Traveling Through Germany to the Black Forest and Rhine Falls

Traveling Through GermanyTraveling through Germany is always fun. However, it’s important to take a breather. Read about how I made sure to relax abroad in my last article!

After our pit stop in Cologne we headed for Frankfurt. Unfortunately, we were only there for a single evening. We were merely able to glimpse what Frankfurt had to offer. What was most striking, though, was the strange blend of architecture. Next to sleek modern towers stood  Gothic churches and the quintessential timber-framed buildings. Although nobody mentioned the building dichotomy it was very striking to see the architectural results of World War II decades after the bombings.

We dined at a traditional German restaurant — complete with pints of beer, long benches and tables, and even a candelabra here and there. Nikos bought each table their own pitcher of apple wine, which I was thrilled to indulge in. I wound up trying a venison dish complemented with steamed vegetables and herb dip simply known as “green sauce” — the highlight of the meal.



Pit Stop While Traveling Through Germany at the Black Forest

The next morning, we all woke early to continue our journey south towards Italy. As I watched the rolling hills turn into the dense forest, I heard someone mention that we were going to take a pit stop in the Black Forest. “Wait… really?” I asked, eyes widening in amazement, “I thought that place was just a fairy tale!”

A misty bridge in the middle of the Black Forest.

Much to my chagrin, everyone around me erupted into laughter. Why the English major didn’t know that the Black Forest was a real place was a loss even to myself. Nonetheless, it was exciting looking out the window into the impenetrable forest. Hazy fog swirled between the trees, adding an air of mystery to the whole day. I thought about all the Grimms’ Fairy Tales I’d heard as a kid — both the nice versions and the not-so-nice ones. Satisfied with the other worldly view outside the bus window, I returned to reading my copy of The Hobbit and listening to The Cranberries. I couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop to reading a fantasy novel.

Clocks O’Clock

House of 1000 Clocks

We pulled to the side of the road where there was a narrow pathway that led towards a small bridge that crossed a creek. I could hear it babbling as it passed over the river rocks. I spent a long time just looking around, trying not to squeal. I’ve always been a big fan of fantasy novels and experiencing such a magical place made it easy to see why the Black Forest inspired so many of them. As we walked along the trail, an enormous clock came into view — it was the face of the House of 1000 Clocks. It seemed like some sort of tiny village way out in the middle of nowhere. There was a hotel, a cafeteria, and lots and lots and lots of clocks.

I ran into the gift shop/clock shop to look around. It was filled from floor to ceiling with cuckoo clocks in different sizes and intricacies. Unfortunately, most of them were well out of my budget. I didn’t want to go and blow over half of my spending money all in one place, barely halfway through our trip. But boy, do I wish I had one of those cuckoo clocks. They were beautifully crafted. I couldn’t help but think of the giant wind-up grandfather clock my grandparents had when I was a kid. I settled on buying matching beanies with all my friends (I still wear it on especially cold days). We stayed long enough to watch the giant clock outside chime, and then we were on our way again.

A Spontaneous Detour to a Swiss Waterfall

As a surprise, Nikos took us on a small detour to visit Rhine Falls, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. The view from above was stunning, but was even more awe-inspiring after a trip down the glass elevator. The only other waterfall I’d seen before had been Niagara Falls. It almost seemed to pale in comparison to the Rhine, just because the viewing platforms were incredible. We were able to stand incredibly close to all of that powerful water, and at different levels to boot! After a decent amount of time gawking and imagining the hundreds of thousands of gallons of water rushing by, we decided to take a quick hike along the water’s edge and explore downstream.

rhine falls swiss waterfall

Surrounded by forest and traveling down a knobby path, I quickly began imagining all of the fantasy settings I’d ever read. It was so easy to place myself into all of the old stories that had filled my head as a kid. These were the stories that had inspired me to become a writer myself. After waving at some canoers, we decided to head back to the bus. It was just a few more hours until we reached Lucerne, Switzerland.


Traveling through Germany is an experience I will never forget. I hope you enjoyed reliving it with me. Join me next time for our first day in Lucerne and our visit up the Swiss Alps!

rhine falls traveling through germany


Europe’s Sin City – Introduction to Amsterdam

If you aren’t caught up, check out my last post about my final days in Paris, France.

From here, our journey became a road trip. The touring company provided our group with a gigantic charter bus – one where each of us had our own row of seats. Our driver was from Germany and taught us snippets of German during the traffic jams we hit on our way to the Netherlands. On our way there, we took a pitstop in Gent, Belgium. People were not kidding when they said Belgium’s waffles were to die for. This cute town warranted a few days to explore all on its own, but alas, it was back to the bus to Europe’s Sin City.

europe education first friends abroad

A Night Tour in Amsterdam

castle in amsterdam red light red light districtWe arrived at our hostel just as it was getting dark. We were in bunk beds once again, but luckily, Dounia and I were placed in the smaller room with just two other girls. Dounia and I met Nikos downstairs to begin our traditional group tour of the city. He pointed out all the major squares, districts, and castles. Our hostel was a little far away from downtown but was just a quick trip on the public tram. We danced across the many bridges, laughing with one another as we dodged drunk and stoned tourists (Amsterdam is famous for more than pretty sights – it’s known across the continent as Europe’s Sin City). We were all finally starting to grow into the group and become good friends. And finally, we arrived: the Red-Light District.

We suddenly became salmon swimming upstream. The many alleyways were so crammed with people that it was all I could do to keep track of Dounia and the rest of the group. Personal space did not exist within those streets. It was the most crowded and trapped I’ve ever felt while still being outside. The alleys were lined with large windows and glass doors, where the women twirled around to show off to those on the other side. Some had curtains drawn to show that she was busy. I didn’t know whether it would be rude to look or not look so I tried to avoid being in front of windows entirely. The whole stint was probably only five minutes of meandering through the crowd, but it felt like eternity. I didn’t go back there after dark for the rest of the trip.

Hunger Strikes in Europe’s Sin City

After the tour, we were free to explore Amsterdam on our own. It suddenly occurred to all of us that we hadn’t really eaten since the Belgian waffles that morning. We decided to try and find a place for dinner. I wanted to go back and eat near the hostel somewhere, as the trams there stopped operating around 11:30pm. Our tour had finished at 11:20pm. Somehow, I had gotten roped into guiding everyone away from the tram and towards the Red-Light District for dinner. Everywhere we turned, it seemed like it was just a bar or club. Restaurants were few and far between at such a late hour, which I found surprising for Europe’s Sin City.

cassidy kearney amsterdam travels

Finally, one of us snapped and dragged all of us into some Argentinian place that was kind of pricey. I was officially annoyed. This only worsened as they tried to map out how to get back to the hostel while using their phone’s GPS. I don’t remember what I said, but I have a feeling I may have also snapped and told them all to “Just. Trust. Me.” Fortunately, it worked out and we got onto the last tram of the night. Looking back, I hope I didn’t step on too many toes.

Without a Pocket Map: My Worst Nightmare in Amsterdam

By now, I was starting to feel pretty confident in my navigational instincts. Boy, did Amsterdam pull one over on me. After the first night, I couldn’t find a good map for the life of me. I was navigating this city on memory alone. Luckily, Amsterdam was small enough that I couldn’t get horribly lost like we did in London. But it was big enough to misjudge our destination by several blocks. And getting back to the hostel without a tram? Forget it! Luckily, it was never a big deal. Regardless, it certainly knocked my confidence level back quite a bit. Maybe I didn’t have that instinctive head for direction like I had thought.

street art europe amsterdam red light red light district

After Amsterdam, I made sure to find a pocket map everywhere I went and not to give it to anyone. Usually, our tour guide gave us street maps and maps of the public transportation in the area, and if he didn’t give us those maps, I made sure to pick them up in the hotel or hostel we were staying at. My pocket maps became my holy grail, and I keep them preserved to this day in my travel journal. I may be just like an old man when it comes to these maps, but nothing quite beats the feeling of true travel confidence.

Join me next time as I talk about our first real day in Europe’s Sin City!

amsterdam river with boats

Majestic Malta, Just Another Restless Auxiliar in Madrid

It’s simply not enough to say that I enjoyed Malta or that I would go back again. These are both undoubtedly true statements – in fact, they’re almost an understatement. How could I not fall in love with Malta and its ancient temples, its fairy-tale seashores, and its miniature cathedrals dotting the villages? Every cathedral served as each town’s crown jewel. The goal of my Dreams Abroad articles is to give accurate estimations of the places I see and the things that I experience, whether positive or negative. Malta will be no different. Let me elaborate.

Pre-Arrival Expectations vs. Post-Arrival Realizations

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It was easy to choose Malta as my next destination. Places such as Norway, Iceland, and Greece are definitely on my bucket list. That being said, they aren’t as economically attractive as flights to Malta (€55 round trip through Ryanair, as opposed to hundreds of euros regardless of airline or search engine). My not-so-thorough Google searches quickly led me to believe that Malta had literally the nicest climate in the world (which is a bit comical after being confronted with the reality). Furthermore, I would be conveniently and attractively plopped into a most ancient culture with all of the niceties of modern convenience. Hey, they speak English, too! Ever hear of that song with the lyrics “they paved paradise to put up a parking lot”? Yeah, that’s Malta.

Too often, we tourists are so hypocritical. We want a place that is as authentic and as pure and untouched as Carthage in 405 BCE… but then we turn around and complain if the buses don’t run more than once an hour! In my case, I was happy that English was the official language. Unfortunately, that came about from being formerly owned by the British Empire for about 200 years. Despite that, Malta retains (thankfully) much of their amazing limestone architecture that rises up almost seamlessly from the terra firma. They also were able to keep their unique, local Arabic/Italian-sounding language. However, other Maltese aspects appear to have been all but lost unless you really dig beneath the surface.

Maltese Culture

But what is Maltese culture really? The strategic location of these beautiful islands has led to an almost continual conquest from foreign powers throughout history. Truly, it is a topic deserving of its own post. I’ll get on with it then. I said all of that to give one example: nearly all of the food has been westernized. If you want to try a local dish in any random restaurant, Maltese rabbit will probably be your only choice. Indeed, I did feel as though I arrived a few centuries too late. Even now, the last vestiges of this grand land and its people are being drained away by modernism all in the name of progress. But that’s just a foreigner’s observational opinion after nine days. So don’t take my word for it.

city abono gozo malta market

(It may not be Starbucks like I originally thought, but it seems certainly a bit derivative in its own unique way.)

A Myriad of First-Time ExperiencesMalta lagoon island water travel abroad

Being in Malta felt new for me in several different regards. It was my first time being in a place where people drive on the wrong – sorry, I mean left side of the road! It was my first time buying my own ferry ticket and traveling between islands. This is something I didn’t even do in the Canaries, as it was way too expensive there. It was a unique place with a unique language to my ears. Also, it was my first time ever scuba diving! This gave way to an abundance of new micro-experiences: I saw my first few octopuses in their natural environment! They were hiding in their little cubby holes and I was enthralled by their combined cuteness. When had I ever thought of full-grown octopuses as adorable? Never before that moment, I was certain.

Malta lagoon island water travel abroad octopus scuba diving

There was a moment when I looked up from the ocean floor and gazed into the watery, sunlight-drenched heavens above to realize that we were being silently serenaded by perhaps hundreds of angels of the sea. Or in other words, perfectly harmless jellyfish.

Never in my life had I imagined that breathing underwater through a fallible human contraption could after, a short amount of time, begin to feel like second nature, but life is full of surprises.

After each of the two scuba diving sessions, I felt a unique sense of elation. It also gave rise to wondering how anything ever could top it. I asked myself, what now? Nothing would ever compare!!

Malta Recommendations

If you go to Malta, I recommend that you don’t go in late September. I had about five hot, glorious days of summer sun and cloudless skies that amounted to perfect visibility. Then, suddenly the season changed on a dime to the chilly rainy season.

I recommend that you buy the €21 seven-day Abono traveling card. These can be bought at bus stations. They allow you to take as many buses as you want on either of the islands, so you can get around quickly and cheaply!

Go to Comino, the smallest of the islands and the most touristy. When you go, go as early as you can because by mid-day it will be suffocatingly packed to the brim with people – at least in the most well-known spots.

Some life-changing tips: take an umbrella. There is almost no natural cover or protection from the sun. Rent a kayak so that you can explore otherwise inaccessible and unbelievably gorgeous cracks and crannies that lead to beyond perfect snorkeling opportunities.

Split your time between the two main islands of Malta and Gozo. Gozo, Malta’s little sister, can only be reached by boat or ferry. The price is a reasonable €5 roundtrip. Each island offers so much and deserves your undivided attention.

Parting Thoughts

In the back of my mind, I have always staunchly maintained that eventually, I want to live in the Oklahoman countryside surrounded by nothing more than family, trees, animals, and peace. However, either ancient, picturesque, crime-free, tranquil Gozo or equally breathtaking, busy-as-bees Malta could seduce me away from that life, with nary a look backwards.

Malta beach travel abroad fun life love

A Day at Notre Dame and the Louvre

cassidy kearney travel tales

We had woken up early to beat the crowds. We got onto the crowded subway, joining the Parisians in the rat race. The subway was particularly intimidating. It had one of the fastest-closing doors I’d ever seen! Our whole group raced on and off the train in order to stick together. The night we arrived, one member of our group, Jenna, was separated after the doors closed. Luckily, she and her sister knew sign language. Jenna signed to her sister that she’d get off at the next stop and come back through the window of the train!

We definitely avoided a major situation thanks to their quick thinking. After that, however, the rest of us knew that we’d be flat out of luck if we were to be the next one who didn’t make the doors. We all took the subway extremely seriously. I’m sure those two have a travel tale they can tell all their friends about!

Excited to See Notre Dame

We walked a few blocks from the train station. I was incredibly excited to see Notre Dame. It was something that my dad had talked about from his time abroad, as well as something I’ve read about in fiction and nonfiction alike. As we approached Notre Dame, I craned my neck up to look at the gothic cathedral that rose in front of me. My blood raced through my veins as I cracked a smile. It was just as beautiful as I’d heard from my parents’ travels.

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Notre Dame

Expect the Unexpected

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The crowds weren’t as bad as they could have been. Since we were there so early, the sun had enough time to peak through the Parisian clouds. It was warm, and the greens of the shrubberies popped. I saw people dressed as pale, white clowns roaming around, hassling the tourists.

The clowns seemed like an odd addition to the gothic church. When I got close to one, I could see the paint dripping from his face. He reminded me of the costumed people you can find in Times Square, New York: dirty, but more sinister because of the clown makeup. I think I saw more than one reach around into someone’s pocket, only to get pushed or slapped away. I avoided them at all costs. This was one tale I didn’t need to explain to my parents.

The Ultimate Gothic Cathedral

The line to get into the cathedral was not too long. Luckily, Mass wasn’t being held. However, there was an automated voice that spoke to the tourists in several different languages, telling them to be respectful. Unfortunately, pictures and videos were frowned upon (they were allowed). Regardless, it didn’t feel entirely right to me to whip my phone out to observe every detail. Some things are worth just placing into memory, so you can be just as inspired when you return.

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The inside of Notre Dam

After we exited the church, Nikos took us on a brief tour around the building. When we had circled it, he showed us some lesser-known historical spots of Paris on our way to the Louvre. We also took a quick boat tour of the Seine. Unfortunately, the sun was, once again, clouded over by the dismal rain clouds that had seemed to haunt us since our arrival. As a Floridian, I’m used to heavy, intense, hot showers that are over within twenty minutes. Paris was the exact opposite! There was a constant light drizzle that seeped into my bones, no matter how many layers I was wearing. I couldn’t believe that this was what Parisians thought of summer!

Down into Culture

By the time we made it to the Louvre entrance, we were freezing. Nikos left us ambling around the park above the Louvre while he secured our tickets. Unfortunately, it was so cold and wet, none of us felt like ambling! As we waited for Nikos to return, Dounia and I huddled underneath an archway with street vendors that looked similar to the Arc de Triumph. After my last street vendor incident, I was a little wary of them, but luckily, they seemed to understand that we were simply avoiding the weather.


Nikos returned, and we quickly began our excursion into the Louvre. We passed through a mall-like area that had stores that breathed wealth. Afterward, we took a pitstop in the Louvre’s cafeteria. It was ridiculously expensive! The bathroom cost upwards of four euros, not to mention the price of food! Finally, finally, I was going into the museum that my parents had visited on their own journeys so long ago. I purchased a map simply for the scrapbooking opportunity.

Arc de Triumph ravel tales abroad
Arc de triomphe du Carrousel next to the Louvre

Even Trips Abroad Need Down Time

Dounia and I saw as much of the Louvre as we possibly could have. It was absolutely incredible. There was so much artwork, it was honestly a little overwhelming. I raced past the Mona Lisa, catching a quick side glimpse because of the crowd that stood in the queue in front of it. I think I saw Monet’s Day at the Park, but I can’t be sure. It was not until we reached some of Van Gogh’s paintings on the fifth floor that I finally began to feel some ease.

The fifth floor was filled with famous impressionist and classical paintings that I had previously studied in my art classes. It was exciting to see things that I had learned about. After such a full day, it was nice to calmly meander around the fifth floor, where there were fewer crowds.

Once we had finished, we met the group again at the Louvre’s underground subway station. As we leapt through the subway doors, we talked about going to see the Eiffel Tower. Nikos offered to take us there and guide us back to our hotel room. I could feel exhaustion creeping its way into my bones. Dounia and I decided to spend the afternoon at the Eiffel Tower! Join me next time for my travel tale as I talk about all of our iconic adventures!

Ten Days Traveling in Peru

Continuing My Adventure Traveling Peru

by Tyler Black

This is part two of a four-part series. Click here to read part one.

Day 2

I woke up early on Monday morning, eager to begin another hectic day of traveling Peru. I walked down to the coast to get breakfast with my new friends and check out the Pacific Ocean. After enjoying a crepe and some orange juice, we made our way back to the hostel, packed up our things, and said our goodbyes. Since Sarah and I had the same flight (if you remember from part one), we decided to share a taxi to the airport. Everything was going smoothly until we had to pay 60 soles for not printing out our tickets. If you fly Vivaair, keep this in mind. Once boarded, I found myself seated in the middle seat of the last row of the plane, so I enjoyed a nice sixty-minute flight with my knees down my throat. Gotta love being tall!

Arriving in Cusco

Now, I love flying more than anyone (I wanted to be a pilot when I was younger) but this might have been the biggest white-knuckle flight I’ve ever taken. You see, Cusco is nestled in the Andes Mountains, making it impossible for planes to just simply fly in straight on. When I heard our landing gear going down, I looked out the window to see us flying in between two humongous, majestic mountains. If that wasn’t bad enough, our pilot then made a sharp left turn (which lasted way too long) before leveling out right over the runaway and putting us down. I typically hate people who clap when their plane lands, but that little maneuver almost had me applauding. Bravo, señor piloto. Bravo.

Now that I was in Cusco, it was time for the moment of truth: how would my body handle the altitude change? The minute the doors to the plane opened, I could feel how much thinner the air was. I was breathing a little bit more rapidly than normal and my chest was a tad tight. Luckily, I had the coca leaves readily available and started to chew on a few. I would later find out that the best method is to put 15 leaves in your mouth and chew for five minutes with a ten to fifteen-minute break in between. Nonetheless, I wasn’t armed with this knowledge as I stepped into Cusco’s mountains. I wasn’t sure what I should have been feeling, but the initial lightheadedness I had went away.

traveling peru plaza abroad walking beautiful

First Day in the Mountains

While I was shoving leaves into my mouth like a damn koala bear, Sarah was negotiating taxi rates to the main square, Plaza de Armas. We were able to get a ride there for a little less than the normal rate (which was already extremely cheap). I realized right away how different Cusco was from Lima. First and foremost, I could see the sky and the sun, and because of this, it was a lot warmer. We were way above the overcast haze that sat on Lima.

Our taxi dropped us off in the plaza, where we made plans to meet up later. We then headed off to our respective hostels. Unfortunately, the walk to mine was entirely uphill. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue. I exercise. I’m relatively fit. But when there’s barely any oxygen, none of that matters. You’ll still feel like a fish out of water. I huffed and puffed my way along, cursing myself for smoking that one cigarette the day before in Lima. All the while, 90-year-old Peruvian ladies were flying past me. And to make matters worse, massage parlor shills were trying to coerce me into their establishments. Don’t tempt me, lady! Whatever. Maybe I wasn’t in as great of shape as I thought. Anyway, I eventually arrived at the Dragonfly Hostel and took a fat nap.

traveling peru plaza de armasto castle abroad


A Unique Dinner with a Friend

peru guinea pig dinner abroad

After waking up and showering, I made my way back to the Plaza de Armas to meet up with Sarah for some dinner. It was night now, and the view of the lit-up houses on the surrounding hills was unbelievably awing. We walked around a bit, gauging our options, and agreed to settle on a restaurant called Los Portales. 

It was at this very restaurant that I decided to try something new: guinea pig. I knew I couldn’t leave Peru without giving it a shot, so when I saw it on the menu, I figured I would get it out of the way. Let me tell you, it’s actually not terrible. I don’t think I would ever order it again, but if I was forced to eat another one, I wouldn’t complain. It’s got a very gamey taste and has a bit of fat, but all in all I can see why it’s a delicacy. Sarah was completely disgusted with my choice. She told me so all throughout dinner!

Day 3 

I was up very early the next day because I was going on my first excursion of the trip: riding ATVs to Moray, Maras, and the salt flats in the Sacred Valley. For those with more time in Cusco, other day-long excursions include Rainbow Mountain and Humantay Lake. I booked this activity with Willka Travel – Day Tours through TripAdvisor. Since I had an extra ticket, Sarah agreed to come along as my passenger (my crazy ATV driving definitely scared the crap out of her though!). Our guide picked us up at the hostel, which was very convenient and drove us about an hour outside of Cusco to a small village.

traveling peru salt flats valley excursion mountains

The Excursion

Our first stop was Moray, an archaeological site that contained ancient Inca terraces. Shaped almost like an oval, these layered terraces kind of reminded me of the Roman Amphitheatre. Except, instead of serving as a major source of entertainment, these terraces were for farming and irrigation. Their exact uses are still unknown but, according to our guide, their shape and orientation utilized the wind and sun to create drastic temperature changes between the top and bottom layers.

traveling peru moray abroad archaeological

After a short break to look around, we took off again. We passed through gorgeous, picturesque scenery. Some farm animals here, an abandoned church there, and we finally found ourselves in the village of Maras. Here, we boarded a van and headed to the famous salt flats. The flats were nestled between two large mountains. And when I say nestled, I mean they were at the very, very bottom. I had no idea what I was looking for as we zig-zagged our way down. Eventually, I was blown away by the bright, white ground that contrasted with the greens and browns that made up the surrounding landscape.

An End to a Great Day

Back in Cusco, Sarah and I walked around a little bit covered in dirt from all our outdoorsiness. I bet we probably looked like Pig-Pen from Peanuts. We decided on grabbing an early dinner and enjoying some famous Peruvian lomo saltado. We also ordered the much coveted and surprisingly refreshing Inka Cola. This would be our last goodbye before we went our separate ways. She would be staying in Cusco a couple more nights to do more excursions, like Rainbow Mountain, before seeing more of Peru. I would be starting my four-day hike to Machu Picchu the next day! In my opinion, besides the sights and experiences, meeting people whom you’ll probably never see again is easily one of the greatest things about traveling. It teaches you to get out of your bubble and be who you truly are.

This part two of a four-part series. Click here for here for part three.


Ten Days in Peru: Day One Lima

After living in Spain for two years and covering some serious ground in Europe, I began to gaze my eyes south of the equator to see what new adventures I could get myself into. I had many options to choose from like Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina. However, with it being winter down there, I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the beach life as much as I would have liked. I ultimately found Peru as the most practical choice. I knew it would be a rigorous trip and since I’m not getting any younger, I decided to pull the trigger on a round-trip ticket to Lima on Spirit Airlines for roughly $600. There were cheaper flights on Latam Airlines but their reviews online were abysmal, so I took the less risky option. This is part one of a four-part series.

Day 1 – Lima

I landed in Lima around midnight extremely groggy from my 14-hour journey and attempted to make my way towards the exit without a real clear idea of how I was going to get to my hostel. Thankfully, I didn’t need to think too much because there were about six or seven taxi companies intently flagging me down. I ended up paying 60 soles for a ride to Miraflores, which isn’t terrible. However, I would later find out that there is an airport shuttle that costs between 8 and 15 soles, so keep this in mind if you’re flying into Lima. And at the end of my trip, I would come to discover that Uber’s prices are almost half of the taxi rates. You live and learn, I suppose. I arrived at Hostel Puriwasi, checked in, and promptly went straight to sleep.

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A Tour Around Downtown Lima

Six hours later, I was up and ready to see what Lima had to offer. I signed myself up for a free walking tour of downtown Lima, which was run by my hostel. Just like that, my vacation was underway. We took the metro (which was actually an extended bus) and headed for the city center. Passing through various neighborhoods, we even went under the national soccer stadium. Our stop was Jirón de la Unión, one of Lima’s oldest and most bustling streets. The street used to be an aristocratic hotspot for many decades after its construction in the 16thcentury. The street’s age was evident by the European-style architecture that shadowed the walkways. Today, it’s a very popular destination for shopping as it’s littered with high-end department stores and upscale restaurants.

Peru lima food travel abroad tour downtown peru

Plaza San Martin and Plaza Mayor

We took a short walk to Plaza San Martin, a beautiful and relaxing square in the heart of historic Lima. Then, we shot back up Jirón de la Unión towards Plaza Mayor. Along the way, we passed La Iglesia de La Merced, a gorgeous, intricately-designed church built by the Spanish in the early 1500s. We detoured a little bit to see the Basilica of San Francisco(more on this later) before reaching the Governor’s Palace. Thankfully, we happened to enter the grounds at a great time. The Dragoons of the Presidential Guard were performing their ceremonial changing of the guard. We all watched in awe (tourists and Peruvians alike) as the guards, mounted on horseback, carried out the traditional performance across the palace’s front yard. The governor stood tall on the front steps, watching, as they marched to the tune of the military band.

Peru lima food travel abroad tour downtown peru mayor

Shortly after it ended, and one street churro later, our guide, Franco, took us through the back streets of historic Lima. He showed us old Spanish balconies, where women used to hang out together while men romantically serenaded them on the streets below (by singing or playing guitar). Franco tried to get some of us guys in the group to show off our flattering moves, but none of us were brave enough. As if any of us foreigners could come close to that Hispanic charm! We carried on, almost nearing the end of our tour.

Peru lima town food travel abroad tour downtown peru

Lima Upper Downtown

Heading to the north of downtown, we passed through a series of small streets. They weren’t particularly crowded but they definitely had their share of the local Limeños going about their day. There were also Andean families selling handmade jewelry, clothing, and locally grown cocoa leaves. I had been keeping my eye out for cocoa leaves the entire day. I didn’t know how I would react to Cusco’s altitude later on in my trip, so I picked up a large baggy of them along with some cocoa candies. Franco encouraged us to buy some other stuff from the Andean people. Every single day they travel close to a 100 miles down from the mountains to sell their goods in those very streets. I couldn’t imagine how hard of a life that must be. However, you would never know their struggle with their smiling faces and tranquil demeanor. It was definitely an interaction I’ll never forget.

A First-Day Feast

The tour ended in a vibrant neighborhood full of musicians and street vendors. There was a great view of the Andes Mountains in the distance and some of the favelas in the nearby hills. After a group selfie (which I can’t find anywhere!), we all went our separate ways. Two others and I decided that we had to sample some authentic Peruvian food, so we set out to find a decent establishment in the area. We came across a small restaurant with a rowdy crowd watching a World Cup soccer game. We snuck in, grabbed a table, and ordered some Pisco Sours along with our main dishes. Pisco is a traditional Peruvian spirit made from fermented grape juice. It’s kind of like wine, but with a much higher alcohol content. It tastes a lot better than it sounds, I promise.

On the MenuPeru lima food travel abroad tour downtown ceviche

Our food arrived at the table and I feasted on my wonderful ceviche, a spicy dish of raw seafood seasoned with citric juices, onions, chili peppers, and cilantro. My plate also came with roasted corn and potatoes. Interestingly, my body has a great way of showing how delicious a dish is, and that’s by how much my nose runs. And let me tell you what, that thing didn’t stop leaking. It was probably from all the spice but either way, I was in food heaven.

Now stuffed like Peruvian guinea pigs, we decided to go back to the Basilica of San Francisco. Why, you ask? Because it has ancient catacombs, of course. Not as big as the ones in Paris, but still a sight worth seeing (even with the existential crisis it brings). It’s estimated that there were around 70,000 people buried there, their bones scattered in geometrical shapes. The catacombs have even survived the multitude of earthquakes that have devastated Lima over its 500+ year history. The basilica itself was very impressive as well. The interior, with its stone walls and large paintings, reminded me of those I had visited in Spain. Probably because it was built by the Spanish. But still, it made me miss my second home.

Winding Down

The afternoon was winding down to an end. The tour had been a lot longer than expected. In a good way, of course. My new friends and I headed back to the hostel to refresh and hang out at the rooftop bar. With a newfound love for pisco sours, we ordered a round and chatted about our travels and life in general. Sarah, a French girl traveling indefinitely around South America, turned out to have the same flight as me to Cusco. So, we agreed to meet up the next day in order to split a taxi ride to the airport. After an enjoyable few hours, we all eventually called it a night. We all had early mornings the next day. Up next was Cusco.

Click here for here for part two.

by Tyler Black

Dinner in a Basement and Exploring Montmartre


Be sure to check out my last article, where I took an underground train into Paris!

After a bit of time exploring Paris, Dounia and I joined Bill, Ulyana, Sara, and Nikos downstairs. We were heading to the Quartier Latin, or the Latin Quarter, for a traditional French dinner. Another tour group joined us along the way.

We were a sight to be seen: 40 young, noisy, American tourists walked in pairs down the narrow Parisian alleyway sidewalks at dusk. I hadn’t realized that we had gotten there when we finally arrived. It was dark, and we were suddenly being ushered into a building that had small, residential windows and no sign. Judging by all outward appearances, I would have assumed this was just another apartment building. As we passed through the doorway, we were greeted by a line of jocular waitstaff, told to go down the stairs, and were seated one by one.

Dinner in a French Basement

Bill Dounia Basement paris travel abroad

The basement looked like it was straight out of a catacomb. The walls were made of unfinished stone. A long row of booths pushed against the wall sat proudly. The basement was dim and lit by candles and a few spotlights. My group sat at the end of all the tables. Because it was just the six of us, I was finally able to get to know my travel companions a little more. Ulyana (Uly for short) was studying acting at a fancy New York university. Bill was taking a gap year (I believe) and lived on the East Coast. Sara was from a small Michigan town and she spent her summers working at a local bakery. Nikos was Greek, and he his whole career was centered around helping tourists. These month-long trips were always his favorites.

We drank and joked the night away, as our waiters both served and acted as entertainment, coming up with songs and limericks on the fly! After dinner (and a taste test of Bill’s frog legs – not bad), Dounia and I, both tipsy and happy, hiccupped our way back to the hotel room to get some rest for exploring Paris the next day.

Through the Red-Light District

Before dinner the night before, Nikos had suggested we spend the next morning exploring Montmartre before we left for our day trip to the Palace of Versailles. Dounia and I decided to swing by since it was so close to the Versailles day trip meeting point. We went in barely remembering the name of whatever it was we were visiting and were astounded as we stepped off the subway and looked around. Montmartre is a beautiful church that sits atop one of the tallest hills of the city. The morning had started off wet and drizzly, so I donned my new polka-dotted raincoat and gave Dounia a grin as we looked around to discover exactly where we had wound up.  Just as we took our first steps towards exploring Montmartre, my purse broke.

Just Around the Corner

My purse had been breaking the whole trip, but it had finally decided to give out at the entrance. Luckily, in order to get to the church, we had to pass by hundreds of cheap, touristy vendors, restaurants, and shops. I found out later that this was part of the Red-Light District. Originally, I had planned on avoiding the Red-Light District entirely since I had no desire to shop and, to be quite honest, some portions of it seemed kind of sketchy. Besides that, I also felt like I was too young to explore Moulin Rouge, which was also nearby. During the bus tour, all I could think about as we drove past Moulin Rouge was how nervous I’d be if we ever went inside. Now, after traveling a bit more and being a few years older, I think I’d love to go back and explore this side of Paris.

I wanted to get up to the church and start exploring Montmartre as soon as I could, so I rushed through shopping. Perusing wasn’t my goal: I grabbed a Paris-themed knapsack and ducked out of the store. I was excited to get up to the church. As I leaned my head back to look up at the church, the clouds rolled around it. The grass was a rich green and the drizzle made everything just dark enough to look mysterious but inviting.

A Lesson in Stairs

exploring Montmatre travel abroad paris beautiful

I don’t think I’ve ever gone up so many stairs in one go before! We went up what could have been five flights it seemed like, only to arrive three tiers below the entrance. We took a break to look around the small plaza and take some photos. There were more vendors here, however, they were the kind that walked around and tried to sell you things from a blanket they laid on the ground. One went as far as to grab me by the wrist to try and drag me to look at his goods. Dounia helped yank me away, but it was a little scary nonetheless.

exploring visiting Montmartre Paris travel abroad

We continued our journey up, up, up, up, and up again until we finally arrived at the entrance. I was huffing and puffing and regretting not exercising before my trip. There was a small line to get into the church, along with a list of rules for the tourists. Montmartre was still an active church, so the rules were there to ensure that tourists respected the services and the churchgoers. I felt a little weird about snapping shots left and right as the Mass was going on, so I didn’t take any pictures. I looked around at the stained glass and tried to keep as quiet as possible. Every once in a while, I tried to listen to the priest deliver the Mass in French, Latin, and Italian.

A Chocolate Palace

After we had poked around and finished exploring Montmartre, we still had about an hour to kill. As we were making our way back down the stairs, we ran into a trio of girls from our group. We decided to head down and explore the stores below. What followed was basically an entire hour of me bickering with myself on whether to spend my euros on a “big” souvenir item this early in the trip. Ultimately, I decided not to get anything, but it was really cool to explore the area below Montmartre’s steps.

There were Latin Quarter-themed sweaters, hoodies, and scarves. The Eiffel Tower was printed on everything you could imagine: clothes, shoes, accessories, mugs, magnets, keychains, postcards and more. I’m sure the streets would have been flooded with tourists if it had been a sunny morning. Luckily, it was just busy enough to be fun and not overwhelming.

Suddenly, the five of us got a strong whiff of something delicious smelling. After more perusing, we finally found it: a chocolate shop. It was warm both in temperature and in the atmosphere. There was a line of parents and their screaming kids at the counter, in line with handfuls of goodies. The best part of the whole shop, though, laid right in front: a four-foot-tall chocolate replica of Notre Dame. Done entirely with chocolate, the detail was immaculate. Afterward, we soon ended exploring Montmartre to meet the rest of our group at the nearby subway station.

Be sure to tune in next time to read about the Palace and Gardens of Versailles!

fountain Montmartre travel tales abroad paris

by Cassidy Kearney

Independence Day in Medellin, Colombia


It was Summer 2015. I was packing for my first summer abroad where I would be doing an internship to complete my master’s degree. It was July 4th and I was traveling alone on an international flight for the first time to Medellin, Colombia. It seemed so surreal to leave the U.S. on a holiday that was so special – not only to our nation but to me as well. Since I was a child, I’ve always enjoyed the holiday. At the time, I hadn’t fully recognized the depth of what the holiday meant for the nation. However, I made my own meaning and memories each year. Many of those childhood memories are still vivid in my mind and lasting in my heart. As I get older, time spent means more to me – especially time with family and friends.


Independence Day in Colombia


I arrived in Medellin, Colombia on the Fourth of July, 2015. It was a Saturday afternoon and I was absolutely terrified. This Independence Day wasn’t going to be one that I had ever experienced. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. I felt extremely excited to be there.

At the same time, I also felt the bottomless questions bubbling up in my mind. They all began with “what if…” This was in part because of the rumors I had heard about the city: “It’s a drug town!” and, “You are going to get killed!” I was also scared of not letting go of myself – or having freedom. I wanted the freedom to just be. So, there I was on the Fourth of July, in another country, not knowing how to be free because I was terrified.

Success Abroad

I didn’t know how to speak the language very well (yet). Whatever I did know was being stifled because of fear. I was inhibiting my own chance at success because of fear. I took a deep breath and walked downstairs in the airport. The front desk security guard looked at me and I looked at him. We both said, “hola,” and “hello,” at the same time. He started rapping at me in Spanish so fast that I couldn’t get my mind fixated on what I wanted to ask him. I smiled and quickly said, “¡Gracias!

I was tired from my flight and started to think, what should I ask next? How do I get groceries? Where is the closest place to buy food? Where am I? Who am I? What’s my name? Suddenly things that I thought I knew how to ask for in Spanish weren’t coming to mind! All that practice with Lee, my tutor, before I left came flashing in front of me. I could see Lee! I could see him saying, ¿Donde esta la tienda?


Getting Grounded

No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t say it! Why was I feeling this helpless? Not to mention, I felt completely clueless. The airport driver dropped me off in front of my building. He said I would have an event later that day… I never thought I would have felt so clueless! Evelio the receptionist and security guard, the man who wore two hats (arguably three or four) and I were just staring at one another. We were lost in translation. I looked at him and said, “hasta luego,” and waved. He looked at me and gave me a smile.


Luckily, later that evening there was a barbeque with a group of the interns. Here, I would meet and speak with others from around the world. I soon found out that I wasn’t the only one who felt a bit nervous. Nevertheless, I was the only intern working on her master’s and in her 30s. But, that didn’t stop me from making new friends.

On a Quest of Independence

Pause… stop. I met my soon-to-be best friend at this barbeque. This is history: an Independence Day historical moment. I not only was on a quest for independence in my own right, but I also met one of the dearest people in that process. I didn’t know it at the time, but my holiday away from home in Medellin would soon be the beginning of a very special friendship. Now, every year around the Fourth of July (or close to it), it represents a symbolic anniversary for our friendship. A day of courage, a day of personal freedom, of national freedom, and of the joining of two very different people on the journey of a lifetime. Luis and I are forever friends joined by the epic lifetime event in both our lives – a summer internship abroad in Medellin, Colombia.


An Underground Trip to Paris

It was 6:30 in the morning and we had a train to catch. My group piled onto the bus outside of our hotel in London and we took our last looks at our first city abroad. We were dropped off at one of London’s cornerstones: Kings Cross Station. It was enormous. It was exactly like an airport but flat, which was unexpected. This would be the first train ride I’d ever taken.

Kings Cross Station in London

We had about three hours to kill once we’d gotten to the station and past security. Dounia and I explored all the shops and went up and down and around the station while we killed time. I exchanged my pounds into euros, not caring about the exchange rate. I didn’t want to run around in our first non-English-speaking country with no money.

Our train arrived and I boarded, towing my suitcase, my new copy of The Hobbit, and my travel journal. My heart was beating and I kept poking Dounia, telling her how excited I was for my first train ride. She rolled her eyes at me but grinned. She reminded me that we’d be underground for a majority of the time. I didn’t care. An underground train?????? How could this get any cooler?!

A Trip Underground

We settled into our seats. There were four of them facing one another, with a table in the middle. I gave Dounia the window seat because she’s a lot shorter than I am and I could easily peer over her shoulder. The conductor called “All aboard,” And we were off!


The train quickly dove its way underneath the English Channel, and the windows showed nothing but black. I still thought it was cool that we were underground, but it was a little dull to do nothing but stare into a blank window for the hours-long train ride we had before us. I spent a good portion of it reading and writing about the rest of my London adventures in my travel journal.

Trip-to-Paris-France-Eiffel-tower-travel-abroadBehind us was the bar cart. As the train ride went on, more and more people collected in it. By the time we emerged from underneath the Channel, there was a regular party happening behind us! Bill passed by me with a can of olives and a slice of a baguette. I raised my eyebrows and asked. He pointed at the amassing French party behind us.

I slipped back and grabbed my olives. I tried to listen in on the French conversations that surrounded me, but my two college classes of French left me ill-prepared. I was a little disappointed but happily returned to my seat to snack.

Arriving in Paris

After watching rolling hills dotted with sheep, we finally arrived in Paris. Nikos told us that the railroad workers were striking and that traffic was blocked all around the station. We were going to have to walk a few blocks to our bus.

Once we shuffled on, our Parisian tour guide introduced herself as we drove around the city. She apologized for the strike, telling us that striking was Parisian’s favorite pastime. We quickly stopped at the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. We finished our tour at a popular city garden. Afterward, we got back onto our bus and we were driven to the northern part of Paris to our first hostel of the trip.

Paris-France-lion-travel-abroadOne Key, One Bathroom, Six Girls

Our hostel was three floors with one elevator (the tiniest I’ve ever seen). Nikos explained to us that the hostel only had one key per room, so if we all left, we should leave the key in the lobby. Dounia and I were assigned to a room on the third floor with four other girls. There was a pigeon plucking its way across our open window when we arrived.

There were three bunk beds in our mid-sized room. Fortunately, each bunk space had an outlet so each visitor could conveniently charge their devices. I still didn’t know many of our group members, and I don’t remember specifically who I shared the room with. I do remember that we were all starving and cranky. We immediately left to go find a place to eat.


After wandering around the streets of suburban northern Paris, we finally settled on a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop. Everyone attempted ordering through gesturing and pointing. I went last, and I got to try ordering in French for the first time! I think the shopkeeper seemed relieved, but I could just be inflating my own ego!

We quickly ran back to the hotel to prepare for the evening’s activities, which I’ll talk about in my next post!


An English Blur

An English Blur

If you haven’t read my second installment take a quick peek at Getting Lost in London to catch up!

The next morning, I woke up early to meet the group that was going to Oxford. Dounia hadn’t wanted to visit “some stuffy, old college,” and rolled her eyes about visiting Stonehenge, so I was going without her. I went to the hotel’s continental breakfast and was met with all the workings of a traditional English breakfast. I tried eggs benedict for the first time, as well as English breakfast beans (unusual, but I enjoyed it. Every chance I got, I would heap a mound of breakfast beans onto my plate). I went down to the lobby to wait, where I finally met Yennifer. Yennifer was the oldest member of the group and had grown up in Colombia. Dounia and I would become great friends with her.

Change of Plans

Nikos informed us that there was a last-minute change and we wouldn’t be visiting Stonehenge, much to my disappointment. Nonetheless, we were off. We met up with another tour group, and we all piled into a bus. Still unfamiliar with who my group was, I sat alone and looked out the window. When we got to Oxford, we took a quick walking tour, visiting all the important locations, and then we were released to explore on our own.

oxford-england-An English Blur

As soon as we were released, I bought a hoodie. It was freezing! It was the middle of summer, and it was like 60°F out! In Florida, it was probably 95°F. I didn’t think I’d be wearing a hoodie in the middle of May, that was for sure.


For lunch, I had a venison meat pie (delicious) at the market. It was completely surreal ordering it. There was definitely a delay while I took time to process the cashier’s accent – I think I had a venison pie, but who really knows what I agreed to in that quick exchange.

I took some time to sit in one of the important halls of the college, where I wrote a postcard to my grandmother, and then tried to visit the famous Oxford library. Unfortunately, the library is closed to visitors, so I made do with buying a copy of The Hobbit from the library’s gift shop. I popped into one of the oldest pubs for a quick peek, and then after ran into Yennifer and another girl from our group, Emily. They were going to visit the museum, so I thought I’d tag along.

Onto the Museum and Oxford Courtyard

The museum was incredible. There were old dinosaur bones that hung from the ceiling, and I had never been so transfixed as I had been, standing there, amidst such an incredible display of natural history. Yennifer, Emily, and I rushed through as much of the first floor as we could, as we had to meet the group once more. After meeting up with them (and after listening to an excited 19-year-old about popping into that old pub and buying a beer – “I didn’t even get carded!”), we were led to the famous Oxford courtyard that appeared in a number of Harry Potter films.


When we got back, Dounia and I went to have dinner somewhere Nikos had suggested, which was down a slightly scary street. We talked about turning around several times, but we eventually found it. I ordered my second drink ever, an apple martini, which Dounia recommended. What a difference! It was delicious! I could definitely see how those could be dangerous!

More Of London

The next day, we piled onto another bus and toured around London. We saw the Globe Theatre, Big Ben, London Bridge, and even got to watch the Changing of the Guards ceremony at the palace. Afterward, we again stuck close with Nikos and followed him around, along with a mid-sized portion of the group, into Chinatown. We saw all the usual quirks of Chinatown, along with the really cool entranceway.

After that, the group struck off from Nikos, and we visited several art museums. Dounia and I had dinner again, together, this time in a more popular part of town. A bunch of our group went bar hopping, but Dounia and I skipped it, as we had to wake up early again the next morning, and neither of us wanted to spend our souvenir money on booze.

I feel like I missed a lot in London, but this can be attributed to it being the first city, and we were still getting our feel for things. It was so big that it was overwhelming to pick what you wanted to visit. I feel like a lot of time was wasted just wandering around and trying to figure out how to navigate.

I remember feeling really frustrated at a lot of the people we were with, because nobody could make up their minds on what they wanted to see or how to get there, and I was trying to go with the flow. Later on, I decided that I would be the one navigating – I wasn’t going to waste my time trying to ‘collaborate’ (i.e. argue) on directions when I knew I was right. I probably rubbed more than a few people wrong, but in the end I was one of the go-to’s for directions, which ended a lot of frustrations on my end.


What I Learned

Ultimately, I wish I had gotten the chance to go back to London with my group. The anxieties of being in a new place with almost no one that I knew definitely got to me. This would eventually go away, but for the first few cities, I was really stressed out. This wasn’t only just the fact that I was in a new country either, but also because I was in such a large, historic city. I hadn’t come in with any plan at all on what I wanted to do or see and had no idea about what was around London that I could look at. I had brought a sightseeing book for Europe, but a lot of the sites in that were too far away.

My favorite place that I visited while in England was Oxford. I think I loved it not only because of the college but also because it was such a charming town. You could feel it waking up as the sun reached further and further overhead, there were people strolling up and down the street, and some locals tending to their garden flowers. The market was busy and alive. I saw an entire pig head! There were students and tourists rowing in the river down the way, and students walking around in their exam uniforms. I could have spent a few days in Oxford alone.

Final Thought About Where I Was

Visiting Oxford gave me a chance to take a deep breath and remind myself that everything was fine. Being alone in a weird place was nothing to get worked up over. I needed to be more open to new experiences and actually go with the flow. Not just say that I was! Taking the time to write the postcard gave me a moment to appreciate where I was. It was incredible that I was sitting in a hall that millions of students had traversed. I was standing smack dab in the middle of a room with wall to wall windows – a hall that was part of a university dedicated to educating students for centuries. It was big, beautiful, and breathtakingly rich.

When I emerged from that hall, I found a sense of calm. When Yennifer and Emily invited me to the museum, I was touched that they thought to include me. They reminded me to be friendly. Everyone who came onto this trip was just as alone as I was. Visiting the museum with them was one of the best parts of the first half of my month abroad.

In my next post, I’ll talk about arriving in Paris and our Parisian dinner! If you’d like, check out the video I made from clips I took while walking around!

by Cassidy Kearney