Monday, September 20, 2010


(My first ever view of the Eiffel Tower, from the Pompidou Centre)

I'm still really in shock that the last three weeks of my life actually happened: 6 countries (including 4 I'd never been to before), 13 cities, 6 flights, 3 night trains, ferries, moped rides on steep unfenced mountain roads, hours and hours of walking and hiking, some of the most beautiful sights and amazing food I've ever had, uncounted long-held dreams come true, and-- in the end-- over 2000 photographs on 43 rolls of film. Unreal!!! I was solo for the entire trip, (my second time doing so, though I was away for longer and went to substantially riskier places this time) which I firmly believe is the only way to travel if possible. I was forced to think, to talk, to ask for help; and ended up, in many cases, meeting new friends or getting to have long conversations with people I'd never have had the guts to talk to with the more comfortable option of chatting with a friend availiable.

There were amazing highs and a pretty controlled amount of lows, which is all you can ask for in a trip of this length and scope. I spent most days simply basking in the wonder that I could be living in a universe that was willing to send so much love and wonder my way.

Here's the highlight reel of my favorite moments along the way:

--stepping out of the metro station and seemingly into another world, a bustling chaos of a flagstoned market, with the Acropolis looming, fantasy-like, over it all
--evening on the Acropolis, which did the incredible feat of exceeding expectations (for they were very, very high)
--swimming in the Aegean on a Greek island

(Just your average Athenian view - crazy!!)

--the vivid red and white of the Turkish flag contrasted against the improbably azure sea, the most beautiful ocean I've ever seen

GREECE (Again)
--Hitching a ride up a guard-rail-less mountain road in Northern Greece on the back of a moped driven by a large Greek gentleman who spoke no English, dodging goats and throwing out pieces of bread to stave off the herd dogs along the way
--Hiking between the Meteora monasteries, and standing atop the fairy tale summits themselves
--Seeing centuries old Byzantine frescoes, in situ and in use: a shockingly moving and powerful experience
(I couldn't get any photos that showed how positively amazing these cliffs are - they defy nature and jut straight up out of the plain for thousands of feet, marked with mysterious signs seemingly of flowing water and streaked with unfathomable age, but otherwise absolutely sheer and pitiless. And then, perched atop like a minute crowns of brick and gold, centuries-old monasteries float protected among the mists.)

--Surviving "Paddle faster, I hear banjos" moments trying to get from the airport to the train station
--Seeing soviet war eagles, beheaded and covered with ivy, but still resolutely recognizable, springing up every few yards along the train tracks
--Waiting in the moldering Bucharest train station with farmers carrying huge faggots of woods and sacks of potatoes
--Talking with a survivor of the Communist regime, and having everything I've read about that time suddenly, shockingly, become real and tragic.

(Some bustling Romanian countryside)

--Taking a real Turkish bath, and having the main pool all to myself for the better part of an hour
--Surviving the incredibly fast-moving wooden escalators in the Budapest metro stations
--Visiting the Budapest zoo and having the place to myself
--(Ironically) eating one of the best vegetarian pizzas I've ever had: thin and crispy with good cheese, mushrooms, broccoli, cucumber, fresh tomatoes, and big hunks of brie. YES.

(Now doesn't that look delicious?? And yes, I ate all of this by myself in one sitting. It was fabulous.)

--Experiencing the food-lover's paradise that is the Victualienmarkt, where they sell oysters and caviar by the crateful, every kind of sausage and meat you could ever imagine (or not), mouth-wateringly lovely loaves of bread, as much cheese as I could ever hope for, and a mind-numbing array of tantalizing-looking greens and produce. I could have spent the entire trip in that market alone, I'm pretty sure, and still been highly satisfied.
--Walking through the Englischergarten at sunset with a double rainbow blossoming over the meadows
--Meeting new friends at the unrelatably gorgeous Neuschwanstein castle


(Forget the castle, check out that countryside!! So unreal)

--Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, and then climbing it that night
--Wandering around the Versailles gardens, which I'm fairly certain I could have done forever
--Sitting in on an evening mass at Chartres, a spine-tinglingly lovely experience
--Eating TOFU BOURGIGNON!! Marry me.
--Getting to see the Bayeux Tapestry, the wonders of the Louvre, and so much more great art
--Being moved to tears by the WWII Cemetery in Bayeux, the first mass military cemetery I'd ever visited for which I soon found I was utterly unprepared
--Being constantly amused and mystified by the rudeness of Parisians
--Getting to see an opera in the Paris Opra house on opening night (!!)

(No wonder the French revolted - I'd get pretty mad too if I was living in squalor and knew that Marie Antoinette had this whole fantasy land to herself)

(Gilles!! My favorite painting by far at the Louvre)

(Bayeux Cemetery)

(The Opéra Bastille - I could've just sat right through into another one and another; I never wanted it to end)

For a full blow-by-blow, check out the new blog I'm launching over the next few days in preparation for my study abroad this coming year, which will hopefully chronicle all my travels and non-horsey activities. I'm going to be transcribing over my hand-written diary of the trip over the next few weeks, and will be including more photos than I'll have on this site. The address is

But, as amazing as the trip was, I'm very very happy to be back. I've missed Kiki desperately, and am excited to get back in the saddle (I place I haven't been for four weeks now - an insane period of time!). When I got back on campus I headed immediately to the barn (before I even dropped my bags off) and spent a good long time just sitting with her. There's just something so wonderful about being in the warm, solid presence of a horse you know and love that nothing on my travels, no matter how extraordinary, could compete with. She looks great, if a little long-maned and scruffy from being in the worst phase of shedding out. Apparently, however, she's been a touch off for the person whose been riding her (and whose opinion I trust very much), so the vet is coming out tomorrow to give her a check before I start off on the Autumn season. It's not the ideal way to start things off, but hopefully it will be nothing major, and of course I'd rather find something now rather than push on blindly and have Kiki pay the price later.


Hurricanes12 said...

This post is so inspiring!
You're very brave going alone, something I'd love to do but don't think I have the guts.

Sounds like you had a fabulous time, I can't wait to see the other blog (:

Andrea said...

I have only one thing to say....
I wish I had your life!!! Enjoy it before you get to be like me, out of college and broke!!

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