with a grain of rye
San Juan, Puerto Rico was an amazing experience! The trip started by Claire mentioning on the way to Atlanta from Medellín, "Want to take a weekend trip to Puerto Rico?" and from there the booking began. We stayed in the cutest hostel, "Santurcia," and it was amazing. From wonderful guests and hosts, we were able to make friends and thoroughly enjoy ourselves in this beautiful city. I felt 100% safe in Puerto Rico, walking around everywhere at night, both just Claire and I (and myself alone at one point), which made the experience so much greater. The best place to party and listen to reggaeton is in "La Placita." All of the bars there are amazing and feature every Latin hit you could think of. Another area of San Juan, Old San Juan, was very cool and artistic as it is filled with a lot of history. With Spanish influence, the town looked beautiful and authentic to the culture. One bar down there, "La Factoria," is actually a popular hot spot for many Latino artists to film music videos, such as "Despactio." We met some amazing friends along the way, knocked out another country on the bucket list, and were able to further practice our Spanish. Claire and I really enjoyed this trip, especially when Sunday came around and our new friends drove us to this inlet beach "piñones," which was crowed, but striking beautiful as the water was crystal clear blue. Overall, this was the best weekend getaway and I can't wait for more short weekend trips!
LA! I literally felt like I was walking on clouds from the moment I touched down in California till when I was boarding my plane to leave. While in LA I was able to see Hollywood Blvd and see all the Hollywood celebrity stars on the ground, along with going to an amazingly trendy bar, Mama's Shelter. After walking around LA downtown, I was able to see Irving, CA; Riverside, CA; Anaheim, CA; and Laguna Beach. This trip was so spontaneous and random. I really enjoyed my freedom and just being like "hey, I'm going to LA this weekend." I actually ran into many friends I know in LA, by simply walking around the Riverside mall, and was amazed that in such a big city I was able to see people I had met along the years. This trip also was one of the first trips when someone asked me if I was a blogger because of my style and that they "thought they saw me on Instagram," which was really cool. LA just felt like home from the minute I landed. Every song about California automatically began to play in my head, and I felt such an overpowering relief and peace. From the trendy restaurants to beach days, LA captured my heart and made me gain a greater appreciation for the city, state, and country as a whole.
Medellín, Colombia is a beautiful city located between a range of mountains in South America. Only an hour and a half flight from Cartagena, Medellín is full of history. Claire and I took this trip on a whim and hoped for the best as we knew little of Medellín until arriving in Colombia. Locals and tourists alike both told us that Medellín was a must see, and now we know why! From the luxurious scenery to the fun-filled city streets, this city was full of life and movement. Initially, we were told this city is where the Pablo Escobar based show "Narcos" originated. With previously held notions of a dark drug past and involvement with the cartel, Claire and I decided to figure out what this city actually was like for ourselves. Defying the stereotypes and speculations, we uncovered the truth about the city. While it was once home to Pablo Escobar and had drug involvement, it has since transformed into an amazing city full of art districts and cute boutiques, along with major shopping centers and clubs for tourists. In the Communidad 13, one of the communities of Medellín that used to be drug ridden, has been transformed into a new neighborhood and community with art murals and street vendors, along with new schools. The people of Medellín are taking back their city one block at a time and have made amazing improvements in their economic system and infrastructure, as compared to the previously held stereotypes dated back to the 1980s. By touring the city with Claire, taking the metro, walking around and exploring new coffee shops and street food, to dancing the night away with our newfound Australian friends Dylan and Liam, Claire and I fully lived the Medellín, Colombian experience. While Claire and I had such a good experience, one of my favorite memories is when we went bar hopping around their strip to take dancing lessons and undercover the nightlife. Our Australian friends were such a good time and made the experience more enjoyable for us by not only being great dance partners, but by also teaching us some Australian slangs and habits. Overall, it was such an amazing experience to be able to see a city, and country for that matter, that is still deemed taboo because of the misconceptions held about it. Hopefully by going and having the time of my life, others will open their minds to the beauty of Colombia and plan a visit! P.S. You can live stream the ABC network show "The Bachelor" and you can order Uber/Uber-eats in Medellín!
After traveling for three months, I have now had the time to come back home to Memphis, TN and reflect on my trips (hence the reason this post is 3-4 months past the time I took the trip). However, with this being said, Colombia has completely changed my view of the world and how I view stereotypes and people. Upon making plans to travel to Colombia, everyone (including friends, family, and co-workers, along with fellow students) advised me NOT to go. I was told "be safe" and "its so dangerous" and "the cartel is there" along with a slue of other comments that not only made it difficult for me to be excited, but also started to make me doubt my travel plans. Despite the growing anxiety, I remained hopeful for the trip. Upon arriving in Colombia, my eyes were opened to the poverty that exists in some places; however, I was also able to see the true beauty of the land and natural resources that were available. The whole trip I stayed in a number of hostels ( I will get into that process in my next post). In Cartagena, the hostel was downtown and was very close to the main square, which was perfect because we were able to walk everywhere! My friend Claire and I took on this adventure as two female travelers, not only to defy the previous held stereotype that female travelers need a male companion, but also to break the stereotype that "Colombia wasn't safe". While every city and country has crime and dangerous areas, tourism is 100% possible in Colombia, and the country has beautiful sites to offer. Cartagena has beautiful churches, colorful streets, and amazing food. Similar to Europe, most of the dining is in outdoor cafes and features local cuisines accompanied by rice and beans or "patacones" (a type of fried plantain with salsa rosa/ketchup-mayo). While in Cartagena, it is important to note that the bar life is like nothing I have ever seen before. Clubs are open almost 24/7, not closing till 6 am, and some keep going until noon the next day. While the popular style of music is reggaeton, discotecas do feature EDM inspired hits. Since the language of the country is Spanish, I was enthralled with being able to practice my Spanish and further immerse myself into the culture. Cartagena is known for dancing and fun, and while in the city I was able to take salsa and cumbia lessons (both dances which originated in this country). Furthermore, Claire and I were able to go island hoping to all the local islands around Cartagena, while also snorkeling and taking a boat that made us fear for our lives (LOL). In Cartagena, we met some of the most amazing people who went out with us every night and even accompanied us on many of our trips. The basic group consisted of two 35 year old friends taking a boy's trip, three girls from Georgetown on their graduation trip, Claire and I on our spring break from college, three random guys all on spring break and/or taking gap semesters, two girls from Villanova that happened to be in the same sorority as me, and various girls from South Africa, Germany, Amsterdam, Switzerland, Peru, Argentina and Italy. With such a mix of people, my mind was opened to new cultures and the cultural barriers and stigmas were broken down to real human interaction experienced first hand. With the various dance clubs and lessons teaching me how to dance salsa, cumbia and "peggando," I feel I got the entire Cartagena experience from meeting the locals to seeing all the site-seeing spots and getting a killer tan. Cartagena was by far my favorite city in Colombia, but mostly because this city felt like home with the love and acceptance I felt from the people around me and the locals in the city. You can feel the love within the streets.
Upon starting my trip to Italy, I was apprehensive and nervous for the unknown experiences that were about to transpire before me. Although I was excited to experience a new culture, I really had no idea what to expect or what I should do while in the new country. Now, as I write from the beach in Sicily, I believe I have uncovered the answer to these questions. Through the revelations of my most memorable moments and memories from this trip, I hope you as a reader are able to immerse yourself in my personal adventure in hopes to uncover your own.
To begin the trip, Venice immediately stole my heart. One of my favorite moments in Italy was when we were in Venice and I discovered the Italian grocery store. This idea may sound peculiar, as of all the memories from Italy (Venice specifically) I remember a grocery store, but this memory gave me a glimpse into how local Venetians shop, live, and eat within their city, our city, Venice. Most of the memories shared within this post will be focused on the non-picturesque moments of Italy, as it is in the small and unnoticed moments that one notices something amazing. Therefore, some of the specific details that made this grocery shopping experience so profound for me involve seeing the Italian language on all the food products and packaged goods, along with an array of completely new store brands. Trying to find what food items I was looking for was a challenge at first; however, after much consideration, questions, and Google Translate, I felt confident to make a purchase. Still keeping my receipt from this first grocery store trip, I can easily recall some local favorite foods items featured in every city visited thus far: gorgonzola cheese, pesto, tiny tomatoes, peach tea (Thé pesca), avocados, olive-oiled crackers, and nectarines. These food staples have become the necessities to survive the pasta overload featured in every restaurant ever visited in Italy. Overall, I enjoyed bringing my own bag to buy groceries, and searching through Italian labels to find the food I wanted, as both of these things gave me a local’s perspective into daily life of a local Italian shopper. This experience has helped me identify the difference between being a traveler and a tourist. A traveler lives in the city they are in, while a tourist merely visits it, never embracing the city for the reality that it holds. Through the experience of emerging myself in the local conveniences, I was able to absorb the culture, furthering my time in Italy as a traveler.
Continuing with Venice, I also cherished the trip to the beach “Lido” because the town itself represented the similar coastal towns one would imagine when visiting a European coast. From seeing the black sand to seeing vending machines that sell cannabis, my mind was shocked facing so many new social construct changes all in a matter of 24 hours. Lido gave me the beach vacation vibes in a quick day’s trip that I had been longing for all summer long before embarking on my Italian journey. Watching the sunset from the beach and facing the Adriatic Sea all were once-in-a-lifetime feelings that I was able to capture from these specific moments in Lido. The images I was able to take highlight the sunset and other amenities offered on this island such as the public carnival, a discoteca on the beach, and a treacherous public transportation experience that caused hysteria among the masses (masses= four girls from Alabama on the trip). After the miniature tragedy (Shakespeare pun, in accordance with my study abroad class), I became a newfound professional at dictating which boat to get on to reach Zattare, S. Marco, and Rialto. I would overall conclude that the trip to Lido was a beautiful learning experience to not only expect the unexpected, but also to trust yourself before you trust your friends. Now I take blame for stepping on the boat they informed me would be a 15-minute ride to San Marco Square; however, the 15-minute boat ride to S. Marco turned into a 2-hour boat ride to the last and farthest most port before leaving the Italian sea zones to venture into unknown waters of a foreign country, not Italy. Overall, this experience was a moment to remember as it not only shaped my view point of European beaches, but also quickly taught me how to learn the public transportation system the long way (emphasis on long).
Leaving Venice and skipping to Rome, one of my most “self-discovery” moments involves my time exploring the Roman city itself, alone. After going for a jog around the local city area and exploring for myself the streets near the hostel, I stumbled upon a local river market festival (of which I convinced everyone on the trip to check out in their free time). At this river festival, I decided to try Tex-Mex once again to see if Italians could get it right a second time. Sadly, to no avail, it sucked once again. Despite my hopes of American-style Mexican queso running over a bed of rice, I was able to locate a cute side boutique selling jewelry. I purchased two silver bracelets with air planes on them, one for my best friend and I, as we are self-deemed travel buddies. While the air plane symbolizes a multitude of things for me such as freedom, adventure, travel, and the Air Force, I knew this bracelet would mean a lot to my best friend Claire. Claire collects bracelets in every country she visits, yet she has never been to Italy; therefore, I figured this bracelet would be the perfect trinket to bring back for her. While purchasing these bracelets at the river market festival, I came to the realization that many people dream of coming to Italy and experience this culture the way I have been for the past month, every day. It was in this moment that my gratitude for my parents and my life really began to beam into my overall ora, changing my mood to be full of gratitude and “less attitude.” I believe in this festival, which is almost identical to the Italian festival back in Memphis, TN, I was able to visualize the blessings I have been given that allow me to be here on this trip to Italy. Coming from a smaller town outside of Memphis, many friends and family members have never had the experience or the money to fly on a plane, nevertheless leave the United States and go to another country. This realization opened my eyes to the amazing experience I am getting to have here in Italy, especially as I embark on my own journey within the cities.
Through all the various cities, my final stop in Taormina, Sicily has by far made the largest impact on my time in Italy. The biggest highlight of my trip thus far is going to Isola Bella (a beach with a swimmable island). While many of the students studying abroad went together both days, my favorite day was the one in which I ventured alone to a private beach. It is amazing the things you wear, say, and do when no one you know is around you. For myself this idea was proven true as most of the locals were at this beach spot, representing the truest version of a string-bikini and men’s speedos. Influenced by my environment, and the fact I do not want ridiculous tan lines, I tanned in a said “sting-bikini” (more like a thong) and my swim top. I also ordered a beach chair and cabana, and surprisingly enough was given a Taiwan massage. In my massage, however, I was surprised to discover that a Taiwan massage in Italy involves baby oil lathered on your body, with emphasis on the butt cheeks (I really began to question whether or not the fashion trend was worth it). Despite the awkwardness of the situation, enjoying the beach to myself without having to hear anyone complain about being hot, tired, or hungry was a blessing. An added bonus was that I also did not have to hear the words “law school,” “rush,” “homework/readings,” or any other form of those subjects for a full 12 hours. For my mental sanity, I realized I need and thoroughly enjoy having alone time with myself. I was able to listen to the whole Scorpion album released by Drake, go cliff jumping with a group of kids on the beach in need of adult supervision, and begin writing this memorable moments journal. For this day, I turned off my phone and enjoyed the whole day without technology (until about 9 pm), which resulted in a more aware sense of my surroundings and feeling more productive.
Overall, these are the most memorable memories from Italy that I chose to highlight, each interlocked with the singled thread that I am most fond of learning to live like a local in whichever city/country I am in. I believe when I experience anything alone, it is more influential as the only judge of the experience is myself. I am naturally attracted to the water element of the beach, as seen in both of my highlighted memories; however, I believe it is near these water elements one has the freedom to be more adventurous and carefree than when in the close proximity of the city. Without having to worry about other people’s happiness or needs, I am able to focus on my own experience and bask in the freedom. It is in these memories that feelings and emotions were created that I will carry with me through a lifetime, as each one has taken me in the correct path to self-discovery. While the memories made during my month stay in Italy are endless, each impacted with significant meaning, these special ones talked about will be the ones closest to my heart. I am most thankful I chose to live in Italy for a month as a traveler instead of visiting Italy as a tourist. Ciao Italia!
Taormina is by far the most beautiful city in Italy that I have visited on my trip. From the cute little coastal towns to the unique beaches, my soul flourished here. I usually am attracted to water naturally, and since this city was surrounded by beaches, jumping cliffs, volcanoes, mountains, and diving points, my adventurous outdoors side was able to peak. Isola Bella, the local island right off the coast, is where I spent most my time as there were rocks to climb, caves to explore, and water that must be swam in. Waking up each morning and seeing the crystal clear turquoise water reminded me of Maui, Hawaii and made me feel like I was in paradise. This city was my last stop on my month's journey through Italy, and while I am devastated to leave, I am excited for the new adventures I will take when I return to Tuscaloosa.
Literally, Rome is breathe-taking. The first thing I saw when arriving from the train in Rome was the Roman Colosseum, which was amazing to see as there is such an enormous amount of historical significance within its perimeters. From seeing the Vatican (which brought tears to my eyes because I was able to see the Pope), to climbing the Spanish Steps, to tossing coins into the Trevi fountain, I was moved by the fact this city has preserved throughout the centuries to still remain a central hub for commerce in a modern society. While in Rome, however, I felt really sick for a few days, resulting in my trip to the doctor's office and pharmacy, of which lasted 10 minutes and the total cost for my visit and medicine was 3 euros--this just is not a thing in the U.S. Amazed at the quickness of the medical personnel, my eyes were once again opened to the beauty of Rome. Concluding my final days there, I discovered a local river market festival that included live music, restaurants, and shops, all reminding me of the local Italian festival celebrated back in my hometown. With each city, there is a a new vibe that awakens the city at night, and in regards to nightlife, I believe Rome had the most options available if someone wanted to go out. Rome was an amazing adventure within itself on this Italian journey I have been taking, and now my heart is sad to leave it. Addio Roma!
Florence was my favorite metropolitan Italian city visited. From arriving at a hostel that reminded me of my crazy nights in Cancun with my best friend Claire to washing clothes by hand and using a clothes line, I was amazed at my independence and confidence to explore this city alone. My favorite highlight from this experience was climbing to the top of the local mountain to Saint Faustina Church to watch the sunset, while enjoying a liter of blanc vino. While the way back down the mountain was not a highlight of my trip, I enjoyed the beautiful scenery offered as the city is located between the mountains. I also loved the bars and nightlife in Florence. There is this bar called Flo, which was similar to some Las Vegas bars as everything was techno, modern, and the bar was overlooking a skyline on a roof top. In this city I was able to meet up with another friend from my sorority pledge class, which was a complete surprise and blessing. As the nightlife in Florence was amazing, I was shocked to discover how much American music was played. I expected italian pop or reggaeton, yet most of the songs were classic 1990s--2000s hits, of which I was not complaining. Focusing more on the artistic features of the city, seeing the David statue and famous master pieces from well-known artists gave me the cultural and historical learning experience I craved. Overall, Florence was my favorite city-city, and I believe I will miss it the most, as I can imagine myself actually living there in the future.
Of all the cities in Italy thus far, Verona has a mythical and magical feeling of love one can feel upon entering the city. As it is called the "city of love," mostly impart to Romeo and Juliet's love story that took place within its city walls, the vibes one feels here when walking up the the cobblestone streets are not all make-believe. From touring castles to visiting the so-called ruins of Juliet, Verona embodied a child-like fairytale atmosphere, full of dreams and hopes for finding a love as passionate as Romeo and Juliet. My favorite past time in Verona involved writing out a love letter for my future husband to put on Juliet's wall, as it is a mythical tradition to bring good luck in love and life. It was in writing, one of my clearly obvious fun-filled hobbies, that I was able to uncover what it is that I do look for in a future spouse and what qualities are important to me, whether it be for a spouse or for friendships. Contemplating on these qualities, interests, and concerns, I was able to uncover more about myself and what my top three values are: freedom, independence, and pursuit of life's Divine purpose. While these words are ambiguous to any reader, there significance and value in my life is enormous, as each of my actions during my 19 years of living have been centered and shaped around these values. Overall, I loved Verona, yet my heart learns to discover Florence in the days ahead. Ciao Verona!
I am Gabe Rye, from Memphis, TN. I started writing journal entries because I was inspired at a young age to pursue writing to share my thoughts and feelings on the changing world around us. Attitude is everything, and changing your attitude and mentality is a journey I have been taking since the start of my writing. I desire to become a better contributing member of society, as to also better my faith journey through this social platform.