Monthly Archives: February 2018

GREECE: Cheese pies, islands, and lots of photos

Kalimera / Kalispera (depending on your timezone) everyone !

I’m gonna try to start this post differently than my others, so here’s a haiku:

Greece is the best thing

That’s ever happened to me

Mostly cause of food

(If you’ve seen any of my snap stories from this past week, you already know that my diet has been *d e c a d e n t* since I’ve gotten here. It’s been a pretty constant stream of souvlaki, gelato, feta cheese, and shrimp. I’m so happy.)


Easily the best gelato I’ve ever had

In addition to the food, this first week in Greece has truly been one of the best weeks of my whole entire 20 years and 10 months on this earth !!! I won’t lie, though: the prospect of writing about even half of all I’ve done / seen / learned / eaten this past week is pretty daunting. But, hey, if my two biggest problems right now are that I have too many cool things to write about, and that I’ve spent all my money on gelato and handmade pottery, then I really have nothing to complain about. 🙂

So, what exactly happened this week? Read on !!!!

After landing in Athens, we were taken to our apartments. And OMG. Our apartments are A C T U A L L Y in the most incredible location in Athens. We are situated across the street from what appears to be the most popular bar in the city, next door to a gorgeous fruit / vegetable stand, around the corner from a 24/7 crĂȘperie, down the street from a place that sells insanely good €2 souvlaki, and exactly 20 feet from the ORIGINAL OLYMPIC STADIUM. Seriously wondering who SIT had to blackmail to get this location…

After settling in, we were taken to eat a feast of traditional Greek cuisine that never seemed to end (one of the best meals of my life), and, the following day, began classes and excursions. We’re currently taking three classes, all based out of the College Year in Athens (CYA) campus: the first is a basic Greek language crash-course, where we’ve started learning the alphabet and some useful words / phrases for everyday interactions; the second is a research methods course, which provides us with tools to conduct primary research; the third (and most interesting) focuses on the Greek financial crisis.

Athens is beautiful — the orange trees that line the streets are so picturesque it hurts — but the really remarkable part of this first week started the moment we left Athens and embarked on our excursion to the island of Crete.

I’m gonna skip over the beautiful overnight boat ride (titanic-like, minus the sinking part), the first museum visit (very informative!), and the market scene in downtown Heraklion (fun, crowded, cheap, unique, beautiful) and jump right into DAY 2 of Crete. Day 2 is when things really got interesting.

The day began with the usual 7:30am wakeup call, quick breakfast, and hurried entry of the bus. Here “usual” should not be confused with “natural” or “easy,” as it was neither of those things and was in fact an “unnatural” and “hard” wakeup. But we made it on the bus and settled in for what would be one comically uncomfortable journey.

Now, I don’t want to brag, but I consider myself a kind of pro roadtripper. I’ve experienced some long, hot, carsick, boring drives in my day, and I can handle it. This drive was only two hours long, and yet, reached a whole other level of discomfort. The fact that I was sitting in the back of the bus was already rough; however, it would have been manageable had the drive not been the windiest, hilliest, rollercoastiest journey imaginable. My usual trick of watching the road to avoid nausea was rendered ineffective due to the impenetrable fog that surrounded us as we rose, fell, and spun on the road up a huge mountain. Somehow, we reached our destination without any emergency pullovers to the side of the road.

We were headed to the cave in which Zeus Himself was born. A 15 minute hike to the top of the mountain led us to a very long set of stairs that descended into a very large, very deep cave. This place was SOMETHING. The tall ceiling and meandering floor of the cave were covered with massive collections of stalactites and stalagmites, producing a surreal and almost supernatural atmosphere.

The stairs down Dikteon Cave

Inside Dikteon Cave

The view from inside the cave

We climbed up and out of the cave, and hiked down to a cafe where we were served a “snack” I’ll never forget: fried feta cheese pies covered in honey. We had apparently all forgotten that, in order to leave this mountain, we would have to experience the “bus drive from hades” (get it ???) again, because we each ate at least five of these ultra-rich pastries. It wasn’t until we returned to our seats in the bus that we realized what a bad decision that was.

Feta cheese pies with honey; delicious, but not ideal when trying to avoid carsickness

Needless to say, the bus ride back down the mountain was significantly more difficult than the ride up. One of the guys even had a small plastic bag on his lap ready to go the whole time, just in case his stomach decided to give in to the excessive nausea-inducing conditions of the journey. Despite — and, in fact, due to — the fact that half of us were ready to throw up, we couldn’t stop laughing. The combination of factors — the bus, the winding road, the fog, the fried cheese / honey combo — contributing to our collective queasiness was so exaggerated it almost seemed planned. To top it off, our next activity of the day was a boat ride to a nearby island. Amazingly, we reached the dock without ever having to use the little plastic bag.

The boat ride turned out to be anything but uncomfortable; this was actually the end of the upset-stomach-phase of the day and the beginning of my favorite part of this entire trip. A five minute ride through the clearest and most turquoise water I’ve ever seen took us to the tiny island of Spinalonga. Thanks to our wonderful guide, HĂŒseyin, we learned that this island was once used to quarantine people with leprosy. For us, though, this beautiful, crumbling fort represented only the coolest playground ever which we explored at liberty. I felt like a kid again as I crawled through holes in the bricks, ran beneath lush olive trees, and meandered through series of stairs, meadows, and rubble piles to reach the highest point on the island. I had so much fun.

Spinalonga from the boat

The journey to Spinalonga (feat. Paula)

The view from the shores of Spinalonga

The abandoned fort on Spinalonga

On Spinalonga — I’ll never have as much fun as I did here

The top of Spinalonga !!! (feat. Lizzy and Paula)

We sailed back to Crete and drove a short distance to the city of Agios Nikolaos, where we ate a waterside dinner before returning to Heraklion.

The view from our restaurant in Agios Nikolaos

Can you believe this is still Day 2 of Crete ??? Because I couldn’t !!

The following day was almost as eventful, with stops at an ancient palace, a pottery shop in the village of Margarites (where we got to watch an incredible pottery wheel demonstration), Lake Kournas (a few people were brave and swam in the cold water), and another beautiful port town for seafood and dangerously good frozen yogurt. That night, we boarded the ferry that took us back to Athens for Week 2 of our “Extended Excursion” to Greece.

History! Beauty!

Beautiful, brilliant pottery in Margarites

Jake and Anna were the first to enter the ice cold water at Lake Kournas

I was — and still am — so sad to leave Crete. It was honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. And, though it was exhausting to have such packed days (even this very long blog post is skipping over so much), every stop was absolutely incredible. Traveling with SIT is enriching the experience in so many ways; I’ve gotten to see so many places I never would have known to visit, without having to worry about travel logistics, and with a group of 15 really cool people. It’s seriously u n r e a l.

I’ve got class tomorrow morning, so it’s time for me to sign off!

Before I go, here’s my SWITZERLAND MONEY SAVING TIP of the week $$$:

  1. Go to Greece. Just avoid Swiss prices by l e a v i n g. Everything is crazy cheap here. Very effective !!!

Tune in next time to hear about Athens, classes, falafel, and whatever else this week will bring!

ΔυχαρÎčστώ for reading!

<3, Ema

Better-than-cashmere family, learning galore, and the best floating sauna ever

  1. Written on Feb. 12, 2018

AllĂŽ Bonjour Salut tout le monde !

It’s been a week and a half since I first made the trip from Paris to Geneva, and, believe it or not, I’m already on my way out! As I write this post, I’m sitting on a plane headed to Greece where I’ll stay, along with my fellow SIT participants, for three weeks. While there, we’ll study the Greek financial crisis, as well as some basic Greek language skills, all while exploring Athens and the island of Crete. After those three weeks, we’ll return to our respective Swiss homestays and continue taking classes in Nyon.

Obviously, I’m so excited to go to Greece. But, I have to say, I’m also pretty sad to leave Switzerland so soon, even temporarily. Despite the fact that it hasn’t even been two weeks, I already feel like I’ve adapted — and even become attached — to the new people, places, and routines I’ve come to know.

Let’s start with my host family.

How do I put this?

I thought that I had used up all my luck for the year when the $17 cashmere sweater I found in a consignment store was my size, but apparently not because this family is beyond amazing.

My host mom, Anne, teaches social work at the local university, buys only organic / seasonal / local foods, and hates cow’s milk (cut to seven-year-old me sobbing in class after learning that the so-called “snack” of the day was milk). Anne also has some really freaking cool kids!!! : sixteen-year-old Mael, fifteen-year-old Elias, and twelve-year-old CĂ©leste. Each plays an instrument (flute, violin, and harp, respectively), a couple sports (capoeira, basketball, circus acrobatics, cross-country skiing, and more), and each has an incredible sense of humor. I have had so much fun getting to know them over this past week. The five of us (plus a cat whose name is ACTUALLY “Biotch”) share a stunning apartment in Lausanne with views of Lake Geneva and the neighboring cities. Oh, and they all speak French, allowing / forcing me to drastically improve my language skills.

In Vevey with the apparently too cool to smile Elias and Mael 🙂

Highlights of this first week with them have been a visit to an art museum in the (unrealistically beautiful) city of Vevey, a highly-improvised and very fun mini yoga session with CĂ©leste, and a nighttime run to the Olympic Museum with Mael and his dad.

I was very sad to leave my lil family this morning, even for Greece, and I’m already looking forward to coming back to them in a few weeks. 🙂

In addition to #bonding with these wonderful people, I spent much of this past week in class. “Class” is a loose term here, as it’s so far consisted of seminars featuring highly accomplished guest speakers and excursions to international organizations and NGOs in the Geneva area. It’s all been fascinating.

Among the topics of discussion have been: the causes and complications of Brexit; trade facilitation through both the lens of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and that of the UN (both of which we visited); sustainable investing and green stock exchanges; financial and business solutions to sanitation crises around the world; complementary currencies (we visited an organization which produces a currency called the “LĂ©man,” with a goal to encourage spending at local, sustainable businesses in the Lake Geneva area); economic relations between Switzerland and Kyrgyzstan (we were personally invited by the ex-ambassador of Kyrgyzstan to participate in internships in his country?!?); and more !!!

The coolest room in the Palais des Nations (UN Headquarters), Geneva

Outside of homestay / school life, I’ve had an amazing time exploring Geneva, Nyon, and Lausanne (the three cities on the lake where I’ve spent most of my time). On Friday, a family friend took me to a place in Geneva called “Bains des Paquis” for the evening. And oh my god, what an e x p e r i e n c e !

First of all, this place is located on Lake Geneva — not next to it: on it — because it’s all floating on docks! Though I didn’t know it when I got there, the Bains des Paquis experience involves a few steps. After getting changed into swimsuits (in 33ÂșF weather !!!) we began Step 1: the sauna. Amazing. Relaxing. Easy. Step 2 was a little harder. A speed-walk down the dock led us to to a set of stairs, which we descended in order to enter the pitch black 6ÂșC lake !!! (I didn’t even believe my friend when she told me this was happening but it h a p p e n e d). We stayed in the lake for approx. 7 seconds (would have been shorter if I could have exited the water more quickly, but my body froze up almost instantly and really slowed down the whole process), then hurried into Step 3: the steam-room. This is what makes Step 2 so worth it. The feeling of hot steam and warm water thawing your lake-chilled body is seriously magical; so magical, in fact, that we repeated Steps 1-3 once more before moving onto Step 4: the Hammam bath. After coating our bodies in a thick olive oil-based paste, we exfoliated our skin with rough cloths, and rinsed off with warm water. My skin has never felt softer, and I’ve never felt such a strong combination of relaxed and energized before.

In addition to this evening, my favorite moments have been spent climbing to the top of the Lausanne Cathedral (via a very steep spiral staircase — much scarier coming back down omg), walking through the old / winding / cobblestone streets, stopping by the “American Market” where you can purchase a box of Froot Loops for 17CHf (approx. $18!!!), and eating lots and lots of hot liquid cheese. :’)

In front of the Nestle headquarters in Vevey

Every day of this first week has left me exhausted and ready to crash at 7pm, but it’s the good kind of exhaustion that comes from hours of walking, learning, and expanding one’s worldview (!!!). And I love it.

Next time you hear from me I’ll be an expert in all-things Greece (lol), so check back in for that!

Until then, here are two more $MONEY SAVING TIP$$ for your travels to Suisse:

  1. Buy sandwiches ! Food in Switzerland is SO expensive, and it’s not always possible to cook / prepare your own lunch. I’ve found that the cheapest option is a sandwich from Migros grocery store, or even from many of the small bakeries around. Anything in a sit-down place will run at least 14CHf.
  2. Don’t feel obligated to spend money in order to participate in social activities ! I’ve definitely felt a sort of pressure to follow the lead of the group when it comes to buying food and drinks, but it’s super easy to have a great time without spending all your hard-earned franks. :-)))

And with that, I bid you all a good night!


Abroad (Pre-Study): Iceland & France

Written on Feb. 2nd, 2018

I just finished rereading my last blog post and I’m really struck by how big of a difference two weeks has made in the way I view this trip. The details on which I focused so intensely before, like how many pairs of socks I should pack, or how I would stay awake in Reykjavik, or the logistics of catching all my planes / trains / buses, seem incredibly insignificant now. Will I learn from this and stress less next time? TBD!

Hello World! Today marks two weeks since I left my state, country, continent, and cOmFoRt ZoNe and it has been, how you say, “incroyable.”

Since my morning departure on the 20th, I have spent at least a day in nine cities (Reykjavik, BrĂ©val, Versailles, Rouen, Paris, Marseille, GenĂšve, Nyon, and Lausanne) in three countries (Iceland, France, and Switzerland). Although I’ve been trying my best (“my best”) to document every moment in my trusty travel journal, the reality is that there’s far too much happening to record it all, and thus, I have not. 🙂

So, here are some of the highlights of (the first 2 weeks of) my grande adventure so far!

Reykjavik was a strong combination of serene and surreal. I spent the majority of my brief time there trudging through the uniquely beautiful, impressively windy, and almost completely silent streets of the small city. I was shocked to learn that everything there is incredibly expensive (seriously couldn’t find a breakfast for under $20 and quickly learned how to really savor every bite of a meal) but I made do and had a wonderful time nonetheless.


Splurged on ONE meal, panfried fish balls with potatoes, onions, carrots, arugula, and cucumbers. LjĂșffengur!

By far my favorite moment of the trip was watching the sunrise at 10:30am from a steaming and almost empty thermal pool surrounded by piles of snow. The sensation of sitting in warm water while freezing winds blew on my face was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and I loved it.


Tied for second place were my visit to the Icelandic Phallological Museum (!!!) and an Icelandic poetry reading (which I can only assume was good?) held at my hostel.

An early flight brought me from Iceland to France, where I stayed with some of my extended family for one very full week. I explored a new city / neighborhood / cathedral every day, ate cheese with every meal, and mastered the art of showering without a shower curtain (rlly grew a lot from that last feat). Among the highlights of the trip were:

A day at the ChĂąteau de Versailles, where my cousin and I got lost — really lost — in Marie Antoinette’s gardens (no complaints there!);

An afternoon in a city called Rouen that, based on the narrow streets, cathedrals on every corner, and bakeries every 20 feet, made me seriously doubt that I wasn’t on a Disney movie set;

A weekend in Marseille on France’s Mediterranean coast with my 20-something year old cousins ClĂ©ment and Antoine. I was surprised by how different Marseille was compared to the other French cities I had visited. While it bore many stereotypical French characteristics, such as the architecture of the official buildings, its placement on the Mediterranean Sea transformed it into something completely unique. The climate was similar to that of parts of southern California — dry, warm, and sunny — and the colorful apartments and homes crowded on oceanside hills could have been featured in a “Twelve Months of Italy” calendar. I absolutely loved it.

My time in France ended almost a week ago and I’m still not over how amazing it all was.

La galerie des glaces, ChĂąteau de Versailles

Le Grand Trianon, ChĂąteau de Versailles






This period was vraiment fantastique, but it was also highly transitional. There was a specific moment when I noticed that my seemingly constant state of awe and easy happiness was suddenly disturbed by another sentiment. I experienced an unexpected combination of unease, fear, and thrill that I can only assume stemmed from a sudden recognition of my new reality and represented the transition into my new environment. In that moment, I stopped viewing my travels as simple vacation and noticed myself beginning to adapt to this new, albeit temporary, way of life. It isn’t the most comfortable feeling in the world, to face the fact that you’ve just willingly left behind your community, routines, and, saddest of all, jars of Adam’s crunchy peanut butter for awhile… but it’s also incredibly exciting to feel completely out of your element and know that you’ll soon feel at home in an unfamiliar place.

I took a train to Geneva a little less than a week ago, where I met my fellow SIT participants and began orientation. Since then, I’ve started classes, made some friends, and gotten to know my host-family (I’ve also gotten lost in the world’s tiniest metro system, but that’s for another time). It’s definitely different than Whitman, but things have been going really well so far.

Before I conclude, here are 2TWO2 money-saving tip$ I learned throughout the aforementioned adventures (in case you didn’t read the “about me” page, I’ll be doing this in each post as part of a scholarship requirement):

  1. Shop for food at grocery stores when possible ! Not restaurants ! This saved my life (almost literally as I would have starved without it) in Iceland.
  2. Take advantage of friends / family ! In a good way! (?) I was only able to spend a week in France because I have family there, and I saved a lot of money that way. It was also 1000000x more fun 🙂

Thanks for sticking with me through this scattered — and very late — blog post. It’s crazy how much more difficult it is to write when I actually have things to write about…

Tune in next week for (finally) actual info about my study abroad program !!!

À bientît,