jealous of my friends who were spending the week traveling to places like Amsterdam, Berlin, and Budapest, whereas I was in the mountains, walking until my body couldn’t take anymore. Ultimately though, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. Since coming home from Santiago, I have begun to notice the indicators for the camino wherever I go, and each time I see one I feel at peace again.

Seen in Cádiz, Salamanca, and Brussels!

22 Days Left

22 Days Left

It’s crazy to think how much time has flown by. I feel like I haven’t done a lot during my time here. However, I have. I have had the great opportunity to travel all over Europe, which I thought would be impossible as a low-income and first-generation student. Yes, money gets tight. But there is nothing that budgeting can’t help you with right? I have learned SO much during my time here and I want to share with you what I have learned so far.

  1. GO OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE: I know it can be extremely hard to talk to people you don’t know, but this is the time to get comfortable. if you end up having an awkward encounter it doesn’t matter. You will likely not see those people after your semester here either way. My own personal example is when I met up with a random classmate in the bus stop. We were both going towards the same direction. Instead of dispersing right away, we decided to explore together. If I didn’t decide to do that, I would have never been able to visit Castel Sant’Angelo. One of Rome’s most famous castles. Take on an adventure with someone you normally wouldn’t. It could be worth your time.
  2. CREATE TIME FOR SCHOOL: There is always plans when you are studying abroad. It can be hard to catch up on the stuff you want to and need to do. You must remember that you are here to study. I have found myself slacking with schoolwork when back at home I would be on top of it. Make yourself a schedule and make sure to follow it. Don’t get distracted by social media or watch Netflix. Sit down and reflect on what you need to do and get it done. Preferably, without people around you. This will lead you to concentrate more with fewer distractions.
  3. MAKE SURE TO TRAVEL IN THE DATE OF YOUR CORRESPONDED TICKET: I recently went with Venice and I misread the date I was supposed to go. I don’t know how it happened but it did. It was super stressful at first because I thought I was going to get caught. At the beginning I didn’t. I was calm and cozy and was even able to take a map. On the way back though, it was a mess. I needed to show my ticket because a couple came in claiming it was their seat. I had to go talk to one of the workers and he offered me options since technically I was not on the right train. First off all, he was extremely rude. I explained the situation and he completely shut me off. He made it seem like I was lying to him when I wasn’t. On the way to Venice, one of the workers said it was fine that I was on the train because there was something wrong in the system. At this point, I knew I had gotten lucky. All in all, make sure you do everything you need to do before boarding your train. Including going on the right date
  4. DON’T LET YOUR EDUCATION GET IN THE WAY OF YOUR KNOWLEDGE: It may not make sense since you are here to study abroad, but think of it this way. You are here studying abroad in a whole different culture and environment. Instead of solely focusing on your classes and staying in the library, make sure to go outside and interact with locals. Increase the knowledge of the place you are studying in. Become more interactive and informed of the ways to navigate yourself around the city. Don’t stay stuck to your books. I know it’s important, but there are ways you can do both. Instead of staying in to study, go to a café to study. Get the cultural experience while you are studying abroad. Make it worth it.

There are so many things studying abroad has taught me and I can definitely say it has transformed me as a person. I feel more comfortable interacting with people I don’t know and I feel like I can navigate things more independently now. I had a lot of easy  accessibility to the things I needed back at home, such as money, food, and comfort. Studying here I don’t have all of that, but I have learned to manage random obstacles and even overcome them. I am still in the learning process though. There is always room to learn right? I am going to make the best out of these 22 days left and learn as much as I can, but also have fun! I’m excited and sad at the same time to leave. But hey, it’s been a good run so far!

Here are some of the places I have visited so far!

 

Ciao!

Jessica Criollo

Pretty in Paris

Pretty in Paris

Make sure to visit this at night for a stunning light show every hour on the hour
If you can afford it, the views from the tower are breath-taking

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Europe before. I saw some cities in Spain, France, and Italy, and loved them all enough to come back. Recently, I returned from a trip to Paris, which I saw last time I was in Europe.

I thought I wouldn’t have much to do, since I’d been to the Eiffel Tower, seen inside the Louvre, and entered the Notre Dame, but I didn’t have enough time to visit half of what I wanted to.

As preparation for this semester abroad, I hunted down works of fiction that took place in Europe as inspiration on where to visit during my stay, and I had a few new ideas on what to see in Paris. This trip was so fun because it was like a scavenger hunt, I was either viewing the touristic attractions in a new light or visiting places a tourist would normally walk by.

Be sure to look for the cat if you don’t have the time to read part of a book in there
A complicated, beautiful work of art. If you think it’s pretty on the outside, wait until you walk in

I highly recommend reading a couple books that take place in the countries you’d like to visit, because that way you’ll learn about new places to visit, or gain more knowledge on places you already know of.

Thanks to the books I have read, I was able to visit the church of St. Etienne du Mont, Shakespeare & Company, and learn more about Point Zero.

I learned Point Zero is where all distances in France are measured. Apparently if you make a wish on it, it’ll come true, and if you don’t make a wish, you’re bound to return to Paris again one day.

Don’t worry, I made sure to stop at Point Zero before I left Paris, but I can’t tell you what I wished for, or it won’t come true!

It’s worn away from the tourists walking past, to Notre Dame
Halfway done??? What???

Halfway done??? What???

This weekend I took my first solo trip. I spent the weekend in a hostel in Granada where I explored the city and built relationships with the others in my hostel. As I wrote this, I was on the bus home from Granada; I went first to Madrid and then I had a shorter ride back to Salamanca. I am exhausted from this weekend, but it was so wonderful and will absolutely be a trip I remember for a long time.

I began traveling at about 8:30 on Thursday evening, and I arrived in Granada at 6:30 AM on Friday. Overnight but travel wasn’t necessarily the most comfortable way to do this weekend, but I was able to spend the full day on Friday exploring Granada because of it. My hostel was about a 35 minute walk away from the bus station, so after a cup of cafe con leche I hauled myself and my backpack towards my home for the weekend. Throughout the semester I have been collecting photos of graffiti that has caught my eye, and the graffiti in Granada did not disappoint.

It was pretty early and I technically wasn’t supposed to check in to my hostel yet, so on my way I just wandered, took my time, and took in the sights of the city. I lived in the neighborhood Albaicín, which is located above the city center which means that it has some of the most amazing views you can find in Granada. I stumbled upon a beautiful view on the way to my hostel and decided to sit and journal for a little bit. I wanted to spend a weekend by myself in part because I wanted to relax and recharge, but also to reflect on the semester as it has gone thus far.

In the past few years I have realized how introverted I am, so even though I am very social and love spending time around others, it drains me of energy. I anticipated a weekend where I didn’t really talk to other people and would just be spending time with myself, but what I did not anticipate was how wonderful my hostel would be. I spent the weekend in Makuto’s backpackers hostel, which is unlike any other hostel I have stayed in. Immediately upon arrival, I felt like I was being welcomed into a home. It still wasn’t technically time to check in, but one of the employees got me set up with a shower and breakfast. In all other hostels I have stayed in the people living there keep to themselves, but at Makuto there were multiple rooms designed just for people to hang out and be in community with one another.

After I got showered and changed, I went back out into the city to explore. I walked around the city center, ate some lunch, stumbled upon a beautiful garden, and wandered. The beautiful thing about traveling alone is that I was able to wander without a destination without having to be mindful of what others are wanting to do. I just walked without any intentions, and experienced the sights of the city. After checking in later, I took a siesta (because I am now adjusting to the relaxed Spanish lifestyle and get a little cranky if I don’t get my daily nap oops), and began to talk to some of the people in my hostel. I ended up going for tapas with a group of 5 people– it felt like a group of friends though, rather than people I had just met. We went to a few different tapas bars, and spent the night enjoying each others company.

The next day, rather than going out by myself, I went on a journey to the Alhambra with a few new friends from the hostel. We didn’t have tickets, but there are a lot of places you can visit for free! We spent a few hours there, but we could have spent the entire day because it is so huge. Afterwords, we got chocolate con churros and pizza for lunch which was exactliy what I needed at that moment. We then relaxed at the hostel for a bit, before it was time for the guided walking tour!! Every night at about 6, the hostel provides a free walking tour of the neighborhood, which takes you to all the beautiful viewpoints. The last viewpoint was on a MOUNTAIN!! We climed a mountain for one of the most beautiful views I have ever experienced. We came home, and it was time for dinner. The hostel has a family dinner every night, and last night we had paella. We didn’t do much for the rest of the night, besides spend time with each other, and it was so wonderful.

I miss my mom. A lot. I miss my friends and family, I miss Chicago, I miss the kids I work with, I miss my apartment, I miss my dog– I miss home. A few days ago, I talked to my mom over facetime and I told her how much I missed her and how hard it is to be thousands of miles away from her. She asked me, “do you regret going to Spain?” because she said it worries her, how much I miss home. I was actually talking about this with a friend a few days before my mom and I talked, but I didn’t come to Spain to have an easy time, I came here to learn and grow. I’m not in Spain to feel comfortable, because if everything were comfortable I wouldn’t be growing. I have been in Spain for two months now, and these months have been incredible but they have also been so difficult. Despite the hardships, though, I have grown so much in both my Spanish but also as a person. I just spent the weekend in Granada by myself without having second thoughts. Two months ago, I would not have been able to just up and go to a city I didn’t know for the weekend without another person, but here I am.

This upcoming week marks the beginning of Semana Santa, Holy Week, but it also marks the beginning of me walking the Camino de Santiago. For about ten days I will be walking a section of the ancient pilgrimage trail by myself. I won’t be fully alone because there are going to be many other pilgrims walking the trail, especially since it will be semana santa. I have gotten all my gear, bus tickets, know where I will be sleeping each night, and now it just needs to be time. This is something that I never would have been able to do prior to being here.

I may miss my family endlessly, and I may want nothing more than to be in my apartment surrounded by my best friends, but if I were to have spent this semester in Chicago I would have had a regular semester and wouldn’t have gone so far out of my comfort zone and wouldn’t have grown as much as I have. I miss the comfort of my life in Chicago, I miss the monotony of every day life: walking to class, taking the train to work, being at the IC all night; however, I am so thankful for the experiences I have had, because without them I would be stagnant rather than growing. 

Being an Airbnb host for the right reasons

Being an Airbnb host for the right reasons

 

I have traveled to Oslo, Norway three times now. The first time I stayed with an amazing couple with two kids. I paid 412 SEK ($50) for both nights, which I believe is reasonable. The price was definitely lower than it should have been based on the experience I had. Each night my friend and I came back, it was either talking all night or playing card/board games with our hosts. They also drove us to the city each day on their way to work. On Sunday, the wife (Nina) made us baguettes with over 10 spreads to choose from. Spreads are common to have with snacks and to use on baguettes, or crisp bread. A commonality in Sweden and Norway is food in tubes: kaviar, cheese, and dill spread. Also, we had homemade chocolate cake because it was Mother’s day. I did not know what to expect from booking my first Airbnb, but I was blown away.

They are such amazing hosts so I visited Oslo a month later with my brother and stayed 5 nights for FREE at their home. Again, each day consisted of traveling the city and each night was talking, board games, or card games. My brother is in SLU med school so he geeked out talking about Norwegian healthcare.

The wife is the main contact for all her Airbnb guests. What she wants most out of Airbnb is for her guests to be treated well on their first visit, so they come back and bring something from their home country. Yes, she has a motto, “if I like you on your first stay you don’t have to pay for any further visits, but you do have to bring something from your home country… preferably chocolate :).” Nina wants to hear stories from around the world, so she can visits those places later and experience the stories first-hand. She has been to 29 countries and she is 31 with a 8-4 job, 9-5 husband, and two kids 6 and 8 years old. How does she travel so much? Because it is easy to get away and know where to go when you visit people who were previously your Airbnb guests. I LOVE IT… to the point where I am debating renting out my other bed in my room, if that is even possible.

My “second” family, as I call them now, took me to their family cabin in Hemsadel, Norway. We went skiing all Saturday in the second largest ski resort in Norway. Previously, I only been on slopes that lasted at most 2 minutes. The longest slope here took 20 minutes to get to the very bottom. It was absolutely surreal. We had the 6 year old son with us, so we often took it slow. At one point, myself and the husband went off-piste and that’s where the real test began. I was toppling down the side of the mountains through fresh, powdery, untouched snow. I am hurting so bad three days later, I wasn’t able to go to the gym haha. I can now say I witnessed what real slopes are like, rather than the fake snow back around Chicago. Myself and the husband, 31 years old, had a 6 hour conversation into Sunday morning. What I found amazing is that someone who is 10 years older, from another part of the world, and a father could have such similar experiences and thoughts as I do… We are all humans in the end.

The purpose of this post is two-fold. One, it is to remind me how opportunities can rise from trying new things. I had no idea booking my first airbnb would snowball into so many experiences. Second, it is to educate my readers about how beautiful and exciting meeting new people is. Airbnb is an amazing platform to do so. It shouldn’t be about the money, unless you need it. If you have a part of your home that is vacant, try renting it out. There are a lot of characters in this world to make your world just as exciting to live in. The experiences are endless, if you choose to open yourself up to new experiences.