Santorini – The island of blue roofs, white wash houses & cats

Have you ever had a dream? Maybe to sky dive or see the Eiffel Tower? My dream, since I have seen pictures of Greece, was to go to Santorini.

Well, I accomplished this dream. To finally cross that dream off my bucket list seems unreal.

The surreal feeling I was overcome with is euphoric. To actually be there, seeing the blue roofs, white wash houses and even the donkeys was mind blowing.

My first hour in Santorini was everything I expected. We had transportation from the airport to our hostel, and as soon as we got in the car greek music was playing and the sun was rising in the distance. It was picture perfect to say the least. Even though I was exhausted, having slept (or not slept) in an airport, was all taken away by the beauty that surrounded me.

We drove the winding roads, listening to greek music, with a greek driver singing along, and my first impression of Santorini was simply breathtaking.

It was a bit cold, but that did not keep me down. I was in Santorini, what more could I want?.

The moment I realized I was really in Greece was when I saw the donkeys. Sounds pretty funny, and you think it only happens in movies, but donkeys are forms of transportation in Greece. The best part is they are led by a little Grecian man!

Sophie and I finally got to our hostel and it was the best surprise to step out of the car and see the sunrise. It’s like everything you ever hope it to be. The sun is bigger than you will ever see and the colors radiate off the majestic Aegean sea.

We could not check into our hostel until 9 and it was only 6:30. I was freaking out because we had our bags and no place to go, but in the end it was a blessing. We had a few hours to sit on the beach (which was 100ft from our hostel) and we just napped on the beach while enjoying the sunrise.

The hostel we stayed at was on Perissa Beach (Black Sand Beach). It was this nice villa, and Sophia and I had our own little room, terrace included.

The first day was kind of chilly and windy, but we still laid on the beach. We napped and ate our first authentic Greek gyro (which is better than I thought it would be).

After a much needed nap, we went and found the most glorious place on earth, Dorian’s Pub. Dorian’s pub was one of the highlights of the trip. Every hour of every day was happy hour. We had cocktails for 3 euro every night during our stay.

The next day, we rented an ATV and went exploring the island of Thira. We traveled to the red sand beach (Akrotiri). The fact there is a red sand beach, a black sand beach and a white sand beach on one island is unreal to me. There is just beauty all around.

After exploring the red beach, we went to see the light house at the southwest end of the island. It was just one of the many breathtaking sights we saw. You can see the whole island from the top, as well as the sea off in the distance.

You can see the reflection of the sun glowing off the blue water. I just sat in awe and couldn’t really comprehend how all this beauty could be surrounding me. Every direction I looked, I was amazed by something else.

After we sat at the lighthouse for 3 hours, we decided it was time to go. Even though we wanted to go home, our ATV did not want us too.

The ATV did not start. So Sophia and I are by this lighthouse, maybe 40 mins away from our hostel, and we have no phone, no idea what to do. So we start pushing this ATV down the road. There has to be hotel or someone who can help us, right?

I am pretty sure it was a guardian angel sent to us from God, but someone how a lady heard us trying to start our ATV and came running to our help, AND she had a phone.

We called the ATV company and they sent someone to come fix it. I have to say though, our ATV died in a beautiful place, so we didn’t complain too much.

When he fixed it, I wanted nothing more than to just go get a drink and sit on the beach. So that’s what we did. That’s basically what we did every night.

Everyday I woke up to the sound of birds chirping, the Grecian sun on my face and cats, lots and lots of cats.

On our third day there, the sun was shining and it was nice and warm. A perfect day to lay by the beach and get some sun. Something I have been deprived of in Holland.

We sat on the beach under our umbrella, in front of the Aegean Sea, and I felt as if I was in a dream. The only word that could describe that moment was blissful paradise.

Later that night we went to the capital, Fira, and then to the famous sunset town, Oia. Every thing, every view, every where you looked you were encircled by beauty. No matter which direction you turned in, your mind was completely shattered by the amount of gorgeous things surrounding you.

We walked around Fira for a little bit, shopping and just watching the sun slowly go down. We then we went to Oia to watch the sunset.

Waiting on top of the ledge, anticipating the worlds most famous sunset, my mind just wandered. I couldn’t actually believe that I was here. I was in Santorini, watching a sunset I thought I would only see in pictures. I was just taken away by this.

When they tell you it is the most beautiful sunset you will ever see, they (whoever they are) are 100% right.

The sky just captivates you. It turns colors I never thought the sky could be. It almost look like it was on fire, but in the most beautiful way.

We waited around two hours for the sunset and in a matter of 5 minutes it was gone. I have to say it was one of the best “waiting” moments of my life.

I don’t think I will ever witness anything more beautiful in my life and I feel so grateful I can say I have seen the world’s most famous sunset AND sunrise.

On our last day there, we just sat on the beach, walked around the little town of Perissa and just relaxed.

Knowing that I was coming back to Leiden one last time, and I had to say goodbye to the home I have made these past four months was a little bittersweet.

For mine and Sophia’s last trip, Santorini was last, but definitely not least. Fulfilling this dream met every expectation I had seen in pictures and read online.

There are no words to describe how this trip affected me. It may sound weird thinking that a place can change you, but once you experience it, you believe in it and I strongly believe in it.

For those of you who have those places on your bucket list, but can’t find the time, money or a way to do it, know that it is possible. I did it.

I urge you to do the same. The feeling you get when you see something you have only dreamed of is better than anything you can ever imagine.

Yes, you may have to save money, but what I have learned my past few months here and from visiting Santorini is that traveling is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.

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When in Prague!

Prague, Czech Republic was one of those cities that you don’t expect to be as charming as it is. Not many people think of going to the Czech Republic and be completely blown away by it’s beauty and charm.  I was one of those people.

It was one of the most beautiful towns I have seen (I realize I say this for every place I visit, but it changes every time!). There was a grayness that floated over the city. It was one of my favorite parts actually.  All the architecture, the streets, even the food took me by surprise.

This small city was absolutely breathtaking.

The first day we arrived in Prague, to our luck, there was an Easter festival going on. Vendors lined the Old Town Square (Main part of Prague) and sold things such as food, Easter gifts, other novelties, and of course, Czech beer.

Our first thing we tried was a Trdlo (pronounced turd-lo). It was a mistake to try itbecause it was one of the best things that I have ate and I couldn’t stop eating them.

It was a sweet bread roasted with almonds and sugar.  I not only had one, but I had three.

Traveling to all these different cities, I find all these nice gifts for people, but what I wish I could bring home is the food.

I know my whole family would enjoy all the food that I am trying, but unfortunately they will have to let my thoughtful gifts suffice.

After eating all the delicious food we began exploring the city. We saw the Jewish Quarter, the Old Town Square, St. Charles Bridge, the Prague Castle.  We learned about the history of Prague (which is old and new).

After all the walking, we went and found our hostel.  This being one of out last trips, you would think I would do enough research on a town to know where to get a hostel at, but I guess not.

The hostel that we were staying in was close to the Prague castle and up one of the biggest hills in Prague. Ten points to Olivia for choosing this one.

We had walked around the whole city with our backpacks on all day and now we had to finish it by dragging ourselves up this giant hill. We made it though.

After resting for a bit, we decided it was time to indulge in some of the Czech night life.

Our first stop was a pub called “The Pub” and it was one of the most unique places I have been too.

At your table you had your own beer tap. It was a beer lovers paradise.

After we had a few beers, we went to a lounge called “Bed Lounge” (Not kidding about these names).

In the lounge they just had beds and your bartender brought you the drinks while you laid in bed. There is nothing better than spending the night with your friends, in a new city, and laying in a bed as someone waits on you.

The next day, our last day sadly, we explored the Prague Castle. The views from the top are indescribable. You can see the whole city down below.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Easter market. Trying all the food and drinks we could before we had to leave. It was a short trip, but the memories and experiences were never ending.

The land of Wurst and Bretzals in Berlin, Germany

After leaving Italy, it was hard to believe we still had another city to see, Berlin. I know what you must be thinking. What two polar opposite places to see in one trip. But I will tell you that seeing Berlin was the greatest history lesson I have ever had.

Even though Berlin, Germany is not full of ancient history like Rome, it is filled with recent history and history that has shaped the past 100 years.

Berlin has been through war, destroyed and built up again.  The Germans take pride in their city and do not let their past defined Berlin.  

During our first few hours in the city, it was definitely a sight to see. When we were going to our hostel to sleep for the night, we walked out of the metro station to find lovely ladies “standing” on the corner of our street. You can imagine the first impression of Berlin I received.

We quickly realized the hostel we had booked was right in the middle of the Red Light District of Berlin.  At first I was a little weary about this, but I basically live in Amsterdam, so it was nothing I have not seen before.

My favorite thing about Berlin was that Michael was joining us on our trip! It had been us three girls the whole trip and it was nice to have our other travel partner back with us (And he brought us flowers, so we couldn’t complain having him there).

That day we did a walking tour of Berlin.  We saw all the major sights of the city.  We started at the Brandenburg gate and from there we saw, the hotel that Michael Jackson held his baby off a balcony (Great first thing to see, I know), then we saw the memorial to the murdered Jews, Hitler’s bunker in World War II, the remains of the Berlin wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and then ended in the museum quarter of Berlin.

By the end of the day, I was exhausted. Traveling is one of the most fun and exhilarating things to do, but it is also one of the most exhausting things. Traveling for a week and a half nonstop is pretty exhausting.

That night we went and had dinner, curry wurst and pretzels, then went to bed early.  The next morning we visited the concentration camp, Sachsenhausen.

This was one of the most eye opening experiences I have ever had.  Sachsenhausen was the first concentration camp of World War II, and many people do not know it even exists.  When you think of the Holocaust and the concentration camps, your mind ultimately goes to Auschwitz.  

This camp was not as near as brutal in killing people, but it was famous for torturing them.  The most curious thing about this camp though was that it was in the middle of a neighborhood.

At the beginning of the tour, our guide said that it was up to our imaginations to decide whether or not the people living in the neighborhood had any idea of what was happening in their back yard. For me, it was hard to even wrap my head around this thought.

Being in the camp, it was one of the most uncanny experiences I have had.  They told us that we were allowed to take pictures, but for me at least, I felt this place didn’t deserve to be photographed. So many people were killed and tortured in the very place I was standing, I couldn’t even think about taking pictures.

Although much of the camp is rebuilt because they had to burn all the remnants of the camp due to the spread of disease, there were still many original parts.

We were in the camp for over 2 hours and by then end I don’t think I could have handled any more.

I have grown up learning about the Holocaust and World War II my whole life in school and to actually be there first hand, seeing the places in my text book and on movies I have watched, it was a whirlwind of emotions.

It is one of those things where you can learn all about it, but actually being there, you get a whole different perspective.  A very eye opening and heart aching perspective.

Even though it was one of the more tragic things I have seen, it was still a worthwhile.  

Our last day in Berlin was a relaxing one.  By this time we had been traveling 9 days and I thought I was exhausted before, but I was even more beat then.

Spending Spring Break in both Italy and Germany was extraordinary, but I was ready to go home.

The feeling of being away from your home for a while then returning to your own bed and shower is indescribable.

This was the trip of a lifetime and I will never forget all the things this trip taught me. It was one of the most marveling, wonderful, fulfilling trips I have been on.

Rome, Italy The Eternal City

Italy was a combination of many different things.  A good combination to say the least. It’s a country of food, romance, history, wine, and so much more, and I indulged in all of it. It was a trip that was so relaxing, but so fulfilling all at the same time. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. It was also strange because we had been planning this trip for months and the fact that it was already here was so exciting and crazy to comprehend!

Arriving to Rome was one of the more glamorous arrivals we have had. We arranged for a driver to pick us up from the airport and take us to our hostel. It was quite the adventurous car ride.  The driver probably drove way over the speed limit, he got entirely way too close to the cars in front of us, and he slammed on the brakes a few too many times for comfort. In the end we arrived safely, so it wasn’t that bad after all.

I was so relaxed at the fact I did not have to navigate at all and someone else was doing it for us, but the relaxation did not last long.  When we arrived to our hostel, we arrived to a place with no signs, actually they had nothing.  So during our first hour in Rome we almost died from driving and now our hostel didn’t exist. After searching for 20 minutes on every floor and no one to be seen, someone finally walked through the door. The man barely knew any English, so communicating was not easy, but we found the hostel, so that’s all that mattered.

When we finished checking in, the manager at the desk tells us that our bathroom in our room does not work so one of his friends from another hostel is coming to pick us up and we are staying there.  You can imagine the look on my face and the fear that was racing through my mind.  I have been in Rome now for an hour and a half and so much has already happened that made my anxiety level soar.

It ended up working out for us.  The manager’s “friend” came and walked us to our new hostel.  Our room ended up having a magical view of a plaza, we had a room to ourselves, and a nice room for that matter.  So all the times that I had freaked out during our first view hours there were unnecessary.

When we finished getting settled into our room we walked to the Colosseum. It was such a peculiar feeling being in a city, seeing the sights that I learned so much about in school.

I see these famous sights in movies and in books, but none of it does justice to being there.  The feeling of eating my first Italian gelato on the stairs of the Colosseum was magical.

We then had our first Italian dinner of many and it did not disappoint at all. For my first meal I had seafood risotto. It was inevitable that my whole entire trip in Italy would be about the amount of carbohydrates I could consume. I definitely ate way more pizza and gelato than I should have. But hey, when in Italy do as the Italians do.

The next day we made our way through out the sights of Rome. We saw the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Stairs, the most expensive shopping street in the world, and so much more.  The Trevi Fountain was an incredible sight to see.  Of course, I had to make a wish and throw a coin in. Stupid me though threw the coin in without making a wish, so I had to do it twice.

Wishing at the Trevi Fountain

The best part about being at the Trevi fountain was just sitting there, in the sun, and watching all the people.  It’s a warm feeling to witness so many people seeing this great monument for the first time and marveling in all of its charm.

Our first day in Rome was indescribable. We saw so much and we walked SO MUCH. I thought my feet would have fallen off if I walked any more. We ended it with our first Italian pizza and of course, another gelato.

The next morning we set off early on our tour of Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento and the Isles of Capri and Anacapri.

Our first stop was Naples. It wasn’t the greatest or most beautiful place, but it was definitely good to see. We were there for around 30 mins and that was probably enough for me. The city is dirty and the people are on a whole different level of rude than the people in Rome.

After Naples, we headed to Pompeii. Pompeii was the ancient city that was destroyed and covered in ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. It is such an eerie feeling to walk through these sights that are excavated and see all the ruins left behind.

You see the houses of the people who lived there. The streets they walked and the town that they lived in.  They even have excavated people from the ruins that were covered in ash and mud. Being in Pompeii and standing among the ruins was surreal. I was standing at the bottom of Mount Vesuvius, learning all about the history that surrounded me, and I was just at a lost for words. To be standing where people lost their lives, lost their homes and families was a feeling I can’t describe . I was basically in the midst of a live history lesson.

When we left Pompeii, we went headed to our hotel on the island of Sorrento for the night. As we were driving to Sorrento, we had some of the most beautiful views.  The sky was painted with blues and purples and we arrived just in time to watch the sunset. We watched the sunset from a balcony over looking Naples Bay with Mount Vesuvius in the foreground.

Views of the coast of Italy

That night, we had a complementary four course meal for dinner. One of the best dinners I have ate in a long time.  During our two day tour, we had more three and four course meals than I have ever ate in my life, and I loved every minute of it. I have the extra pounds to prove it.

The next morning, we went to the Isles of Capri and Anacapri. During this whole vacation I had one thing I wanted to do.  All I wanted to do was see the Blue Grotto. The Blue Grotto is a natural cave that was discovered by the Romans, but became a popular destination in the 1830’s. The cave is popular for its natural light phenomenon. When in the cave, the light from the sun reflects on the white sand and it makes the water have a neon blue effect.  The downside is that the way you get in the cave is all determined by the tide.  Our tour guide was saying the tours the day before were not allowed in the grotto because the weather would not permit it.

I was holding out so much hope to see the grotto.  When we arrive to the Island, out tour guide went to check if the grotto was open. For some reason, thank the Lord, it was open. It was one of the most magical things I have ever seen in my whole life. For the short minutes that we were in the grotto, it all seemed fake.  I could not fathom the thought that I was in Italy, in this tiny row boat, seeing the Blue Grotto. It was an opportunity only a handful of people get to see.  I felt like the luckiest person alive and still do.

Inside the Blue Grotto

As soon as we left the grotto, the weather started to get bad, and in less than 30 minutes they closed the grotto. It was a sign from God.  We were one of the first and last boats to go to the grotto and I could not have been happier.

During the rest of the day we explored the islands. We saw views from the very top of the island, to views from the bottom.  When the day was over we headed back to Rome for the night.

The next day, after much needed rest, we went to The Vatican.  We went through the Vatican museum. Seeing my fair share of museums, I quickly realized they are not the most exciting places for me. You really have to be in touch with your artsy side to enjoy it.  We walked through the Vatican and ended at the Sistine Chapel. I was slightly shocked by the Sistine Chapel. I had this idea in my mind of how it would be and it was nothing like it. But it is breathtakingly beautiful and such an incredible sight to see. You walk in, everyone is quiet, tourist are trying to sneak pictures and Italitan guards are walking around telling people to be quiet.

After the museum, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica.  This was an adventure.  Being broke college kids, we had two choices. We could either pay €7 and take an elevator to the top and only have to climb around 200 stairs to see the views or we could pay €5 and climb 551 stairs to the top. Our logic was if we climbed the stairs, we could save €2, get a work out, and be able to buy gelato or a bottle of wine.  You can see where our priorities lie.  Climbing all those stairs was worth it when we reached the top. From the top you can see all of Rome. You can see the beauty of the city from one place.

The thing we did not think about was the fact that once we climbed up the stairs, we would then have to climb down them.  You can sense my enthusiasm. It was fine though, I just rewarded myself with gelato afterwards.

We then took a free walking tour of Rome. It was one of the most knowledgeable and historical walking tours I have been on.  I learned more in the 2 hours I was on the tour, than in any class room.

Our tour guide explained Rome like a cake.  There are different layers of Rome and every layer explains a time in history.  From the beginning of the 1 century BC to modernism, Rome has every history and time period stacked in one city.

We learned about the Spanish Steps, the creations of the Trevi Fountain (which produces almost €4 Billion each year. And all of the money is donated to charity), the Roman Forums, the Colosseum.

After the tour was over, I felt so intelligent with all the history I had consumed. I felt as if I could teach a whole history class and not run out of things to talk about.

The next day, our last day in Rome, we did a tour of the Colosseum and then the Roman Forums. Just when I thought I had learned enough about Roman history, I found myself in another history lesson.

In the Roman Forums, we saw Julius Caesars’s home, his town square and even the sight of where he was cremated.  We also saw the prison where St. Paul and St. Peter were held before they were crucified.

During my time in the forums, I was bewildered by how the ground I was standing on held so much history.  The same ground that triumphant Julius Caesar walked on. I was basically living in the history textbook for a few hours and I loved it.

The Roman Forums explained how Rome is a city built on top of a hidden city.  People cannot dig into the ground with out finding new ruins to be excavated.  It’s a crazy thought to wrap your mind around.

Our next and last stop before we left was the Colosseum. It’s amazing to actually go into the Colosseum and see pictures of the original structure and how it looks now.  The original structure was made out of marble and when Rome was rebuilding itself many years ago builders took the prized marble off the Colosseum and used it elsewhere leaving the Colosseum as it is today.

My time in Rome, la cita eterna (the eternal city), and other parts of Italy, was nothing less than spectacular.  It was historically appetizing, full of alluring views and definitely the most fulfilling (enjoyment and food wise) trip I have been on and it wasn’t even over yet. After we left Rome, we headed to Berlin, Germany. Another city full of history.

It still feels like I am living in a dream and one day (2 months to be exact) someone is going to pinch me and it will all be over.