I used to look at people’s amazing lives on Instagram, believing that there must be something special about them if they got to have such incredible experiences and travel to such exotic places. They must have trust funds, or really random and cool jobs, or something that I just didn’t have.
Now I know that’s not true – if you work hard, save money and commit to making your dreams come true, you can do all that cool stuff you used to think was unrealistic. This summer showed me just how true that is: sometimes I’ll be telling a story about something I did, and then all of a sudden I feel like I’m lying because it just sounds so cool. Partially to show you how awesome life can be even as a broke 19 year old and partially just to brag about my unreal summer, here’s a list of the ten coolest things I did this summer:
Saw an Avicii concert in Morocco
I love that I get to say that sentence. I met a Moroccan guy in Marrakech who goes to Dalhousie, the university in my home town – the world is absurdly small. Near the end of my time in Morocco, I happened to be in Rabat during a huge music festival and he texted me inviting me to a FREE Avicii concert. I am obsessed with Avicii and it was an absolutely incredible night. Typical of a Moroccan event, there was 10 guys for every girl and at times I felt really uncomfortable, but it was amazing to see Moroccan teenagers letting loose – especially the girls in hijabs, having just as much fun as I was.
Slept under the stars in the Sahara desert
This may be the most amazing thing I’ve done in my life – up there right alongside walking on the Great Wall of China. Look out soon for a whole post on this, because I just can’t wait to talk about it, but suffice it to say I never knew there were so many stars and I never knew I could feel so much calmness and happiness.
COST: 800 dirham (80 Euros/120 dollars for an overnight trip)
Learned basic Italian in three days
When I got to my ill-fated au pair job (much more on that later), I realized the three kids I was taking care of spoke absolutely zero English. None. Considering that my only Italian consisted of ‘ciao’, ‘bella’ and ‘pizza’, I had to learn fast if I wanted to be able to have any sort of relationship with these kids. Somehow, the magic of immersion, living in a non-touristy place, and listening very carefully to everything the family said allowed me to learn how to communicate in Italian with three days. I’ve never been more impressed with myself, and while I may speak Italian like a small child, at least I can speak Italian.
COST: Free (actually got paid)
Watched an outdoor opera in Verona’s ancient Roman arena
I may have had no idea what was going on, and I was in pain from sitting on a stone slab for hours on end, but the magic of watching Aida performed under the stars in an ancient Roman structure certainly didn’t escape me. It was beautiful and unforgettable and shockingly affordable. If you’re planning a summer Italy trip, try to schedule a stop in Verona during the summer opera festival – the cheapest tickets are a steal and it’s such an incredible way to feed some culture into your trip. (Cause you know, culture is hard to come by in Italy). Verona itself was absolutely breathtaking; despite being a total romantic cynic I loved the whole Romeo and Juliet spin the city has put on its tourism.
COST: Approximately 25 Euros (35 dollars)
Experienced a Turkish hammam (and Istanbul in general)
I wrote about this crazy experience here, and there’s another post to come on the even more ridiculous hammam I went to in Marrakech. Istanbul itself had a huge impact on me and my sister, and we talk about it basically weekly. It was the first truly exotic place she had ever visited, and we loved exploring together and immersing ourselves in this chaotic and beautiful city. Istanbul is at the top of my revisit list!
COST: Around $30 Canadian
Picnicked in a random Parisian park
What’s more Parisian (and more alliterative) than a picnic in a park? Anna and I were staying with a friend studying in Paris, and we loved the chance to see a more local side of the city. I was shocked by how much I adored Paris, and while the whole thing was magical, a highlight was our budget picnic sitting on the ground.
COST: ~5 Euros
Wandered around Budapest and happening upon an unbelievably beautiful view and sunset
Our first night in Budapest, we raced the sunset to get up far enough to see a good view of the city. We didn’t really know where we were going, but we ended up at Fisherman’s Bastion and it was incredibly beautiful. Budapest is such an underrated city – the Parliament Building alone is worth the trip. There are so many places to get a panorama of the city, and I explored a LOT of them (post coming soon), but this one was the best, perhaps because of its spontaneity and the fact that we made it there at the perfect time of day.
Hiked to the most beautiful beach I’ve ever seen in Lagos, Portugal
Sometimes you see a picture on Pinterest and you just scoff because there’s no way that can be how it really looks. I thought this was going to be the case with the beaches on the Algarve coast of Portugal, but my first sight of the beaches proved me wrong. They are even better than they look, and the water is freezing but I could have explored for days. The beaches are just so authentic and less commercialized than a lot of beaches in popular tourist places: you have to climb through little caves to get to some beaches, and there’s absolutely no money being made directly on these beaches. Lagos was such a great little place, especially for young backpackers, and Portugal is now one of my favourite countries!
Discovered a hidden gem and the Italian equivalent of Lake Louise: Lago di Braies in Italy
You’d think all the best places in the world would have been uncovered now – especially in Italy, which has been a hugely prominent tourist destination since travel became a thing. I saw Lago di Braies on Kristin’s Instagram while I was living in Italy and immediately started trying to figure out how to get there – this place is absolutely breathtaking. I have realized that I am totally obsessed with mountains, and who isn’t obsessed with bright blue lakes?
If you’ve been to Lake Louise in Alberta, this place is the Italian equivalent, both commercialization-wise and looks-wise. It’s a bit of a trek to get here and the region itself is so worth exploring – look for a guide coming soon!
COST: Maybe a few Euros for the bus
Woke up to the sound of nuns singing in Cortona, Italy
One of the most magical mornings of my life. I stayed at a nunnery in this classic Tuscan hill town, and one morning woke up with the sun to hear the nuns singing morning vespers. I headed to town for an espresso and brioche, then sat in front of this view watching the town wake up and trying to figure out how life could be so awesome.
COST: $40 a night