Snow Polo World Cup and Solo Trip

Time to kill two birds with one stone! February has been a good month! I took a trip to St. Moritz with one of my best friends, Schuyler, to watch the Snow Polo World Cup Finals, and then took a spontaneous solo trip to Munich, Germany to cure some post-travel blues.

Starting with St. Moritz: I cannot even put into words how fun this trip was! It was definitely a quick one, just a Saturday to Sunday, but Schuyler and I made the most of every second. Literally. We stayed up 24 hours to really enjoy it all! Saturday morning had an early wake up call for our 6:30 train. St. Moritz is just over four hours from Basel by train, so we got nice and comfortable for the first two hours before we had to change trains in Chur.

Once in St. Moritz, we had a nice little lunch at the train station and picked up some snacks to take to our hostel, which we then took a short bus ride to. Upon check in, we were informed that we had been upgraded to a private room for just the two of us! We were ecstatic and skipped down the hall to get ready. The Snow Polo World Cup is quite the event, with a lot of prestigious and wealthy people in attendance. While we don’t exactly fit this mold, we decided if we looked and acted the part, people would believe that we did. Surprisingly, it worked. We actually had people asking to take our picture multiple times throughout the day! (Which is quite strange…literally felt like we had paparazzi!)

Watching the polo was truly a unique experience! I have seen some polo matches before, being from Wellington, Florida, but snow polo took it to another level. It is literally played on a frozen lake! Plus, it is free to the public to go watch in the standing section. At first I was nervous about this, and worried we would be freezing cold just standing there with nowhere else to go! But it was SO fun. We snuck our way right up to the front of the barricade, so close that when the horses were running, their hooves kicked the snow up at us!

Quick 360 of the St. Moritz Polo match
When I said we were close to the action…I meant it!

We made some friends at the match who invited us out with them later that evening, so after a bit of downtime, including a warm beverage to defrost, we joined them for some food and then went out to one of St. Moritz’s most popular clubs. Now neither Schuyler nor I frequent clubs on a regular basis, and we had been awake since 4:15 in the morning, so we both decided we would leave as soon as the other wanted. Fast forward a second club and 4:30 the NEXT morning, we were STILL out and having the BEST time. The main reason we left was because we had an early-ish train home and wanted to make sure we got a tiny bit of sleep after such a long day! But honestly, it quite possibly was the most fun night I have had in my life. We were laughing, dancing, and singing all kinds of songs with our new friends for hours, and it is a night of fun I won’t soon forget. It made for a really long and exhausted Sunday, but we wouldn’t trade the memories for anything!

Just two weeks later, the travel bug was makin’ me itch again! All of my friends were busy, so I decided it was time for another solo getaway! I found incredibly cheap bus tickets to Munich, Germany, and three days later I was on the road! It was a super comfortable coach with free WiFi, and the whole trip was just under four hours nonstop. I arrived in Munich just around lunch time.

I checked into my hostel, took a quick catnap (I really need to work on going to sleep MUCH earlier…), and then went out to explore! I found myself walking towards Marienplatz, which is Munich’s main square. There was a lot of shopping, cafes, and of course the New City Hall, the main building in the pictures below. Just adjacent to Marienplatz was St. Peter’s Church, complete with a 300ft tower that I chose to climb for three euros. There are 306 steps in the tower, and I most definitely overestimated my athletic abilities when I was about halfway up and completely out of breath! But the views from the top were most definitely worth it. Sweeping 360 degree views of all of Munich on an absolutely GORGEOUS day!

Munich from above.

I walked around a bit more, stopping and looking in churches, theaters, and even the famous Hofbräuhaus beer hall until it started to get dark, when I made my way back to the hostel. I got dinner and a drink on happy hour at the bar inside the hostel, hoping to make some friends. After a bit, there was a massive line forming at a table, so I went to check it out. That is something college taught me well: if you see a line, get in the back of it because you’re probably waiting for something cool! It turned out to be a night time beer tour through the city. Personally, I hate beer. Why did I take a trip to Munich, the beer capital of the world? Good question. But, since I was solo traveling, and also wanting to partake in traditional “Munich” things, I decided to go! The tour included a liter and a half of beer, and I did try some, but passed it onto one of my new friends after I decided I didn’t like it so much. We went to three different beer halls where we learned a lot about the history of beer in Germany, some cool facts about Oktoberfest, and tasted some typical Bavarian beer.

The highlight of the tour for me was definitely making some friends that were also staying at my hostel! I continued to hangout with them through the evening, and also the next day and night while we explored Munich! The next day started with a walking tour of the city, which ended up being super great for me to learn more about all of the places I had visited the day before on my own. After the tour, we had traditional Bavarian lunch in an outdoor beer garden before going to the English Gardens, which is one of the biggest urban parks in the world. It was another gorgeous day, so we sat in the grass and watched some people play frisbee. We also got to see professional surfers totally killing it on the manmade wave in the park. I can’t even imagine how cold the water must have been, but the surfers were seriously so good. I would definitely have killed myself attempting such a thing.

SO cool and those people are so talented! You couldn’t pay me enough to get in that freezing water!

By this time, it was around dinner, so we all headed back to the hostel to freshen up a bit and rest before having dinner and going back to the Hofbräuhaus to experience the lively night time atmosphere. There wasn’t quite as much singing at the Hofbräuhaus as there normally is, so we were told, but it was still a really cool place to be. Despite being rather touristy, it still encompassed what I picture to be traditional Munich/Bavaria.

This is me pretending I drank both liters of beer and the wine. Bet you can’t guess which one really was mine!
Some Hofbrauhaus music!

The month of February was complete with a special Valentine’s Day surprise from my sweet Jon. He had made arrangements with my best friend Zoe back in December to make sure that my Valentine’s Day was as special as it could be. The two of them really knocked it out of the park! A massive box of heart shaped balloons was delivered to my house in the morning, and the evening ended with a surprise visit from Zoe to take me out to dinner when I thought I was supposed to be babysitting. It couldn’t have been better, and I am so grateful to be loved so well by the both of them!

Balloons galore!!

More fun stuff coming soon! My kids have two weeks of school holidays that just started this week, and I leave on my own little trip today! Stay tuned to see where I am heading to spend my vacation!

Until next time,
Hannah

Amster-DAMN!

Now that the new year has started, I am quickly filling up my calendar with weekends in all kinds of cool new places. The first was a trip to Amsterdam! I got to spend three days exploring the city with my friend Nicole, and we really made the most of our limited time. Especially considering the less than ideal weather. I am so grateful for this friendship and the memories we are making! Time is FLYING! How is it already the end of January?? But I digress. Back to Amsterdam.

Starting early Friday morning (and I do mean early. 6:50 flight meant a 4:00 wake-up call!), we were off to Amsterdam! We arrived just after 8:00am, and it was still pitch dark outside. After a quick train ride to Amsterdam Centraal Station and a ferry to our hostel, we dropped our bags off and went to a cute little cafe for breakfast. From there, we started off on a three hour walking tour of the city. We had the best Irish tour guide who gave us all the must-know facts with some good humor thrown in. We really enjoyed getting to orient ourselves with the city, even though we were freezing cold and soaked through our jackets by the time the tour concluded. The rain started as an annoying mist, but picked up off and on throughout the rest of the day (and weekend).

Our tour guide gave us a great local recommendation to a place that serves traditional Dutch cuisine, and Nicole and I both ordered stamppot, a dish made up of a heaping serving of mashed potatoes and vegetables with a meatball on top. It was just the warm comfort food we needed to keep us going.

The beautiful houess on the canals of Amsterdam!
Delicious stamppot and Nicole got a Danish beer.

After lunch, we had reservations to go to the Anne Frank Haus. This is a largely popular museum, and tickets often sell out months in advance. I was happy I was able to secure some so we could see for ourselves what we read about in the Diary of Anne Frank in middle school. Getting to walk around and see this historical place in person was humbling, to say the least. Even though I knew going into it that it would be a really heavy experience, I was not properly prepared for how I would really feel. The museum is in the same building where the real Secret Annex was, where eight people lived in silence for two years, hiding. I saw where they ate breakfast, where they had to use the bathroom and not flush the toilet or use running water during work hours for fear that the people working below would discover them. I saw the wall where Anne glued her favorite photos and magazine clippings on the walls. I was able to envision their lives, the same lives that got so violently taken away from them. It was heartbreaking, and made me even more grateful for my family, my freedom, and my life.

Next on the agenda, we had booked an evening river cruise to take in one of the last nights of the Light Festival that was taking place on and in the river. We had to rush there, since we spent much longer in the Anne Frank museum than we had planned, but we made it just in time. For 5 Euros more, we got to indulge in unlimited Glühwein, which was MUCH needed on the cold evening!

Thanks to the early morning, we were both pretty tired and decided to head back to the hostel to turn in for the night. Our hostel was perfect! Complete with a full bar/mini restaurant, we had all we needed right from the comfort of our pajamas! We tried to stick around after dinner for some karaoke, but a desperate need for sleep got the best of us and we retired to our four-bed girls only dorm room. Boy, did we get lucky with our roommates! They were both so polite and quite when they came in much later than we had gone to sleep, taking extra care with the lights and the slamming of the doors and lockers. We barely even heard them come in!

Saturday morning started much slower, with breakfast around 10:00 am. We found another cute little restaurant and both ordered fried eggs on sourdough bread with bacon. Can you say YUM?? Perfect fuel to star our morning as we headed off to Dam Square to see the set up for National Tulip Day! Set up right in the middle of the square was a massive fake tulip field, complete with approximately 200,000 tulips! Totally free, and each person could take up to 20 tulips. We went to wait in line only to see that it wrapped around too many times to count, and we wouldn’t have been allowed to take the flowers home anyways. Instead, we got close to the barricade, watching the start of the ceremony and the flocks of people run to choose the best flowers. Of course, I wasn’t going to leave Amsterdam without a picture with some tulips, dang it! I ended up asking a girl taking a selfie if she wanted a real picture, and then asked if we could also take a picture with her flowers! She happily said yes, and I got to check ‘tulip pictures’ off my Amsterdam to-do list.

Love this tulip festival!

It looked a bit sunnier after we left the tulip festival, but turns out it was just in preparation for some hail. We went to take some pictures by the famous Amsterdam ‘gingerbread houses’, but the sunshine lasted only for 15 minutes before we ran into a McDonalds to get out of the rain and try to order a Stroopwaffle McFlurry (which no longer is on their menu, unfortunately.) We got regular McFlurries instead before heading to the Sex Museum, which was just a few doors down.

For the sake of whoever is reading this, and the fact that it is posted publicly online, I will spare the details and photos of this museum, but we really did have a good laugh. That would typically be the type of place I would avoid visiting, but for 5 euros on a rainy day, we really did have a fun time! It was an incredibly fascinating way to stay out of the rain.

The only postable photo from the Sex Museum

With no more solid plans for the evening, we walked through the town and made our way down all kinds of little streets and alleys, heading pretty far out of the main city center to go find a winter out door ice rink. We were way too cold to skate once we got there, and the food options we thought would be available weren’t what we wanted to eat. So we headed back into the center, in the direction of the Red Light District. On the way, we stopped at an amazing burger place for dinner, and then headed with secret instructions for entry to a traditional 1920s speakesasy!

The speakeasy was truly hidden. John had just visited Amsterdam in December, and was the one who recommended we visit this bar. Without his suggestion, and his good directions, we never would have found this place! Both Nicole and I were really happy we made time to go check it out. It was so cool! When it comes to alcohol, though, I am still very inexperienced. I know what I like, and I am often scared to try new things in case I don’t like it and waste my money! Especially in an expensive place like this. However, thanks to the circumstances, I was feeling very adventurous and ordered some drink called “PS. Thanks But No Thanks”, which is exactly what I said to Nicole after I tried it and hated it! She was generous enough to switch with me since she didn’t mind the taste. I thought it tasted like straight hand sanitizer. Ha! That’s what I get, I guess! She ordered a drink that was similar to a mojito, which I enjoyed much more.

Last thing on our “Must Do in Amsterdam” list was walk through the Red Light District. This was like nothing I have ever seen! By this time, it was around midnight, which our tour guide from the day before had said was “prime time” and the time he recommended we visit during to ensure we could see it in full swing. He was not lying! Again, for obvious reasons, there are no pictures allowed in this area. We walked down the streets and saw the doors with their red lights shining bright, complete with beautiful women standing inside. People knocked on the doors, women let them in, and then the curtains would close. We learned so much on our tour about how the legalization of prostitution in Amsterdam has greatly improved the safety and well being of the workers. He did tell us that this might be the last time we could see the Red Light District fully functioning, as there is a vote taking place in the government to decide whether or not they will be banning it again. I was grateful for the opportunity to see it while I could!

The next morning was our last in Amsterdam. We woke up early enough to walk back into the city to a waffle shop that Nicole had found online. It was AMAZING! I got mine topped with strawberries, bananas, caramel, and whipped cream. Then, on our way back to the hostel to grab our things and head to the airport, we each got a traditional Amsterdam StroopWaffl! I got mine dipped in dark chocolate, which was far too sweet for my liking, but delicious and perfectly photogenic nonetheless.

Thanks to our multiple stops for yummy and instagrammable snacks, we were a bit rushed to get to the airport! Thankfully we got there with about 30 minutes to spare, and were surprised to see we had no gate assigned even though our flight should have been getting ready to board. The security team told us to wait in the lounge, saying a gate would be assigned shortly. When I went to check on the screen 10 or so minutes later, I saw that our original departure time of 1:45 had been pushed back to 6:15! Almost FIVE hours of a delay!! Apparently, the plane had some mechanical issues in Basel and a replacement flight had to come from Geneva, which was going to take some time. We made ourselves comfortable in the lounge, reading books and watching Netflix, to kill the time. We ended up arriving in Basel much later than we had anticipated, but the delay really wasn’t too bad! The airline offered us vouchers for food and information for how to request some kind of reimbursement for the inconvenience. Fast forward just about a week and half later, and we got reimbursed almost THREE TIMES as much as our round trip flights originally cost! All for a minor little flight delay. Thanks to EasyJet, I will be making sure to spend that extra unexpected money on another trip!

Thank you, Nicole, for making these wonderful memories with me! I cherish our friendship and can’t wait to see more of Europe with you!

There is more awesome posts to come! Stay tuned! 🙂

Until next time,
Hannah

End of 2019 Recap

Life got the best of me and the blog hit the back burner…again. I have been BUSY! Busy making awesome memories, travel, and finishing my semester of classes with a 4.0 (by the grace of God). I went on a spa weekend with Zoe, had Gracie come visit, went to Austria, went to France, flew all the way back to the states to attend my Uncle Ryan and Aunt Leah’s wedding, went on a family reunion cruise to Honduras, Belize, and Mexico, went to Lucerne with my friend Schuyler, took my final exams, had KJ come visit for two weeks, visited many Christmas markets, went to Arosa, Switzerland for a romantic ‘wine and dine’ night on the top of a mountain at the Hörnlihütte resort, skied in Lenzerheide, and spent New Years in Copenhagen with my best friends. Phew! Did you follow all of that?? Like I said, BUSY!

I really want to be more intentional with documenting these memories on the blog this year, and since it is the season of New Year’s resolutions, let this stand as proof of my very first one! This post will be long and full of pictures of some of my favorite memories of the year. More of a photo/video dump than my usual blog posts, but I will try to do better for this new year and the rest of my time abroad. There is a lot to unpack here, so bear with me. Feel free to click down below to the highlights you care to see most 🙂

Lenk Spa Weekend with Zoe

This was an amazing, spontaneous spa weekend and I loved EVERY second of it! Zoe and I decided on a Wednesday that we needed a girls weekend, and then Saturday morning drove to Lenk, about two hours from Basel, where she had grown up going on holiday with her family. She didn’t tell me where we were going to be staying, so when we pulled into a 5 star spa resort, I was FLOORED! The place was so beautiful. We did a nice hike up the mountain before going to our room, only to find Zoe had accidentally booked us a SUITE for the night! We had two balconies, two bathrooms, a fireplace, a nice woman who delivered us chocolates and drinks…this place was amazing! Even though we were only there for the day/night, we made the most of the sauna and the resort’s infinity pool. We also had a delicious dinner that accidentally included a scary haunted house, which resulted in tears from the both of us. We hate scary things. I truly wish there was good footage of us going through that dang maze. It would’ve given us quite a laugh! Zoe is such a special friend to me, so spending this time with her will be something I cherish forever!

This is one of my favorite videos ever. Please enjoy our sheer excitement at realizing Zoe didn’t actually book a normal room at the resort!
The view from one of our balconies. STUNNING.
Some champagne and live music from our resort bar.

Gracie’s Visit / Austria Trip

Another semi-spontaneous trip! I had been really starting to feel a bit homesick, and had asked Gracie a few times if she would want to come and visit me on her Fall Break from school. After some deliberation and a cheap flight, with less than a months notice, she flew over to Switzerland to spend almost a week with me! We booked last minute tickets to Austria and explored Vienna for two days, enjoying our sister time and the new country. My mom always told us growing up that we would be best friends one day and neither one of us believed her. I am happy to have been proven wrong. I love her with my whole heart and miss her so much.

Schönbrunn Palace
Gracie got a nice rip in her jeans and we laughed about it for the entire trip.

Church Retreat in France

One of my favorite parts about living here in Switzerland is the church home I have found. I have tried to plug in as much as I can, and have made such wonderful friends and found the community that I was really craving. I was thankful to be able to attend this year’s young adult’s retreat to France, where we spent two nights in fellowship, worship, and in the Word. All with my best friends! Definitely can’t beat it.

I am so thankful for this community.

Trip Home

My longest awaited trip was finally here! I got to fly home to spend two weeks with my family after four months apart. I spent a week at home and in Gainesville before flying to Texas to go on a big family reunion cruise for my Uncle Ryan’s wedding. I went to two Panthers games, got surprised with tickets to the Jonas Brother’s concert with Gracie, surprised KJ up in Gainesville, saw a bunch of friends from school that are so dear to me, and really enjoyed being home with my family. I truly had forgotten what it was like to be home and sleep in my own bed, so I was grateful for every second of being there.

Burning Up!
Decorated KJ’s house for Christmas and sat on the couch to watch Christmas movies, complete with a frosted glass of champagne and a foot rub. This is the life.

Ryan and Leah’s Wedding / Thanksgiving Cruise

Getting to watch Ryan and Leah vow their lives to each other in marriage was the sweetest experience! It is so clear how much they love each other, and I am so thankful to know them both. Their love is contagious and I am so happy that I was able to make the trip to be with them during the most important day of their lives! Once the wedding concluded, the best vacation begun! One whole week on a cruise with ALL my family, as well as KJ and his mom! We visited Honduras, Belize, and Mexico, spent our days up on the deck, participated in all of the competitions, including the Quest, Men’s Belly Flop, Women’s Cannonball, and Sexiest Man, and every night had a dinner with as many of the group as possible. One week wasn’t nearly long enough, but I am so grateful for all of the memories we made! (be warned…this will be the largest amount of pictures!! But some of the best!)

Some cool music in Cozumel!

Lucerne with Schuyler

As soon as I got back into Basel, my long distance au pair friend Schuyler had also just arrived back into Basel and we went to dinner together and the next day took a trip to Lucerne! Schuyler splits her time between Hamburg, Germany, and Basel, so when she is local, I take advantage! She is a joy to be around, and truly radiates happiness like no other. I am glad for the friendship we have, even though we don’t see each other as regularly as we would like!

KJ’s Visit

Truly the best two weeks with my best friend. Long distance is hard, but KJ makes it a piece of cake. He loves me and pursues me intentionally and effortlessly, whether in person or 5,000 miles apart. Finally being back together again was just what I needed, and spending the holidays with him filled my heart like nothing else. We did so many amazing things, visited our 8th country together, and made memories that will help us both get through the rest of this year apart. He is one in a million, and I’m so thankful he is mine. He’s also not bad to look at…just sayin’.

Arosa / Hörnlihütte Trip

As a Christmas gift, my sweet host family sent me and KJ to Arosa to visit the Hörnlihütte Ski Resort for a ‘wine and dine’ experience. This place is at the literal top of a mountain. It is four hours travel to Arosa from Basel, so we took three trains, a bus, and a ski lift to get there, but it was SO worth it. Before we took the ski lift up, it was flurrying a bit at the bottom of the mountain and I was beside myself I was so giddy! I have only seen snow fall one time in my life, so witnessing this was so magical! KJ had to try to explain to me that what was happening wasn’t real snow, but I was too excited to care. That was until we were at the top of the mountain and in the Hörnlihütte when it started to BLIZZARD! Literally so much snow we couldn’t even see the ski lift! We got on all our warm stuff and ran outside to play in the snow, make snow angels, and throw snowballs. True childlike joy, let me tell you. We were the only people at the resort that evening, besides the one staff member who stayed overnight to take care of us. It was a relaxing night full of snuggles, movies, champagne, and just good genuine conversation. We had the most amazing time.

We had all we needed to weather the blizzard!

Christmas

We spent Christmas Eve with my host family after attending Christmas service with Zoe at my church. Stephie prepared a delicious dinner of fondue chinoise, and after we all opened gifts and hung out. The family went to Lenzerheide on Christmas day, but KJ and I stayed back in Basel to spend Christmas day on our own. We had Zoe over and KJ cooked us an amazing french toast brunch, and then KJ and I stayed in our pajamas for the next 36 hours, doing absolutely nothing and being lazy as can be. Truly might have been my favorite part of his whole visit, if I am being completely honestly. We are both always so busy, it is rare that we get to sleep in and just fool around with no responsibilities, especially in person with each other, so we took full advantage.

Super yummy brunch with even better company.

Lenzerheide Ski Trip

Two days after Christmas, KJ and I made the two hour trek to Lenzerheide (part of the Swiss Alps) to spend some more time with my host family and ski! He has never skied before, and its been five years since I have, so it was quite an adventure to remember/learn how to do it! He really got the hang of it, until we accidentally ended up on a black diamond with no way to escape except skiing down it. Not the highlight of the trip, but we are already finding ways to laugh about it. It was a gorgeous day in the mountains and we got to spend it together, which is what matters most.

Just a quick little interview to remember our trip. I was scared to death to film him while I skied down the hill also, but somehow neither of us died 🙂
Here is KJ skiing! He was a professional by the end of the day!
My turn!

Copenhagen

Our last big trip of KJ’s stay in Europe! We booked a trip to spend New Years in Copenhagen with three of my friends. My Uncle John and his girlfriend Sarah also made the trip to Copenhagen from Amsterdam, where they were visiting for the holidays, to spend New Years with us! We explored all the main sites, including Nyhavn (beautiful 17th century waterfront canal), the Little Mermaid statue (anyone wanna take bets to how excited I was??), Kastellet (1700’s military base), Amalienborg (home to the royal Danish family!), and so much more. I loved Copenhagen and hope to go back and visit again!

Great Gatsby New Year’s Party

This was for sure a major highlight of December. For New Year’s Eve, I went with KJ, my friends Nicole, Schuyler, and Alex, along with John and Sarah to a Roarin’ 20’s Great Gatsby themed party! Dress code was required for entry, and it was very apparent that everyone went all out in their flapper attire. Truly an incredible night and experience! Sharing the start of a new decade with some of my favorite people on the planet is something I will never forget. Bring it on 2020, I am READY.

Just a snippet of some of the performances that were going on during the party.

If you’ve made it this far, kudos! It has been a whirlwind over here the past three months, and I don’t plan to slow down now that the new year has started. I already have a few trips booked for January and am making plans for following months! For some reason, hitting 2020 has made me almost anxious that I am out of time here in Switzerland. While I know this isn’t true, as I still have seven months left of my journey, the first five FLEW by. I want to make the most of every opportunity I have to continue to explore Europe. I have a long list of countries I have not yet visited, so I plan to really take advantage of the cheap flights and whatever free weekends I have.

I pray this new year and new decade brings nothing but health, happiness, and positivity to everyone we love! May we all live intentionally and purposefully, always striving to better ourselves and the people around us. 2019 showed me a lot about myself. It introduced me to both intense joy and sadness, like nothing I have experienced before. Ultimately it was a time of growth and adventures, one that lead me into this new year with a supportive and amazing family, friends I will cherish forever, and a love like I have never known by my side. 2020, I am ready for you and whatever you have to offer. Bring on the Roarin’ 20s!

Much love and happy New Year,
Hannah

The {Nice}st 23rd Birthday

If you follow me on social media or are my friend on Facebook, you may already know that I spent this past weekend in France and Monaco for my 23rd birthday! I had been looking forward to this trip for weeks and it did not disappoint. Two of my sweet friends, Zoe and Nicole, joined me, and we had the best time soaking up the sun on the beach, shopping way more than we should have, given our already full carry-on luggage, and laughing hilariously at our endless new inside jokes. I am so grateful for their friendship and feel that even more strongly after this weekend.

Nicole and I left a freezing cold Basel on Thursday morning for Nice, where it was a beautiful 75° and sunny, and we immediately went to change into our bathing suits to go to the beach! We chose a flat about seven minutes of a walk from the water, and the location could not have been more perfect. First we stopped at a Monoprix, the little grocery store around the corner from our AirBnB, to grab some snacks and drinks for lunch. When Nicole and I saw the water, we both got SO excited! The beach here is all rocks, which is a vast contrast to the white sand I am used to! We got all situated with our towels, spending some extra time moving rocks around to find our ‘spot’ to get comfortable. We made some ham sandwiches and drank prosecco out of the bottle, laughing and chatting for hours until the sun started to dip down a bit. Then we aimlessly wandered through different shops on the main street before heading back to the AirBnB, where we made some pasta and talked so much we lost track of the time. Good intentions to head out for the evening were quickly replaced with a bottle of Rose and comfy pajamas, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The next morning, Nicole and I ate some chocolate croissants for breakfast before heading to the beach for an hour or two while we waited for Zoe’s plane to arrive! The three of us were really happy to be together. We have a group chat loving named “Basel Babes”, and I got a bit carried away chanting “the Basel Babes are back in business!!” when we met up with Zoe, which I am sure got annoying quickly. Oops. The three of us went to a cute little Italian restaurant for a late lunch before going back to the beach. We took all kinds of pictures and Polaroids, and I am so thankful for the technology to have physical memories of my time with these girls!

Thanks to our late lunch, we weren’t too hungry for dinner, so we made plans to get crepes instead! Again, we had more intentions to go out. There was a little nightclub right across the street from our AirBnB, so we decided that we had to check it out! “Going out” is new to me, so I was surprised to find that the little club didn’t even open until 11:30pm! Apparently that is normal, and even early, for European standards. To kill time, we walked around the Promenade des Anglais, hung out in the AirBnB, and took showers to get ready for the evening. By the time we actually went to leave, Nicole was almost asleep! Zoe and I were starving for our crepe that we had been looking forward to all day, so we left to go get those. We planned to also stop at the club, but after eating, felt the exhaustion hit. Granted it was 1:30 in the morning, so we justified our tiredness and went back to go to sleep.

Saturday was was a bit cloudier than the two days prior (which had been absolutely GLORIOUS beach days), so we decided to spend the day sightseeing and walking around the town. First on the list was Castle Hill, an overlook that I had seen beautiful pictures of online. On our way there, we stumbled upon a quaint and cozy green market, complete with flowers and food and souvenirs alike. After a few purchases, we continued the rest of the way to Castle Hill. It was just as beautiful as the Google search showed, with 180° panoramic view of the coastline. Of course, we also had to take the classic tourist picture with the “I Love Nice” sign, too! We stopped for lunch at an American Bar, go figure, and enjoyed surprisingly good food! The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering around Nice, popping into random stores to try on fancy dresses that we didn’t need, and searching for cute bathing suits. That was my personal shopping mission, that unfortunately was not successful. After a bit, we headed back to the AirBnB to get ready for our special evening!

Lunch at the American Bar.
View from Castle Hill!

I had made reservations a few weeks ago for this beautiful restaurant right on the water in Monte Carlo, Monaco! We traveled by train (barely making it, might I add) only 30 minutes to a new country, and then walked and tried to soak it all in. After a few minutes of walking, we actually were soaking it all in, since it started to rain on us! Thankfully we weren’t far from the restaurant, where we sat on a covered part of the terrace and enjoyed a delicious watermelon champagne, the special of the evening. I was so bummed that the weather had turned so sour, since I had made a special request to sit on the terrace, but our seat right on the window inside was almost better! We all got a glass of wine and some of the best food I’ve had in a while, enjoying the ambiance of the restaurant and the company. For dessert, we shared an XXL tiramisu, which was brought out with flaming sparklers for my birthday! I was not expecting it, but Zoe was and had her camera ready, which makes it even better to look back on.

Happy birthday to me!

After dinner we walked over to the Casino de Monte Carlo. It was just as grand on the exterior as it was on the inside, and I couldn’t help but walk around and do circles looking up at the decor and intricate design on the ceilings! We paid our entrance fee, which included 10 euro back as playing credit, and went inside. Personally I am not a big gambler, so I spent my 10 euro on a slot machine and cashed out with a whopping $0.13, but Zoe actually decided to play some Roulette and doubled what she initially played with! The Casino was such a fun experience, and it was a great way to end a few hours in Monte Carlo.

We took the train back to Nice and while walking in the rain back to the flat, I got a FaceTime call from KJ singing me happy birthday. That boy is on top of things, let me tell ya! It was exactly 12:00am on the dot in France, making it officially my birthday. Zoe and Nicole sang to me, as well, and once back at the flat, we hung out for a few more hours until we were too tired to keep our eyes open.

Sunday started off incredibly rainy, but we weren’t going to let it put a damper on my birthday! Nicole found us a fantastic breakfast place to go to, and while there, we prayed for our food and for the weather, asking Jesus for some sun. By the time we left the restaurant, it had stopped raining completely and little flecks of sunlight were shining through the clouds! We walked around Nice a bit longer, did some more shopping, and then headed back to the flat to clean up for check out. We found a cute little cafe next to the tram station and spent a bit of time there before heading to the airport to fly home.

The weather in Nice was supposed to be far worse than the weather in Basel, so we were shocked to find it pouring rain when we landed in Switerland at 10:45pm. Zoe had driven to the airport and parked a ways away, so the three of us trudged through the rain to the car, laughing hysterically. Nicole’s rain jacket is only water ‘resistant’, so she was soaked. Zoe had an umbrella that she graciously shared with me, since I had left my umbrella at home in Basel. However, there was very little need for the umbrella, as the wind was so strong it was blowing the rain sideways and flipped the umbrella inside out! We were laughing so hard we could hardly walk straight, and all three of us got into Zoe’s car literally dripping wet, but with huge smiles on our faces. She drove me back to my house and we listened to every birthday song we could think of to finish off the last 30 minutes of the day.

Literally dripping wet. Zoe’s poor car had a literal puddle inside!
Singing goodbye to 22!!

Even now, writing this and reflecting on the weekend, I am filled with SO much gratitude! God put these two sweet girls into my life and has allowed me to make so many wonderful memories with them already, even in the short time we have known each other. I couldn’t have imagined spending my birthday any other way, and I am so thankful that they took the time to be with me and make me feel celebrated and loved when my family is so far away.

Speaking of my family, I was surprised Monday morning with a letter from Gracie and a package from my mom, that included cards and gifts from grandparents and my aunt and uncle! Even from the states, thousands of miles away, I could feel how much they loved me and were thinking of me. I am truly blessed with amazing people to do this life with. It made me miss my family a bit more, but also made me even more excited to squeeze them up in big hugs when I am home.

The sweetest gift in the mail from family. So thankful.

This weekend was such a blast, and if that is any indication of how this new year is going to be, I am very, very excited for 23.

Much love,
Hannah

Budapest: Travel Diary

This past weekend I took my very first solo trip to BUDAPEST!! I have been planning it for a few weeks now, and I can’t believe I actually was able to visit. A few people asked if I chose Budapest because it was the number one country on my list of places to visit, but truthfully, I searched for the cheapest place to visit on the dates I had free! I want to go everywhere while I am in Europe, so the order of where I go is secondary. I was so nervous to go to a new country all by myself, but it ended up being such an incredible trip. I met quite a few new people, but also got to enjoy being my myself.

I flew out of Basel Airport on Friday, August 23, around 3:30pm. This allowed me to still go to my German lesson and even get lunch with a friend! I arrived at the airport with plenty of time, just in case it was busy, so I spent some time quizzing KJ on vet school stuff (also, shamelessly going to brag for a second, he just got a 100% on his first vet school exam. WHAT!!!) and talking to my mom on the phone before boarding the plane. After a quick 1:20 flight, I was officially in Hungary!

Thanks to extensive research, the process of getting from the airport to the hostel I chose was very easy. I purchased a round trip airport transfer ticket, which allowed me access to the specific airport-to-city bus. I also bought two 24-hour public transportation tickets. Those provided me an unlimited usage of any public transportation in Budapest. After purchasing these, I easily found the 100E bus I needed to take, and rode it right into the city, getting off at a stop only three minutes away from my hostel!

View from the hostel window!

I chose to stay at a hostel called “Hostel 1 Basilica” based on an overwhelmingly large number of positive reviews, and I was truly BLOWN away by how great it really was! The man who checked me in, Filch, was so sweet and knowledgeable, showed me everything I needed to know for my stay, and even introduced me to a few people that were in the common room. Every night, the hostel has a family-style dinner, where I was able to meet a few new friends that I hung out with the majority of the weekend! After dinner, I went with them to a park across the street, had a glass of prosecco, and we all got to know each other a bit!

Each night, Hostel 1 puts on an ‘excursion’ to a different bar or club in town. We are all given wrist bands that allow us skip-the-line access through the Hostel. Friday night, we went to this place called Morrison’s. If you know me at all, you know clubbing isn’t exactly my thing. But I decided to embrace the time I had in Budapest to experience new places and things, and I went! It was probably the most fun I had the whole weekend. Goes to show how going a bit out of your comfort zone can pay off! The club was sectioned off into different rooms, each playing different genres of music. There were rooms for R&B, Karaoke, Throwback Hits (basically 2000s music that we all forgot we loved), a strobe light dance room and more!We stayed out until after 3am (another thing I don’t EVER do, if you know me!), but I barely felt tired. I danced and laughed for hours and really got to know my new friends.

Saturday morning was an early one, even though I was dead tired I didn’t want to waste any time. I went with my friends to Heroes Square, a large space that displays statues of 14 famous Hungarian leaders. Right behind Heroes Square is City Park, which was deceivingly small from the outside. There are gorgeous trees, a river, and even a castle! One of the most famous thermal pools in Budapest is in City Park, although after reading about how touristy and expensive it had become, we chose to pass on going in.

My friends had made some different plans, so I wandered off on my own to look at some other things I had on my list. Budapest is broken into two main parts on either side of the Danube River, Buda and Pest. My hostel was located on the Pest side, so I spent a lot of the late morning and early afternoon exploring places like the St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Andrassy Ut. I enjoyed a yummy lunch right by the Basilica while I waited for a walking tour to start.

The walking tour was 2.5 hours long, and we explored a bit of the Pest side but mostly found ourselves in Buda. Personally, I liked the Buda side of the river WAY more! Some highlights of the tour were the Szenchenyi Chain Bridge, the Matthias Church, Castle Hill, and finally the Fisherman’s Bastion. I made a friend on the walking tour, and we explored a bit more on our own after the tour, including walking into Gresham Palace, now the Four Seasons Hotel. I will be back to Budapest one day (probably far in the future), and I will most definitely be staying there!

Ignore my annoying voice, but I loved the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church.

Saturday evening, I met back up with my friends from the Hostel and went to explore the Jewish Quarter. We ate some delicious street food and then went to a ruin bar! We chose to go to Szimpla Kert, which is the first ruin bar in Budapest. A ruin bar, I came to learn, is just a bar that is built into abandoned or ruined houses and buildings post WW2. It was unlike any place I have ever been! It was similar to Morrison’s in that there were separate rooms, but it was not dancing or music. From the outside, it was very unassuming! But once you got in and ventured to the middle courtyard, you were suddenly in the middle of a hip, artsy, and funky bar bustling with crowds talking, dancing, and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere. It is incredibly eclectic; there is not a matching piece of furniture to be found, art all over the walls and tables, tons of random plants and flowers, and holes and other signs of damage on the walls. There was even a room with a bunch of bathtubs cut into couches! We stayed here for a few hours before getting some dessert on our way home to the hostel for an ‘earlier’ night.

Sunday was my final day in Budapest, and I wanted to make the most of it and do the last few things on my list before I left. I headed to the Danube River and walked all along it, stopping for a quick picture of the “Little Princess” statue that is all over Instagram. I kept going, though, until I reached the “Shoes on the Danube”. This is a rather chilling memorial to the Jewish people who were murdered during the Nazi occupation of Budapest. The victims were forced to take off their shoes on the river bank before being shot and falling into the water. It was definitely a more somber part of the trip.

For lunch, I met up with my friend Eileen from my walking tour, and one of her friends Talita, for lunch at a place called the New York Cafe. Yes, this was really the name! When planning my trip, I saw so many recommendations for this place, as it had won an award for “Most Beautiful Cafe in the World”! It truly lived up to the hype. It was so ornately decorated, and everything was delicious!

The inside of the New York Cafe…absolutely gorgeous.

At this point in the day, I only had about three hours until I needed to return to the hostel to get my things. To finish up the trip, the three of us went to the Gellert Thermal Baths, a very touristy but very ‘must-do’ in Budapest. They are known for their thermal baths, so we couldn’t pass it up. We stayed there for as long as we could before I had to leave, going in every pool of all different temperatures, and even coincidentally running into my friends from the hostel!

My flight was a bit delayed, so I spent a few hours at the airport writing in my journal and reflecting on this trip. I feel so fortunate to get to take a quick weekend trip to a place like Budapest, and it is something I want to continually be grateful for and never take for granted! I couldn’t have asked for a better first solo trip. Budapest far exceeded any expectations that I had, and I can’t wait to go back one day!

Chat soon,
Hannah