Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cinque Terre, Italy (Pt. 3)


Our time in Cinque Terre began with less than favorable circumstances. Upon our arrival at our air bnb in Monterosso, we discovered something crucial went missing during the trip. We left Florence with three passports, and made it to Monterosso with just two. Now, I wasn’t a math major, but TWO PASSPORTS FOR THREE PEOPLE IS NOT ENOUGH.  After lots of tears and lots of Googling “what to do if you lose your passport abroad,” we calmed down enough to have a game plan: we would first file a local police report (in case someone found it and turned it in), then start searching for train tickets to Milan (because that’s where the U.S. embassy is in Italy).

For those of you wondering who this misfortune fell upon, somehow the one person who was constantly reminding us about pickpockets and being careful with our things managed to undeservingly discover her purse missing from her backpack, including her passport, newly purchased Ray Bans sunglasses, and some cash. Jaclyn had been so careful with her stuff the entire trip, and we spent hours trying to figure out when her purse could have separated from her backpack. We all made sure to watch each other’s things constantly, and be very aware of our surroundings, but to no one’s fault we were suddenly short one purse and one very important document.

Even though we were all very excited and looking forward to spending the next three days in the sun and the sand in Cinque Terre, Megan and I were more than willing to go to any lengths to get Jaclyn’s passport back, or help her in any way so she wouldn’t be stuck in Italy, unable to return to Iceland or the U.S. (So scary.) In the 20 minutes of Googling, tears, and phone calls to home, I was honestly warming up to the idea of the spontaneous road trip north to Milan. Jaclyn is our good friend, so we were going to be right by her side until we figured this whole situation out, even though that meant the possibility of cutting our “vacation” short.

Just as we were gathering our things to walk to the local police station to file the report, we heard a “ding” from Jaclyn’s phone.

Pause. Opens phone. Reading.

“Oh my gosh!!!!!”

Y’all, what I’m about to tell you is not good luck. It’s not coincidence. It’s not karma. What I’m about to tell you is a God thing. A lady and her husband rode the same train that we were on to Cinque Terre back to the La Spezia station (20 minutes away). Her husband forgot his shoes on the train (kinda weird), so she went back to look for them and noticed a purse on the luggage rack. Jaclyn has a very unique first and last name combination, so the lady found her on Instagram, messaged her, and told her she turned her purse in (WITH her passport AND Ray Bans still in it) to the police at the La Spezia train station.

Like, what? How incredible is that!!!!! We immediately bought a train ticket to La Spezia, talked to the police there, and rode the train back to Monterosso with Jaclyn’s purse, passport, Ray Bans, and three VERY thankful hearts.

We celebrated our crazy day with a delicious dinner by the beach and three bottles of wine (it was a long dinner). That day we bonded as friends like we haven’t bonded before. Although I would have rather skipped the whole “losing a passport” thing, I am so thankful and grateful that situation brought us closer as friends, teammates, and girls who genuinely care about each other. It was an eventful first day in Cinque Terre to say the least!


Day two was eventful as well, but in a very different way. One of Megan’s high school friends was coincidentally staying in Cinque Terre with two of his college friends in the town just north of Monterosso, Levanto. We met up with them in Monterosso to hike the hour-long scenic trail to the next town south of us, Vernazza! They all three went to Texas A&M, one being an exchange student from Italy. The hike allowed lots of great conversations, including the discovery of a ton of mutual friends between the two Americans and I - which was super cool!

Jared, me, Jaclyn, Megan, Marco, Allen
Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

After the hike we took the train to Levanto to watch the Italy v Sweden game in a bar full of Italian men. I have to say, this was probably the most fun atmosphere - to watch an Italian game in Italy surrounded by Italians! Apparently Italian girls aren't overt fans of soccer / don't normally accompany men in bars to watch games. Our presence warranted a few funny looks at first, but ultimately we were accepted as soccer (and Italy) fans for the day, and that was very cool.

That night the guys and us girls went to a nice dinner in Monterosso. We all ordered a huge pot of seafood risotto, and OH MY GOODNESS BEST MEAL I'VE EVER TASTED. Like seriously. It was so stinkin delicious. 

Accompanied with our incredible dinner, we drank two bottles of the local white wine. And when I say local, I mean we walked past the vineyard on our way past the train station in Monterosso earlier that day. It was incredible as well! I have yet to taste a glass of red or white wine here in Italy that I haven't absolutely enjoyed. 

After dinner and gelato :)


Our final day in Cinque Terre we spent relaxing, absorbing as much Italian sun into our skin as possible. At one point during the day, while walking on slippery rocks (bad idea), my feet slipped out from under me and I completely ate it in front of a couple who at first looked concerned, then broke into unashamed laughter at my expense. It's okay, I was laughing too. And so was Megan. And so were some other people nearby.

We ended the night with a three-course dinner and bottle of local red wine, and of course some delicious gelato. Our train was scheduled to leave at 5:30 the next morning to head back to Rome, so our night ended after gelato. The next day was just a full day of travel, so our last day in Monterosso spent relaxing was just how we wanted to end our Italian vacation. :)

Ciao Italia!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Florence, Italy (Pt. 2)

I’m finally back in the city that stole my 17-year-old heart. When I took the trip with National Geographic five years ago we stayed the majority of our time in Italy in Florence. I completely fell in love. I love the streets, food, people, buildings, culture, history, atmosphere, air, e v e r y t h i n g about this city. I promised myself I would find my way back at some point in my life, preferably to live for a short time, but at least to visit. Five years and a few countries later, I’ve managed to make my way back to the City of Lilies. 

All afternoon we walked around town near the Il Duomo, ate gelato (of course), saw some statues, perused around some shops, and even found my favorite scarves I originally found five years ago! I had purchased two of the most beautiful scarves last time I visited Florence, but managed to lose both of them during my time back in the states. I looked around more shops than I can count looking for that specific kind of scarf, and finally managed to stumble upon the ONE shop that sells them! Megan and Jaclyn loved them so much they decided to get some as well.

That first night we walked to a restaurant right next to the Il Duomo (talk about dinner with a view!) and ate incredible pasta while watching the Iceland v Portugal soccer match on a huge projector in the restaurant. Every other patron was overtly pulling for Portugal to beat Iceland, except for us three. Then, when Iceland scored (their first goal in history at the Euros !!!!!) our table cheered so loudly that heads turned in confusion. The craziest part is one other table with a very Icelandic-looking couple cheered just as loudly. After the match I walked over to them and asked if they were from Iceland (they were), and we all had an interesting conversation explaining the reason why three American girls in Italy were cheering for the Icelandic National team. It never ceases to amaze me how small this world actually is.

(BTW – SO SO proud of Iceland for qualifying for the Euros for the first time in the history of the country, and then opening their tournament campaign TYING PORTUGAL & not allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to score! HOW FREAKING AWESOME IS THAT! I’ve only been living in Iceland for less than three months, but I feel a sense of pride for the beautiful country and the incredible Icelandic people I know.)

For our second day in Florence we had scheduled to go to a winery in Tuscany that had a castle tour and wine tasting on the property. I was a 17-year-old on a school trip the first time I went to Tuscany, so wine tasting wasn’t really in the cards for us. We spent a day touring an olive oil vineyard at a winery but were only able to taste different olive oils on bread. That was a great experience, but being able to go back and do an actual winery tour and drink wine at the age of 22 was an amazing experience. The winery tour was probably one of the things I was most excited about when booking this trip to Italy, because written down on my bucket list of 100+ things is #57: Go Wine Tasting In Italy. I love when I get to cross something off of my bucket list!!

We went to Castello di Verrazzano in Greve in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy. The winery’s castle sat on the top of a very large hill that took us 30 minutes to walk up, exacerbated by the time we reached the top. But the walk was well worth the view!! We passed by the vineyards, and witnessed incredible views of the countryside we wouldn’t have enjoyed quite as much passing by in a car. We toured the castle with a small group, learned a lot about how wine is made, why different wines are made in different ways, and all those interesting tidbits you never thought you wanted to know, but are so glad you were listening to as you guzzled your fair share of quality Italian wine.

Accompanied with tasting the wine, we also devoured a meat and cheese plate. And I entirely mean it when I say devoured. Italians make incredible meat and cheese, as well as wine! No wonder people fall in love with this country – you can’t go wrong at mealtime! At our table sat a family of Brazilian vegetarians. An older man, an older, but not quite as old woman (his daughter), and her son and daughter who were in their twenties. During small talk the son found out two of us were from Texas, me being from Houston. He then asked us about how we felt about the Rodeo. He told us he was an animal rights activist in Brazil who protested against how they treated the animals in the Brazilian rodeos, and he wanted to know the point of view on rodeos from someone who grew up around them. I told him what I thought about them and also how our culture as a whole views them, which is in a positive light for the most part, them being so popular all across the country. It was an interesting conversation to say the least, and definitely one I did not expect to have with a vegan Brazilian at a wine tasting in Tuscany!

After our stomachs were full from food and our souls were satisfied with wine, we made our way back down the hill and barely caught the next bus back to the city. The next stop on our agenda: my absolute favorite gelato shop where I ate during my first stay in Florence - GROM. GROM is just way too good to miss out on, so I made sure to take Megan and Jaclyn there on our last day (and as an excuse to eat in again myself). GROM is kind of hidden on a small side street close to the Il Duomo, and luckily it wasn't super packed at the time we went. It was just as delicious as I remember!!! And the perfect way to end an already perfect day. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Italian Vacation (Pt. 1)

Let me start this off by saying how weird it was for me to title this post “vacation”. It feels like I’ve been on a vacation since I left the states, even though I’ve technically been “working” playing soccer. I guess I’m treating this trip to Italy as a vacation from my soccer obligations.

When Jaclyn, Megan, and I first found out we would have a break in the middle of our season, we immediately started brainstorming other countries we could visit. I originally wanted to go to Scotland/Ireland because it's a short trip from Iceland (meaning less travel time and more exploring time), and I haven’t been to those countries yet. Jaclyn and Megan were pretty set on Italy because they both have Italian in their family lineage, and who doesn’t want to vacation in the warm Mediterranean during the summer?? (Especially as a break from the cooler Icelandic weather haha.)

I took a trip with National Geographic Student Expeditions to Italy the summer after my junior year in high school. A part of me didn’t want to go back to places I’ve already been (I really want to see the entire world before I die, which doesn’t give me much time to go back for seconds, so to speak). But when I was 17 I fell in love with Florence, and promised myself that at some point in my life I want to go back and live there. Although I’m still not living in Florence (bummer), Italy was beautiful and fun the first time I visited while on a school trip, so I knew Italy would be beautiful and fun the second time while on a girl’s trip with my friends!

So it was decided. One week spent in Rome, Florence, and Cinque Terre was officially written on our three calendars.


We touched down in Rome after around fifteen hours of traveling. We had a dumb five-hour layover in Germany, so by the time we landed we were excited to finally be in ITALY! 

I have to say I am really impressed and proud of ourselves for figuring out public transportation in this country with it being our first time. Sure, it took us walking around a few (or more) blocks to find a place to get cash to get our bus tickets. And okay, so we might have ridden a bus through the entire city like, twice, but we basically got a free tour and ended up where we were supposed to be - so I'd call that a success! 

Once we made it to our Air bnb that first afternoon and met our super nice hostess, we freshened up (which means we put on outfits that would look good in pictures, duh) and headed out to see the famous sights! We only planned one night in Rome because I knew we would want more time in Florence and Cinque Terre, so we just hit the main tourist attractions: the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. I had seen all of Rome the first time I went five years ago, but it was still fun to see all of them again with new people!


I am taking full advantage of being back in this country and having easy and frequent access to authentic Italian gelato (THE best). And by taking full advantage I mean eating gelato every day, sometimes twice a day. No shame. If you've had it you know what I'm obsessing over.

Since the Euros are going on (and we're soccer players in Europe), we found a cute restaurant to eat dinner, drink some wine and watch the Italy v Belgium soccer match. We were rooting for Italy, of course. After dinner we managed to find our way back to a bus stop and catch a bus that took us close to our apartment. 

Our first day was long and exhausting, but so much fun and full of adventures. I'm so thankful we are able to take some time off to enjoy other parts of the world (and get some awesome Instagram pictures while we're at it) *wink*

Trevi Fountain

Next stop: Florence :) 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Ég er að læra íslensku

It is no secret that I love words. Talk to me for 10 minutes and somehow that will come up in our conversation. I am constantly reading, writing, and trying to expand my vernacular. I love finding new and better ways to communicate my thoughts. Words are fun to me.

In high school I took Latin for three years. Latin isn’t a spoken language, but from it come all the romance languages, and many others take from Latin as well. I think studying such an ancient language that has managed to stay relevant through its rebirth in other languages inspired my love of words and languages. It’s like adding chocolate to an already awesome cake. The cake is going to taste good by itself, but chocolate makes it even better. (Chocolate makes everything better.) Words can just be simple, or they can make sentences and thoughts come to life in a magical way. Words are fun!

After I travelled halfway across the globe to Tanzania as a sophomore in high school, and to Italy and Greece as a junior, I told myself that I wanted to spend some significant time in my life living in another country, not just travelling. As soon as I decided to pursue a professional soccer career overseas, I told myself that I wanted to learn the language of whichever country I ended up in. Half the fun of living in another country is learning their language!

With that being said, and given the title of this blog, I have been learning to speak, read, and write Icelandic over the past two months I’ve lived here.

Icelandic doesn’t have the friendliest letters for native English-speakers. A few pronunciations were at once impossible for my mouth to create. Like, my mouth has never made those sounds before. (Icelandic words with 'll') Learning those letters took me back to my ‘Hooked on Phonics’ days in elementary school, learning how to pronounce the ‘th’ and ‘ck’ sounds. (Ya, looks easy now, but at one time those were a struggle!)

That was the first step for me, to learn the Icelandic alphabet and to learn the phonetics. Most of their letters are the same as in the English alphabet or make similar sounds as some English letter combinations. I started teaching myself Icelandic phonetics after I signed my contract before I even moved here. That helped me a lot.

People in Iceland grow up learning and speaking Icelandic, then at some point in school they learn Danish and English (they were a Danish colony for a long time). So every person here knows English to some degree. Most are fluent, with varying degrees of an accent, and the rest know enough to communicate effectively. The younger people who watch a lot of American movies and shows pick up more and have less of an accent, and some of the older generations who haven’t had to do business with English-speakers or who haven’t travelled a lot know less and have stronger accents. Basically, I don’t have to learn Icelandic to get along just fine living here, but it definitely helps.

Since living here, my vernacular is proving to be a product of my environment. I live in a house with two parents and two little girls, ages 4 and 6, and I spend a significant amount of time around my soccer teammates and coaches. Wanna guess the types of words and phrases I know??

On the field I’ve made it a point to learn common words and soccer phrases that we use in every practice and every game. For example, I know numbers up to 100 (to tell players who to mark), and the words for common commands and instructions for my teammates. It’s been cool to notice how many words and phrases I can understand my coach saying during practices or pre-game speeches. I can definitely understand more things and understand them quicker than I can think of then speak them to others.

Soccer-related words and phrases I use all the time:

Já – Yes  
Herna – Here
Skjóta – Shoot
Vinstri – Left
Hægri – Right
Skipta – Switch
Tilbaka – Back
Aftur – Again
Mark – Goal
Vel gert – Well done
Gott – Good
Klobbi – Nutmeg (when the ball goes through your legs)
Bolti – Ball

Living with a host family has made a huge difference in my Icelandic learning, especially living with the young girls. They haven’t started learning English in school yet, so if I want to communicate with them I have to use Icelandic. My strategy for learning is by asking, looking up the spelling (seeing the word helps), and then trying to use it as much as I can to practice it. My host parents have been so helpful and patient teaching me useful things.

I can tell my host mom ‘thank you for dinner’ (I use that one every night), ask what time something is (a game or tv show or practice), and ask where or who or what something is. (Those are the most common subjects of my speaking.) Some words and phrases I find myself wanting to say a lot, so I’ll ask specifically how to say something. Other words and phrases I hear other people say a lot, so I’ll ask what they mean.

Then with the girls, my go-to phrase is ‘what is that?’ and ‘flott’ (cool) when they show me something. I can understand them when they ask me to play, and can ask them what they’re doing or where they’re going. I don’t always know what they answer me (haha) but I can at least ask and see how they respond.

Some words I hear (and use) every single day at home:

Hætta - Stop
Ekki svona - Not like that
Nei - No
Pissa - Pee
ís - Ice cream
Nuna - Now
Sitja - Sit
Svona - Like this
Tilbúin – Ready
Hvað er þetta? – What is that?
Flott – Cool
Góða nótt – Good night
Mjög gott – Very good
Leika – Play 

Some words and phrases I hear (and use) every day in general:

Góðan daginn – Good day
Bara – Just
Ensku – English
Takk fyrir – Thank you
Sjáumst á morgun – See you tomorrow
í kvöld – Tonight
Leikur – Game
– Hi
Ekkert mál – No problem
Ekki ég – Not I
Sama – Same
ég veit ekki – I don’t know
Takk fyrir matinn – Thanks for the food
Nei takk – No thanks
Vatn – Water
Kaffi – Coffee
Súkkulaði – Chocolate
Komdu - Come
Frábært - Great
Hvar – Where
Hvað er klukkan? – What time is it?
Gaman – Fun

I tried to remember and write down all the words and phrases I have learned so far, but there are so many and some are so random that I can’t think of them all to write down. Plus, who wants to read a blog post of just a list of words they can’t pronounce? ;) I’ve included the most common Icelandic that pertains to my life in this post (for you, Mom) and for those who are curious about what the Icelandic language looks like. My goal is to be semi-fluent in Icelandic by the time I leave here. It’s been a good start! Two months down, four more to go. :) 

Fun activity for all my English readers: If you get bored today, look up the word ‘fjall’ (mountain) and try to pronounce that double L! It’s so hard!!