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Sitting in my apartment, I can hear tourists pass by on the Florentine street outside my window. Some complain about the rain, others comment on how beautiful the Duomo is. Some girls pass talking about day trips they’ll do while they study here, while others scoff at the fact that there’s a Subway Sandwich shop across the street. “Are you kidding?! When there’s an amazing Panini place right around the corner?!” All the conversations are varied, yet so much the same – living or visiting this beautiful city and looking at it through the eyes of a foreigner. But sometimes, I wish I could tell them that they need to stop and step off the main path. Adventure. I wish I could share some experiences that are my favorite – but if you’re reading this – maybe you can recreate these moments.
Sunrise somewhere: Before the tour groups step off their busses, before the restaurants open up their doors and unfurl their tablecloths out into the summer air, stroll the streets of dawn.
We woke when it was dark out and crawled out of bed, fumbling in the unfamiliar hotel room – donning jeans, a sweater, boots that I thought would make me fit in while I was in Italia. Caitlyn looked at me and questioned this decision, is it worth it? I responded with a resounding yes. I had done this before. We stepped outside our hotel – a small canal silently greeting us, a red rowboat sleeping peacefully in off-season air. And then we began, a walk through twisting and turning streets of dormant shops and ornate doors to come up upon the Grand Canal of Venice – just in time to see the golden sunset begin to shed light on the City of Bridges. Below us, the only boats were of the Venetians – Gondoliers uncovering their golden gilded boats, their striped shirts contrasting upon the rose and faded walls of an exhausted city. But in this moment, senza touristi, it became alive again. The real Venice; radiant in life instead of a travel book.
Conversation without Social Media: Turn off your phone when you travel. The person next to you could change your life.
I was lost in Rome, again, but managed to find a bus stop that seemed to point me in the right direction of the Vatican, I hoped. It wasn’t too crowded – not like rush hour when you are pressed up against other bodies, all just desperately clinging onto the bars and handles available. Now, in the evening chill, I stepped lightly into the orange bus and faced forward, beginning to search for signs that confirmed my arrival at the heart of Catholicism. He was quiet at first, and maybe it was my outfit that gave me away, but when the bus came to a stop at the next station, he patted my wrist. “Due piu” he smiled at me behind thick-rimmed glasses. Two more stops until the Vatican. When he realized I could speak minimal Italian, his face brightened, his brown eyes swam and he began teaching me the landmarks that were passing by the window. He spoke about the beauty of women when they don’t wear makeup: “that is when they look most beautiful, when they first wake up in the morning,” and as the Vatican came into view, he grinned, told me to drink the water from the fountains in the square and sent me off. A true Roman, he will be in my memory forever.
Adrenaline: Do something that scares you:
“I can’t wait,” I had boasted as we rode through the Swiss Alps. I saw the guide’s eyes flicker to my face in the rear-view mirror. I loved heights and adrenaline. I had seen my friends jump before, but canyon jumping was new to me – and as we pulled up to the bottom and saw another jumper fall gracefully into the crevice with a loud WHOOP, I was terrifyingly ecstatic. And the higher we climbed up to the platform, the more nerves began to creep into my system. The tremors in my legs began as I was fixed into the harness. I stepped out onto the metal grate with the guide. His smile was trumped by the sheer drop off behind him. “Are you ready?” he asked, and as I turned to face forward, I looked around. The Eiger was to my right – in the setting sun, in all of its glory – a Swiss Alp towered above us. Below, so, so far below, the river crashed over the rocks, daring me to jump, daring me to try and fly. Split second decision, my muscles moved, my feet left solid ground and I was falling, falling so fast, so far, my stomach clenched, my heart raced, it was too far, too fast, a free-fall like a bird soaring, and then the rope caught – swung me through past those that had already jumped, and back again. I could breathe, and as I looked up from where I had just come, I gave a “whoop” of my own. No roller coaster will ever compare.
Delve into other cultures: Break out of your comfort zone to begin to understand others.
“Here, I cannot speak with a girl like this,” he says. His dark brown eyes squint into the Moroccan sun, searching the horizon for the next surge of water from the Atlantic. I don’t understand what he means. I lean forward to look at him closer and the nose of my board settles into the water. He turns and glances at me and then back to the water, his dark brown shoulders glistening with droplets of salt water.
“If I want to speak with a Muslim girl, it is secret. No one can know. Here is one. Turn,” he leans toward me and pushes at my leg, eyes still on the ocean. I look out, see the swell, and obediently turn and lie on my blue and white surfboard, chin hitting wax, resting my eyes on the golden Moroccan sand with Mounir’s board and back to my left. Still sitting, his muscles ripple as he balances.
“That’s stupid,” I say over my shoulder. “How can you talk to them in private if you don’t know them?” The sun is hot. He chuckles and tickles my foot.
“I couldn’t be Muslim,” I say as I feel the wave build behind me. He laughs again and takes hold of the back of my board, one hand resting on my calf, he pats it twice. The earthen scent of Argan Oil from his skin drifts towards me on the breeze.
“No…you are too strong….paddle,” he reminds me.
I sweep my hands into the water and under my board, pushing. I hear the wave crashing to the right of me. I feel Mounir push me forward.
“Stand up!” he calls under his French/Arabic accent. The wave carries me from him, surging me toward the beach. I can feel the board bouncing on the tumult. My hands push up against the board, my muscles tense, legs bend. I stand and shift my weight, easing the board into the side of the wave, gliding it down the stretch of water. I push against the water, up and down, pumping the board parallel with the wave until it breaks. I glide to the shore with the foam, jump off, feel the grit of the sand under the soles of my feet. I turn toward the horizon, raising an arm up to shield the sun. His silhouette gives a thumbs up as the ocean glistens behind him.
Run, hike, bike, climb – while you are still young enough:
“You won’t last in jeans,” I tell the guys as they stand in front of me. It’s autumn in the Swiss Alps, about fifty degrees, and I’m in a tank top and shorts. “It’s too rough and you’ll be sweating in about fifteen minutes.” But they were stubborn and came anyway, and as we started our ascent, the hike grew steep and they started stripping layers. I hated to say I told them so. But it didn’t matter – because they were doing it. We talked as we hiked, getting glimpses of the snow-covered alps on the other side of the valley – with the town of Interlaken nestled before us. I learned about the group, their time abroad, their home life, what sports they played, and we stopped to take pictures along the way. It grew steeper, and sweat started pouring, the banter stopped, for we needed to breathe and muscles ached. We climbed up into the mountain pastures, collected water from a hollowed out log used as a basin for the spring water used to satisfy the thirst of the cows that grazed there in the summer – their bells chiming in an unorganized harmony. When we reached the summit, I turned to the group and was met with smiles and astonishment as they looked out over the lakes and mountains. “Thank God I did this and have the ability to do this,” one said to me. Take care of yourself and challenge yourself – for sometimes the best views are at the other end of a climb.
Summertime travel is simple. There’s less to pack, everything is open, people are happy, and the sun is (usually) shining. Trying to decide where to travel – especially with so many options so close and easy to get to, is difficult. Take it from an experienced traveler; go with your gut feeling. Go where you’re drawn to and don’t second guess your decisions. Feel like the Swiss Alps would fit you like a glove? You’re probably right. Rather just hang on the beach all day? Positano on the Amalfi Coast is calling your name. But if you’re bad at decisions, Bus2alps may be able to help you out a bit. Let’s look at the options of getting you out of Flo-town: There’s almost too many to mention, but for an ideal travel schedule – hitting all of the main points, this is a list of a few suggestions to get your mind reeling about the possibilities:
Amalfi: Some of the bluest water you’ve ever seen, black sand beaches that make your skin glow with the summer sun, towns built up on breathtaking cliffs painted with beautiful pastels, and seafood that is out of this world. Welcome to the Amalfi Coast. Bus2alps has you staying in beautiful Sorrento, and then transports you to the Isle of Capri, Positano, and stops in Pompeii on the way home. A perfect mix of touring, beach time, and historical sites – there’s a reason why this tour has won awards in the past. Go cliff jumping, browse the coral jewelry, sip on limoncello on the rooftop terrace of Seven Hostel, and enjoy a weekend in paradise.
Rome: Though Florence is gorgeous, the Eternal city is just a few hours south and well worth the journey. Head to Rome and explore the sights you’ve had in your history books for ages. Walk through the Coliseum and picture the Gladiators, picture the war celebrations parading through the Forum, throw that coin over your shoulder at the Trevi fountain, and end the day with a look up at the ceiling of the Pantheon. Then head out to explore the illuminated city – Vatican, the Spanish steps, and check out a few of Bus2alps’s favorite restaurants and nightlife spots along the way. It’s a weekend roaming Rome and well worth it.
French Riviera: Spend a weekend pretending to be famous (or maybe even taste a little bit of real fame) while strolling the French Riviera with the likes of Beyonce, Keith Urban, Jennifer Aniston, and the Kardashians. Head to Wayne’s Bar and dance above the crowd, and maybe even find someone with a yacht that’s feeling generous enough for guests (no, but really, it’s happened). During the day, travel to Eze, Monaco and Antibes, hit up the Monte Carlo Casino and try your luck. This place will require a little shopping, but that’s the perfect excuse to get a nice Italian suit or a new pair of heels, right? Plus, needless to say, the beaches are gorgeous.
Munich: Though Springfest may be over, Munich is still bustling with life in the summer when the snow has cleared and the people are out in the streets. Take a bike tour and learn a little history – you can even have a sobering visit to Dachau, the local concentration camp and remember how recent history really is. Then spend the night meeting the locals in the beer halls and gardens all while making sure you get in that taste of perfect brews and the biggest bratwurst you’ll ever see.
Croatia: Picture it: you get off the bus and begin your walk through a rainforest – the roots of the trees are tangled above crystal clear water swimming with fish swimming against the current. You’re walking on wooden paths twisting and turning among the vines. Waterfalls can be heard in the distance. On your left and right, meadows flourish with little purple flowers – a carpet of sweet scented beauty and finally, you round a bend and see the most beautiful tumult of waterfalls with a pool at the bottom of emerald water. The swimming is gorgeous. This is just the last day of your time in Croatia. Before this, you’ve been whitewater rafting and island hopping off the coast of Split. Yes, it is a little bit longer of a bus ride, but the beauty is worth it.
Prague: Spend a weekend in the city of fairy tales Watch the clock tower, riddled with myths and legends, come to life on the hour and ring out over beautiful architecture and the river below. Then, visit the “happily ever after” John Lennon wall – where words and art depicting peace and love will make your cameras glow and your hearts grow two sizes bigger, plus you can leave your own mark. Remember to bring a sharpie! At night after a day of beauty, meet up with your group to head out onto town and maybe even finish at one of Bus2alps’s favorites – Lucerna a club that plays the best of the best 90’s music.
Cinque Terre: Only a two hour drive from Florence, Cinque Terre is a gorgeous one-day getaway that is good for those that want some time in Florence for the weekend, but still go to somewhere beautiful on the coast. Spend the day hiking between towns, or sun bathing on the cliffs or on the beach in Monterosso. Eat tons of pesto-covered things like focaccia bread and pizza. Get a pina colada and use your photography skills for the brightly colored towns precariously perched on the cliffs. It’s a day getaway to get out of the stone of Florence, and you’ll be back to go out that night!
These are just a few places that we’d recommend for the summer – of course there are many more that may peak your interest, but now is the time to plan! Get moving.
At the beginning of every semester, the Bus2alps crew – old and new – comes together in our hometown of Interlaken, Switzerland to hang out, get to know one another and get prepared for one hell of a semester. Take a sneak peak into our Fall orientation.
Day 1: Monday kicked off our journey to Interlaken. The bus ride began in Rome making stops along the way at Ciampino airport, Florence and Milan Malpensa airport and ended with our final destintation at Balmer’s Hostel and Backpacker’s Villa. There was a lot of excitement as it was a chance to reunite with friends that had been home and travelling for the summer and to meet and greet the newcomers. Of course, the bus ride went by fast because we all caught up with each other and watched DVD’s.
Day 2: We had an early start on Tuesday compromised of meetings and presentations to help us get acquainted with each other and the company. During free time, some of the crew took advantage of the opportunity to rent bicycles and cool off at the lake.
In the evening, we chilled out and refueled over some pizza. It gave us yet another chance to take in the gorgeous scenery of Interlaken and just relax for a little bit before continuing on with activities.
Post-pizza party we were ready to get back at it and refine our CPR skills. We were lucky enough to learn first-hand all of the techniques and important information that we need to know on how to save lives. I think it’s safe to say that we felt a lot more confident in ourselves after we practiced CPR on a dummy that was hooked up to a computer. We got to see if we were breathing too much air into the body or if our compressions were too fast. It was pretty cool!
Day 3: Wednesday was packed with more meetings and presentations. But since we were so good, we were rewarded with some Swiss chocolate from Interlaken Tourism! After some refreshers, tips and lots of important information to have a great semester – the fun began.
Some of the returning staff paired up with the new staff to take them on a little adventure around Interlaken to help them get to know the area a little bit better. The best part of the adventure? It ended up with the whole team meeting back up to set off on a dinner cruise! It was pretty fabulous as it consisted of great sights, delicious food and a chance for the newbies to show off some of the things they had learned over the past couple of days.
Day 4: On Thursday we wrapped up the last of our meetings and presentations in the morning. Afterwards, we headed over to Outdoor Interlaken, a partner of Bus2alps, to get ready to go canyoning. We picked out our wetsuits, jackets, life jackets, boots and helmets and then packed into 3 vans for the beautiful hour-long ride to Grimsel. Once we arrived, the adrenaline began pumping…
Canyoning is a popular summer activity in Interlaken that consists of rappelling, jumps, slides and ziplines into natural pools. I think it’s safe to say that everyone from the Bus2alps crew will be recommending this to anyone looking for something to do during their stay in Switzerland.
After we finished our course, we relaxed over some well-deserved refreshments and headed back into town for a BBQ and dancing at Metro Bar.
Day 5: Friday morning we said our goodbyes to Switzerland and headed back to our respective cities.
When I studied abroad in Florence, Italy two summers ago, the first thing that I learned in Italian was, “L’Italia è un forno” meaning Italy is an oven. Let’s face it. Italy in the summertime is hot. The cities tend to be full of mosquitoes and heat rests on the shoulders of the city. Don’t get me wrong- Italy in the summer is still a wonderful fairytale, but that does not mean that I did not look forward to escaping each weekend to somewhere a bit…cooler.
Interlaken, Switzerland in the summer is a dream. Sunshine in the mountains during the day paired with cool mountain air at night make for the perfect weekend getaway. Hiking in the alps will humble anyone. Bus2alps has trips to Interlaken a few times each summer and it is not worth missing out on. My weekend in Interlaken was one of the few times I actually felt cool air during my 12 week summer program. Interlaken during the winter is amazing don’t get me wrong- but during the summer, it’s a mountain paradise. I am down for canyon jumping, sky diving, any adventure really- as long as I can leave my snow pants at home.
Other than submerging my body in glacier water in the Swiss Alps, escaping to Croatia is a must to cool off. While it is hot outside, it doesn’t feel so hot when you are swimming in the waterfalls at Krka National Park.
Rolling the dice in the air conditioned and incredibly famous Monte Carlo in Monaco will keep you cool. Especially if you win some euros in the process. The beaches of Nice are fabulous as you have probably heard, and the city was actually built to produce a summer breeze. Like Italy, the south of France is very hot during the summer months, but the buildings are built high and close together to produce shade and a flow of cool air. Ideal for any summer traveler. The Bus2alps trip to the French Riviera has opportunities to scuba dive, sail, swim and suntan.
Really all I am trying to say is that Bus2alps is looking out for your best interest this summer. We want you to stay cool, while still seeing some of the most beautiful places in the world. Don’t spend your summer sweating in Rome. Escape to some of the coolest, most exotic destinations that Europe has to offer.