I can’t say this enough times, but to be hugged, kissed, and fed again was a feeling like no other. Over the past couple of weeks, I had the opportunity to meet my Zia and Zio (Aunt and Uncle), my cousin, and her boyfriend for some visiting and touring in Italy and through Greece. The journey towards meeting them in Rome was a unique experience. I finally had to do the full train and plane adventure 100 per cent on my own. Usually I have someone with me for at least part of my travels, but this time it was all me. I had to go to the airport Friday, May 25th by myself and stay at the airport through the night to catch a 6:30am flight to Rome on the 26th. With this being the case, I caught the latest series of trains from Wiener Neustadt to the airport. Let’s just say it is very normal for people to be walking around under the influence of alcohol at that time of night. However, I made it to the airport safely and after zooming through the airport being the only person in line for security, I found a chair to sit in to Facetime family and friends until the sun came up and restaurants opened for food. I had forgot to bring snacks for my night shift at the airport, so I had to decide with my only 2-euro coin whether to spend it on a vending machine water, a vending machine snack, or a massage in the massage chair. I chose the snack – it was a deliciously stale rice crispy type bar that tide me over until the build your own yogurt bar opened in the morning. So, morning came, I took my flight to Rome, and waited for my family. After this little airport adventure of mine, I think I have finally fully conquered my fear of travelling alone. Travelling by myself has always been something I would dread, and I would always have anxiety about making it on time or missing trains, or anything going wrong in general. But at this point, after my time abroad, I am a confident traveller.
Meeting the family at the airport was so exciting. I haven’t seen family members in so long, that seeing them again didn’t feel real. So, we all met in Rome, I finally got hugged, kissed and felt human love, and we drove to Caramanico Terme for more of it. Caramanico Terme is where my Zio’s relatives live, and although they aren’t my relatives by blood, I still consider them family. It was so heartwarming to see everyone again, with food ready for us on the table. The night that we arrived, we had a huge, delicious family dinner about nine courses long at a local restaurant that I remember going to the last time I was in Italy, to catch up, enjoy, and nurse our food babies. The following day we had an unexpected drive up to the mountains, which although the windy road made me feel nauseous, it was worth the breathtaking views. We also spent time over the couple of days touring and relaxing in nearby cities that continued to bring back memories from my previous trip to Italy, like Pescara and Ortona. The places were beautiful, my family was beautiful, and so was the food. You can’t go anywhere without there being cheese, bread, prosciutto, and a little something special on the table. You pretty much get cheered on every time you eat. Food is a delicacy, so any time you hear “mangia, mangia, mangia!”, you just keep eating, even if the oil from the food is coming out of your skin.
This then brings us to the place I have been wanting to visit since I knew it existed, Greece! My Zia, Zio, my cousin Olivia, her boyfriend Liam, and I took a flight from Rome to Athens on Wednesday, May 30th. We found our Airbnb and hit the town for dinner to absorb the Greek culture and to consume Greek food. Let me tell you, in Greece, feta cheese is a whole new world of feta cheese, and Greek salad, is called Greek salad, not just salad. I also learned that eggplant is a Greek vegetable. We ate well at every dinner we had, and they were all accompanied by typical soothing Greek musicians that completed the atmosphere. Athens also brought us to see the Acropolis. It was so interesting to see these ancient buildings and read a little bit about the architecture and history behind them. We also checked out the Athens Flea market. So many cool things to buy and look at, and purchases were made.
After two nights in Athens, we took the ferry to Mykonos, a stunning island with white and blue everywhere, just as I had pictured Greece to look. Our Airbnb was beautiful and had a crisp, refreshing pool outside of it. On top of that, we were located one minute and 36 seconds away from the beach, per the Airbnb owner. This beach was where we spent lots of time absorbing the sun, and jumping in the water that was surrounded by a daydream of views. On our second day, we also did some beach hopping. This included hopping on and off the boat where we took in the island’s beauty from the water with the wind in our faces. The downtown city area of Mykonos was where the dream continued, as you walk through the white buildings accented with blue, and the odd time, pink or green. All the little shops and all the people livened it up, and it was like walking through a maze. I could get lost in Mykonos for hours and not mind.
The third island was the grand finale of them all, we took the ferry to Santorini. It was the cherry on top. Our Airbnb was stunning, as it was located on the coast with views that make you feel like you’re staring at a painting. Once again, we had a pool to enjoy, and it all just made me start to wonder how any of this is real. The city square was like Mykonos, but getting there was much different because we walked the coast this time instead of having to take a bus. Walking to our dinner location and watching the sun go down made us feel like we were in heaven. The next day, we decided that as the sun started to set, we would take on a two-and-a- half hour walk from Fira, the little city in Santorini that we were staying in, to Oia, another city on the end of Santorini. The walk was not what we had anticipated at all, the two-and-a-half-hour walk was a full-blown hike with steep ups and steep downs, and a lot of sweat. It was tough, but it was quite the experience, and it felt so good to see the sunset from a new view, and it felt even better to sit down for dinner. All in all, Greece was amazing, and I will return one day.
The final destination of our journey together was Vienna. This was exciting for me, because I had the opportunity to be the tour guide. We arrived and went to the Airbnb, had dinner (Wiener Schnitzel was on the table), absorbed the main city centre, saw St. Stephens Cathedral, took a night walk to Parliament, taking in everything along the way, even some gelato. Since the family had less than 24 hours in Vienna, the next day we fit in the Schonbrunn Palace, and the Hundertwasserhaus, which is my favorite sight to see in Vienna. I was very impressed with myself at how well I can navigate the city, and it was fun to take control and show my family what I know now that Vienna has a homey feel for me. So, as it was June 6th, it was time to say goodbye to my family. We went our separate ways, as the four of them got on a train to Prague, and I got on a train back to Wiener Neustadt. It was sad saying goodbye, especially after the memorable time we all had together. It kind of felt like I was saying goodbye for five months all over again. But only three weeks until home and I can’t wait!
It was such a great experience being with family, and makes me even more excited to go home and to absorb everyone else that’s waiting for me. It also made me realize that I need to appreciate my time left in my exchange semester. I started to miss my friends and my life here in Wiener Neustadt just in that short time away, so I need to embrace what’s left. It was crazy how when I was with my family, it felt like my study abroad life was all a dream, since it is so separate to my actual life at home. It is so cool how I created a life here in Wiener Neustadt, and it’s time to make the best of the week and a half I have left with my study abroad family in my second home.