The Top Things NOT to Do When Traveling

I recently returned from another amazing European trip where I met up with my boyfriend, who I hadn’t seen in 6 months, and a few other officers from his ship. It was a whirlwind week where we started in Milan, headed to Venice, then Cinque Terre, followed by Lugano and finally back to Milan. While running around different areas of Italy and Switzerland we learned A LOT about some of the speed bumps that you can encounter on the road to ultimate exploration. A lot, if not all, of these tips may seem straight forward but they’re mistakes a lot of travelers tend to make.

5. Do NOT take your eyes off your luggage. 

Even for a second. While on a train from Milan to Venice we all put our bags up above us without a second thought. The three of us that were in one car completely passed out for the majority of the train ride, woke up, gathered our stuff and headed out. However, unfortunately for the other two, who were actually awake the entire trip, a backpack was snagged mid-ride. Luckily he had his phone, tablet and wallet on him, however his passport and clothes were in the snagged bad.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask the locals questions. 

This is something my boyfriend has definitely taught me. Me being a bit more introverted, I like to figure out things on my own and not bother others with any questions. I also don’t want to seem vulnerable and have “TOURIST” basically written across my forehead. Brian is amazing at talking with locals and gathering great pieces of information from them that has consistently helped make our trip ten times better that it would have originally been. Whether it be for directions, restaurant recommendations or to learn about the culture he isn’t afraid to ask. I don’t know why I’m always so nervous about it! Every single time we’ve stopped to ask someone a question he or she has been incredibly helpful, friendly and insightful.

3. Don’t prioritize how good you’ll look in those Instagram photos over your comfort. 

In this lovely age of social media obsession I find a lot of people planning outfits for the potential photo ops, myself included. I made a HUGE mistake of that the last time I went to Italy with Brian and not bringing supportive shoes. I wore gladiator sandals while we walked around on cobble stone for 8 hours and my feet had never experienced so much pain… and I used to dance Pointe. It definitely pulled away from enjoying the experience to the fullest and we ended up having to buy a pair of boots so that I could walk like a normal human being again. This time around I brought closed-toed shoes, my leather Vans from Madewell, and made sure to buy Dr. Scholl’s Comfort Insoles. My feet were soooo happy and weren’t a concern at all throughout the trip.

2. Don’t bring U.S. dollars to exchange. 

I thought I was smart by bringing over American dollars but it ended up being one of my biggest mistakes. This time around the exchange rate was great so withdrawing money from an ATM wasn’t bad besides the potential fee you get charged by some banks. With us being in so many touristy areas the only exchange places we found had an ENORMOUS fee for exchanging them. 25% to be exact. So I ended up losing a decent amount of what I brought with me once we tried a few different places. It’s definitely better to maybe bring a little as an emergency in case you run into any issues your first day, but otherwise I’d advise against it.

1. Don’t experience things through a camera lens. 

While I definitely 110% fall victim to trying to snap as many pictures as possible to remember everything, one thing I’ve learned is how important it is to really take everything in. I think the moment I noticed this was when we were once on this amazing cliff/lighthouse in Portugal and I looked around at the crowd and everyone was trying to take all these photos and no one was just looking at it. Someone even spent over 10 minutes edging his way out to one of the furthest points and seemed to just be looking at the scene through his phone the ENTIRE TIME. It’s something that drove me insane and made me reevaluate how I experience new things… however I did have to remind myself of this recently when Brian and I were experiencing the row boats in Central Park and he almost bumped into a couple boats behind him because I was trying to get photos instead of focusing on directing him. So I by no means have perfected this yet! But anyways, my genuine hope for future generations of travelers is that people will just soak up whatever moment it is they’re in so that later in life when they say, “Remember that time when…” a memory of them at the place pops into their head versus that Facebook photo on their timeline.

Thanks for reading!!!!!

Stay tuned!

xoxo

Kelsey

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The Top 5 Places to See in Southern Portugal

Where we were located in Spain was about a 2 hour car ride from the border of Portugal, so when we had a three-day weekend it was the first place we thought to go. I will be completely honest and say that I knew absolutely NOTHING about Portugal except for that they speak Portuguese and are NOT a fan when you speak Spanish. I had no idea how even the most hidden spot in a small southern town could render you speechless. We hit 8 cities in 3 days and so it was definitely hard to narrow this list down down but without further ado, here are the top five places I think you need to see if you’re in the area.

5. Once upon a time, in a land Faro Faro away…

The little town of Faro was our first stop in Portugal. It’s a smaller town on the coast that has an incredibly intriguing historic section. Brian and I arrived in the early evening and explored the essentially deserted town right at sunset which made it extra enchanting. After walking through the cobblestone streets we found the marina and watched the sunset on a dock where we also spotted a crazy amount of crabs! An employee at the hotel we were staying at suggested a restaurant that was within the fortress walls but looked out on the water so we explored a bit before running into it. I’m blanking on the exact name but I’m pretty sure it was the Portuguese word for castle or “castelo.” The food was wonderful and the waitress was even nice enough to help us learn some basic Portuguese. Afterwards we headed back to the hotel and passed out before waking up early the next day to explore a few more parts of the historic city before heading to our next destination. All in all, this is a quaint and richly historic town that you should definitely make a point to see.

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4. Lagoa to the beach!

The next place we hit was the city of Lagoa, or Lagos. This is a smaller but extremely neat city with narrow streets filled with things to do. This was a complete nightmare for driving when we made a wrong turn but once we found our way around it wasn’t so bad. What was completely unexpected was the incredible beaches surrounding the city. There were multiple smaller beaches separated by great rock formations that even had some cave-like openings in which you could crawl through to get to the next beach. I felt like I was 5 years old again looking for crabs and jumping from rock to rock. You could tell everyone was really enjoying themselves and eager to snap photos of their families with the cool background. We even saw a sailing competition being set up in which the organizers brought a new litter of Portuguese Water Dogs, which a crowd quickly congregated to watch the puppies race up and down the beach. One of the best parts of the morning was when we came across a half outdoor/half indoor restaurant where we ordered breakfast. Right before we got our food it began to rain so we all dove inside where we met a nice English couple who heard us speaking English too. When our omelettes came I was almost in tears they were so good! All I can say is the food tastes so much fresher in Spain and Portugal. You can tell the eggs and veggies used would be considered “organic” in the states and your left feeling a lot lighter than you would if you ate a greasy omelette in the States. Overall, the meal was quaint and romantic and definitely a neat surprise to find after scavenging the beaches.

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3. The City of Lagoa!

Being a converted city girl I was excited to be back in a more urban area with a bit more hustle and bustle. It’s funny how a city atmosphere makes me feel more relaxed. This was a smaller city but a fun one with lots of boutique shopping and restaurants every which way you turned. We picked a hidden Bed & Breakfast called Hotel Mar Azul that was beautiful and smack dab in the center of the city. That night we simply walked up and down the streets until we found a tiny restaurant that had a fish tank full of the largest crabs I’ve ever seen. This was a deal-breaker for Brian and so we immediately went inside and took a seat. We sat for a couple hours, chatted with the waiters and drank their regional wine which was a light sort of champagne-like wine. It’s called Vinho Verde and you should definitely give it a try! We liked it so much we stopped in a liquor store and bought a bottle to bring home. Brian ordered a seafood platter that was fit for a king! Also, a word of wisdom. We always asked what the waiters’ favorite dish was or one they recommended as the area’s specialty and all of them seemed a bit confused or hesitant to answer this insisting that all of it was good! Might be a cultural thing but they seemed really thrown off when we asked. Can’t complain though, because they were right! It was all good! That night we went to bed with our bellies full and excited for the next day. We spent the next afternoon exploring the various shops with a mission to find the best souvenir. We finally decided on some pieces of pottery, including a rooster wine stopper (the country’s most notable symbol) and a bowl I believe. There was a lot to choose from so it was definitely overwhelming but you can find an endless amount of original pieces in this city!

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2. You can’t Praia us away from da Marinha!

One day while Brian was at work I was skimming my Facebook newsfeed as usual and an article by Huffington Post Lifestyle popped up about one of the most beautiful beaches in the world being in Portugal. The Praia da Marinha was even ranked #16 in CNN’s “Most Stunning Cliffside Beaches”! I knew immediately that we had to see it based solely on the fact I was having a hard time believing the photos were real. We made sure to carve out some time to see this but were a bit bummed when the afternoon we set aside for this became cloudy and rainy. Despite the weather we made our way towards Praia da Marinha and were stunned. Even in the dreary weather I knew immediately it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever see. The rock formations, cliffs and various trails winding around the area made it even more fun to explore and there were even hidden grottoes. We spent a couple hours walking around and even walked out to the tip of the main cliff and took photos that probably gave my parents back home a mild heart attack. By the time we actually made it down to the beach the sun was peaking out and we climbed through a cave to get to a secluded area just in time to soak up some rays. This spot was incredible so I can’t begin to imagine how great it is when it’s actually beach weather and you can splash around in the water!

VIew

Brian

Dirt

Goobin

Coves

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1. Let’s build a Fortaleza da Sagres.

If my memory serves me right we almost didn’t make it to the Fortaleza da Sagres, which honestly would have been a travesty. There are about a billion fortresses it seems like in southern Spain and Portugal but we read this was considered the most south western point of Europe so we knew we couldn’t pass it up. The wind was crazy that day! It was honestly like nothing I had ever seen and being on the most south western tip of Europe on a cliff wasn’t exactly helping. We entered the fortress and looked around but it wasn’t until we reached the wall that we were in awe. We must have stood there for at least 25 minutes just looking at the giant waves crashing against the cliffside. It was honestly mesmerizing, beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. We spent the next hour walking around the edge of the cliff and learning about the different wildlife and vegetation that occupied the area while of course snapping a few photos. I don’t think I’ll ever encounter anything like it again and it is a MUST STOP destination on your trip. I wouldn’t have initially thought this would be my favorite spot of the trip but it absolutely was! Afterwards we headed to the Bed & Breakfast we booked to drop our things off and explore a couple other areas of this small town. Sagres is definitely a beach town and in warmer weather seemed like a hot spot for visitors looking to picnic on the beach and leisurely enjoy some historic costal spots. This was the perfect place to end our busy trip and spend one last night relaxing and taking in the beautiful views before heading home.

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Wind

Ronda

First off, let me just say that Ronda was a completely beautiful surprise! I really think this town is one of the hidden treasures of southern Spain. I’ll admit I am not the most “outdoorsy” person but hiking around the Puente Nuevo (pictured above) and looking at the surrounding views was truly something special. Not to mention it was only a little over an hour car ride!

We arrived early in the afternoon and made our way down the main strip of shopping where we quickly stopped for my first Spanish “churro y chocolate.” By far the best churros I’ve ever had! We continued on into the center of town where we explored a few different smaller plazas.

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Afterwards we made our way to the Alameda del Tajo, which has a GORGE-ous (pun intended) view of the split mountain and the surrounding areas. We made the trip with two of Brian’s fellow officers and all were in complete and total awe of the beauty and magnitude of these views.

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We continued on to begin our hike around the Puente Nuevo and found some great spots “off the trail” that were absolutely breathtaking!

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After our nice long hike we headed back to the center of town for some lunch next to Ronda’s bullring so of course we had to take a peak inside!

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Next we hit the Casa del Rey Moro, a home supposedly belonging to the Moorish king built within the town’s caverns. We explored the home and made our way down over 300 stairs into the caverns to check out the famous view at the very bottom. FUN FACT: Michelle Obama visited Ronda with her daughter Sasha and explored the Casa del Rey Moro back in 2010!

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The view at the bottom was tranquil, however making our way back up to the house was anything but! After the 300 stairs it was nice to take a breather by walking through the house’s garden where we were surprised by some peacocks and more views of the town.

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We walked through the town a bit more stopping at local shops to find souvenirs for our families and friends and then were back on the road. The day was complete with a beautiful view of the sunset during our drive home. Keep an eye out for my next post on our INCREDIBLE trip to Portugal. It looks like it’s going to need to be a three parter!

Stay tuned!

xoxo

Kelsey

Córdoba: The Rain in Spain Does NOT Stay Mainly in the Plain

Córdoba was one of the places I was most excited to visit thanks to the enthusiasm a former Spanish professor of mine had for the area. After a three hour train ride I could barely contain my excitement as we made our way through the local streets to La Mezquita a former mosque turned cathedral. Before we made it all the way to the “catedral” we stopped by a small local restaurant for my first paella experience!

For those of you that may not know paella is a Spanish dish that usually consists of rice, saffron, chicken, seafood and more! All served within a large and shallow pan as seen below. Since Brian is very adventurous with food we ordered a pan that had four different types, including one soaked in squid ink (ew!) but all was absolutely delicious!

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After lunch we were back on track and headed towards La Mezquita once again but ran into a 700 year old synagogue, which was actually the only medieval synagogue left in Andalucía, and the “Jewish Quarter,” a small plaza that held incredible artisan shops.

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When we finally arrived at La Mezquita I was in awe of just the courtyard itself! It was truly incredible to see how the architecture represented so many different periods of Spanish history. I think Sacred Destinations sums it up perfectly on their site in the statement:

The Mezquita (Spanish for “Mosque”) of Cordoba is a beautiful and fascinating building that symbolizes the many religious changes Cordoba has undergone over the centuries. Today, the Mezquita is the cathedral of Cordoba (officially the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption), but the vast majority of its art and architecture is the work of Islamic architects, who built it as a mosque in the 8th century.” 

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After wandering around and marveling at the architecture we decided to take a look at the Puente Romano over the Río Guadalquivir right outside La Mezquita. Unfortunately for us it started raining and we had neglected to bring an umbrella. After paying for a very overpriced umbrella we headed to the bridge where less than ten minutes after the purchase our umbrella turned inside out when Brian got excited about capturing a picture of a blue heron as a gust of wind came over the river.

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 (The infamous Blue Heron)

Next we headed to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, which we read held a beautiful garden. Even though the rain continued to come down it definitely did not detract from the garden’s beauty.

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photo 5 (1)

By this time we were getting a bit tired and headed back to the train station to catch a train and some sleep on the ride back home. The day was an exciting one packed with sightseeing so it was nice to return home and crash in our own bed. Keep an eye out for my next post about our day trip to Ronda!

Stay tuned!

xoxo

Kelsey

Sevilla

For our next trip we headed to Sevilla, which took a little over an hour by train. We headed directly to the Cathedral and made it just in time to see and hear the ringing of the bells before we headed into the palace and gardens of Alcázar.

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The square in front of Alcázar was beautiful with its monuments, view of the Cathedral and the sound of horses’ hooves clip-clopping as they trotted by pulling carriages of tourists to see the city. It was impossible not to want to get a snapshot of the area so we happily pulled out our cameras like any other tourist and snapped away.

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As we headed into Alcázar we weren’t quite sure what to expect, besides what the small portion within our book described as “intricate ceilings” and “extensive gardens.” What we found far surpassed this as we spent over an hour in the gardens, which we only really covered half of before I needed a pick-me-up in the form of a double chocolate chip muffin.

The gardens had everything you could imagine including gorgeous fountains, beautiful mosaics, a maze, lemon trees and an array of flowers. Even eating at the café was a treat as we watched peacocks glide through taking interest in the casualties of peoples’ meals, crumbs.

Room after room within the palace had a new surprise, whether it was a view of the city, incredible mosaic patterns or just its overall structure, Alcázar definitely did not disappoint.

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Next, we wandered over to the Cathedral that was hard not to admire. The sheer size of it was enough to put me in awe, but it became an even more special experience when we realized a mass was being held. Not only were we able to see the history of the Cathedral, but we were also able to experience its very current use today.

The one thing that really made me stop in my tracks was the burial of Christopher Columbus. While, the service prevented us from getting closer to the area it was still amazing from afar. I understand there is a tremendous amount of controversy over Christopher Columbus in the States, however it was still interesting to see the burial of someone you’ve learned about since first grade.

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By this time we were getting eager for lunch so we stopped to eat at Genova, a spot right outside the church that ended up being one of my favorite meals and favorite sangria in Spain! We ordered based on our waiter’s recommendations and got a small hamburger, risotto, and their equivalent to french fries. I definitely recommend anyone that visits stops by for some tapas here!

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After lunch we wandered around the streets for a while and came across a gelato shop called Amorino and had to stop. After ordering I wondered why the gelato was taking so long and turned out to be pleasantly surprised when I received a beautifully crafted gelato cone in the shape of a flower!

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We then wandered around some more and ended up at the second oldest bullring in Spain where we took a quick tour of the ring as well as its museum. While I thought I had learned almost all there was about bullfighting in Spain thanks to a Civilization of Spain class in college, we learned much more including the life of a bullfighter who started in the ring at age thirteen and the various trophies matadors received after a fight. I do have to say that I was happy I missed bullfighting season in Spain, despite it’s richness in Spanish history.

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Following the bullring we headed over to the Isabel II Bridge, which overlooked the Río Guadalquiver and had great views of the Torre del Oro, a former Moorish defensive tower that is now a Naval museum. We decided to rest our feet for a bit and order a few drinks, including a delicious mojito that I’ll admit rivals my dad’s (sorry Dad!).

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After lounging by the river we were off to one of the more well-known parts of Sevilla, the Plaza de España, where there are numerous impressive buildings constructed for the 1929 Ibero-American Exhibition.

The colors and detail that went into this plaza are unmatched, not to mention the enormous fountain located in the center that really sets the atmosphere of the area. This was truly a beautiful spot and a perfect one to end our trip at.

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Stay tuned!

xoxo

Kelsey

Cádiz

My first trip out with Brian was a short ferry ride away to Cádiz, Spain for the day to explore markets, castles, beaches and much more. We purchased a book that’s popularly used to plan trips in the area called Forty Day Trips from Rota by Melinda Ronka, a Navy wife who lived in Southern Spain for three years with her family and thoroughly explored the area. We followed her recommendation to take the ferry, a scenic and beautiful ride to the city, and hit the pavement once we landed. We started off with a quick bite to eat at a pastry shop since a certain someone may or may not have been getting cranky without a full breakfast (HINT: That someone was me) then headed towards the Plaza de España to look for the “red line” tour she had followed to see the city. Unfortunately, the “red line” tour has now been changed to the green and purple one so locals looked at us like we were crazy when we inquired about it. As a result we decided to follow one of the lines and ended up at the “mercado” or market that was filled with every Spanish food imaginable. At the entrance there were two men shucking oysters, which Brian will never forgive me for passing by without purchasing.

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We did however purchase some olives, which we snacked on while looking throughout the market at the different meat, cheese and seafood stations. They had every kind of seafood you could think of; shrimp, salmon, tuna, squid, octopus, shark and even a huge swordfish on display.

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After we departed Brian’s food mecca we headed towards the Museo de Cádiz to check out collections of Roman coins, fine arts and Phoenician sarcophagi. A nice surprise came from the plaza it was located in and its numerous squawking parrots flying throughout the palm trees. After the museum we searched for any type of unique restaurant, which Brian quickly spotted after seeing a sign listing Snakelocks Anemone as one of the restaurant’s specialties. I believe the exact translation on the sign was “Probably the best Snakelocks Anemone in Spain.” It’s no mystery that Brian is very adventurous when it comes to trying new food and I a bit more hesitant. However, we ordered a plate along with a few additional tapas and were pleasantly surprised at how good everything tasted. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Snakelocks due to it’s texture and the deluded idea it came from a snake. For those of you that are probably wiser than I, Snakelocks Anemone is a sea anemone often found in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean to Mediterranean Sea (thanks Wikipedia) and looks like this:

Snakelocks Anemone

(Photo courtesy of Freedive Gallery)

And looks like this when cooked:

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Feeling reenergized we headed to the Castillo Santa Catalina, one of the small fortresses on the beach with beautiful views. Though the museum part of it was closed for siesta it was still fun to take a look around at the 16th-17th century construction.

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We hit the beach afterwards and found an incredible amount of sea glass before heading back to the ferry for a relaxing ride home.

Stay tuned!

xoxo

Kelsey

The Big Move

(Photo courtesy of The Neotraditionalist)

Making the move to Spain was one that for the most part was pretty smooth with the exception of a few bumps in the road. To start, packing took me FOREVER. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what I wanted to bring and kept delaying it so much that finally the day I was leaving came and I woke up bright and early to sort through my belongings. It. Took. Me. Hours.

By the time I finished I had to tearily say goodbye to my roommate and best friend Ryan and somehow managed to get one HUGE overstuffed suitcase and multiple carry ons out the door. Before I knew it I was on my way to JFK. The cab driver must have heard me on the phone with my family expressing my anxiety over getting all my suitcases to check in and helped bring them all the way to the desk for me….which is where I hit my first bump.

Listen. I have always known about overage and additional baggage fees, but this was another level. Yes, I may have overpacked by 15 lbs in my largest suitcase and checked in an additional smaller bag, but I had no idea this would cost me an extra $200!!!! For a girl that just quit her job $200 might as well have been $2 million. The baggage guy had been joking around with me the whole time so when he told me the price I literally laughed and told him to quit messing around. He had me come around the back to actually see the computer screen with the dreaded total.

He offered me various solutions like leaving some things behind, shoving 15 lbs into the additional suitcase so I wouldn’t have to pay the extra $100, etc. but there wasn’t time or any chance it was going to work. So with that, I begrudgingly coughed up the $200 and headed to security, but not without the baggage guy advising me to refrain from making any purchases in Spain.

Security was ridiculous, but I somehow managed to slip into the TSA Pre-Check line without anyone questioning me despite my lack of authority to do so. So when I finally made it through I felt like I was on top of the world…that is, until I got to my gate.

About 10 minutes before boarding we were told there was something wrong with the plane and we would know by 9pm (2 hrs after our departure time) whether the plane could take off or not. Suddenly my mind flashed to getting all my luggage back into a cab, paying $50 to get back to my apartment and another $50 back tomorrow and I wanted to cry. But as luck should have it, about an hour later we heard the plane was good to go and boarding began.

The flight was as smooth as it could go, minus the seats not being labeled clearly and a lot of us playing musical chairs after I asked a woman who was eating dinner and on the phone with her daughter for 15 minutes if she knew she was sitting in my seat. I essentially slept through the whole 8 hour plane ride with the Spanish girl next to me using me as a pillow and before I knew it I was in Spain!

And after seeing this view all the small struggles to get here quickly disappeared.

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Stay tuned!

xoxo

Kelsey