Our last city!

It’s bittersweet to be in Barcelona because of the short amount of time we have to spend here and because it means our adventure comes to an end.

Barcelona is a city for artists. It’s beautiful here: graffiti walls, artisan shops on every corner, plazas lined with painters and streets filled with music.

When we arrived we immediately ate lunch and did some exploring. Our hostel is located on Placa Reial, the center of Barcelona’s most popular area. We were not too far from any street markets or the ocean. Perfect!

We began our evening with a pub crawl. It needs to be renamed to all-the-free-shots-til-you-die crawl. Every bar we went to gave us free shots. We even did a flaming shot. One of the bars we went to had more than 600 shots.

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We’re pretty sure the bartenders have no idea what is what, they just make whatever they feel like. We had 3 different shots, and one was called “The Harry Potter” that sparked like a wand when he lit them on fire. But it didn’t taste as exciting as it looked…

There were a lot of guys attending the pub crawl, mostly from Canada, Australia, Argentina and America. We also spent a lot of our time with a girl from China. She’s traveling solo, so we mother-ducked her while we were out.

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We went back to our hostel for their “happy hour” (at midnight) and left around one in the morning to go out to a popular club (clubs open around 2). With our Aussie friend, we hopped into the cab and headed out, not returning home until after three. We think. It was all a blur.

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In the morning we visited La Sagrada Familia. It’s a huge church in the north of Barcelona. Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece began in 1882. He took over the project design in 1883, fully knowing that he would not live to see its completion. In fact, at the time of his death, less than a quarter of the project was complete. Currently, it is still being built, and depends on private donations and tourism money to continue the process. There is an estimated completion date of 2026, the centennial of Antoni Gaudi’s death.

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Afterward, we headed back toward our area of town and did some light shopping and wandered the streets of Barcelona.

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We spent a lot of time in small cluttered shops in tiny alleyways, hoping to discover buried treasures.

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The shops were amazing, and our favorite shop was full of handmade items from local artisans. The girl working in the shop was so passionate about the artists that were featured, and she took the time to take us around to each different art piece, describing the time it took and the process behind it.

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This trip has been more than amazing.

Here’s a quick recap:

We’ve become experts at public transportation, navigating foreign streets, map reading, avoiding hagglers, making new friends, identifying accents and spending way too much money. Cori tripped so many times that Jordan stopped counting. We visited 10 countries (England, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Vatican City, France, Monaco and Spain) and traveled to and through so many cities we lost count. We walked so many miles that if we added them up, we could probably walk across the Atlantic and back home.

We literally walked around the outside of an entire country, got caught in a blizzard high in the Swiss Alps, biked through Amsterdam in the rain, went canyoning in the icy waters of Switzerland, drank wine endorsed by the Pope in the South of France, met Mark Dantonio’s cousin atop St. Peter’s Basilica and made friends from Canada, Argentina, China, Australia and Sweden.

We almost missed our flight to France, got turned around on way too many trains and trams, missed a ferry to Amsterdam, pet goats and ponies (and talked to some cows), talked sports with cabbies, ate a disgusting amount of Nutella, mastered showers that looked like they should be a part of a nuclear cleaning site, and muddied our shoes to the brink of throwing them away. Yet, through it all, we never said a bad word to each other. Overall, and despite the small hiccups, we would definitely call it successful. Traveling throughout Europe with nothing but a backpack and your best friend is a life-changing experience. It is stressful, exciting, jaw-dropping, beautiful, terrifying and adrenaline-pumping—all at the same time. Yet we wouldn’t change a single thing about our trip. Being able to experience this together was so incredible that it’s hard to put in words. The memories we have of this trip will be with us forever. And the memories that weren’t “blog-approved material” or the little things that happened between trains, platforms and hostel bunks will always be with us too.

There’s never a better time than now to travel. So, quit making excuses for yourself. Life will still be there when your plane touches down at home. So will your friends, boyfriends, family, dogs, your favorite restaurants and your weekend bars blaring “today’s hit song.”

We can’t paint you a picture of how beautiful the Swiss Alps or the French coastline are or describe what it’s like to to get sun burnt on a topless beach. We can’t capture in a photo what it’s like to laugh to the point of tears with utter strangers or attempt to sing a song in another language. There are no words to explain what it’s like to be lost in the clouds of a mountain or the pain in your ass after falling asleep on train station floors for hours.

Traveling can define your life. It’s surely defined ours. It makes you laugh and cry (and ooh and ahh). It stress you out beyond belief. But it also connects you to others in a way you can’t possibly be connected by sitting on your couch, channel surfing to pass time.

Just GO and don’t come back for a while. Explore. Chase sunsets and horizons. Explore. Get lost. Explore. Explore. And wander. Wander with no expectations or obligations. Just a makeshift agenda and a hunger for spontaneity.

They say all good things must come to an end.

But we don’t think so, because at least we always have each other, and as long as we are planning adventures together, even in our hometowns something unexpected and exciting is bound to happen. We think we’ve exceeded expectations. Stay tuned.

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Always craving spontaneity (and our next adventure),

C&J

Our journey from Italy to France was our first time flying in Europe. We heard that it is fairly easy and cheap. So, after a few hours of sleep, we set out at 9:15 a.m. to catch a plane departing at 12:15 p.m. In any other situation, this is plenty of time.

As grateful as we have been for public transportation, we’ve also been at its mercy. Trains are slow or late, and make a lot of stops. We arrive at platforms all the time without a clue as to when the next train is going to depart — leaving us waiting up to an hour sometimes or sprinting through train doors as they close.

Unfortunately for us, the train to the airport was pushing our time and patience. The first train didn’t end up coming until after 9:45, and stopped about every 5 minutes, and the second train was almost 15 minutes late! Forget the 2-hour before departure rule, we showed up at the Flumincio Airport in Rome at 11:30. Boarding closed at 11:35.

With a little blonde charm, the airport attendees rushed us through security and the baggage check and promised the plane wouldn’t leave without us.

Of course, our terminal and gate were the last ones. We looked like an odd pair running, — no — sprinting through the airport. Cori had a giant sweater and jeans on and Jordan was wearing a tank top and colorful skirt. Obviously the weather here has confused us immensely.

The flight between Rome and Nice was just a hop across the Mediterranean Sea. The airport in Nice is right on the water, and it felt like we were going to land in it. Right when the pavement appeared we touched down, landing with blue skies on a sunny day. A sigh of relief. The rain hasn’t found us since we left Chianti.

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With a population of 320,000 in its city center, Nice is a pile of red-rock houses on the coast. Homes dotted all the way up the hills to the French Alps just beyond its city limits. These outside neighborhoods bring the population to just over a million.

After getting turned around in the maze of Nice’s streets, a girl walked us to the bottom of the hill where our hostel was located. A hill is an understatement, though. Cori left Jordan waiting with luggage at the bottom as she trekked all the way up this mountain just to make sure our hostel was actually up there. Jordan felt as if Cori was gone forever. Again. Alone, with no ID, money or keys.

The hostel itself was beautiful. Villa St.Exupery was a former monastery that overlooked the entire city of Nice, all the way to the sea. Through our open window blew a nice ocean breeze. We shared this room with 10 other co-eds, our largest number of roommates yet. And it smelled like it. (If you’re going to book a bed in a hostel soon, we recommend an all-female dorm. Boys smell.)

When we arrived we immediately turned around and headed down to the coast for dinner and some seaside people watching. Colorful buildings greeted us on all sides.

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In the morning, we hopped on a train to the neighboring coastal town of Cannes, the nearest sandy beach just seven miles down the west coast. All we wanted was the sun to scorch our skin, fry our faces and bleach our hair. We found the nearest public beach and set up camp for a few hours, not complaining about a little sunburn.

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As you probably know, most of France’s beaches are nude or topless. It’s definitely an odd culture to us, and most of the people who had their tops off were women over the age of 60. The ones that don’t give a shit if you’re ogling their breasts or not. But most of the kids and everyone else around didn’t even seem to notice.

Cannes’ beach is also loaded with hagglers. Men selling hats, scarves, sunscreen, bracelets and umbrellas. There was even a woman offering massages on the beach (which was weird, and we later learned it was also illegal).

On the other side of the Alps we spotted a storm slowly rolling toward the coast. We ducked inland for a beer and a walk to the top of some of Cannes’ hills overlooking the coastal city.

While the French Riviera sun emblazoned our skin, we caught the train back to Nice just in time to cook a dinner and enjoy happy hour.

As if five hours of sun wasn’t enough for us, the next day we woke up, slipped on our swimsuits again and headed for another beach day, this time to the west of Nice. (Most people travel to other coastal cities for beaches because Nice is a rock beach).

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We took a bus that hugged the ridges and mountains of the coast all the way to Monaco, our surprise 9th country! According to the French, Moanco is the smallest country in Europe…although we made need to fact check that. Technically we already walked around the entire perimeter of a country once on this trip when we took a wrong turn and canvassed the entire outside of the walled Vatican City.

Once in Monaco, we walked around the prince’s gardens and stopped for some gelato (our lunch, yet again).

Our naiveté led us to believe there was a beach here, but it was mostly just ports and yachts. Following the sun and clear blue skies, we headed back down the east coast of the French Riviera to the village of Ville Franche, a smaller, rocky beach at the bottom of a giant mountain that a few of our guy roommates from Montana recommended.

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Again, we let the sun scorch our skin, fry our faces and bleach our hair until sunset.

After cooking ourselves a meal, we enjoyed yet another happy hour and talked with other hostel-goers for the rest of the night. We met a girl named Heather, who was practically Cori’s twin. They talked endlessly of documentaries and public relations and swapped a few book names and favorite authors until we finally turned to our rooms, greeted by half a dozen snoring roommates.

In the morning, we took a free walking tour with a few other people from our hostel. Heather came with us, along with an awesome “Nice expert” and Villa St. Exupery employee, James.

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We spent the afternoon cruising through the fruit and flower market, the old town and all the way up to a park on the top of a mountain overlooking the coast.

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Those living in the French Riviera have been more than warm and kind to us, although this language barrier has probably been the toughest. French people don’t speak English to you unless you ask. We’ve learned how to say, “Do you speak English?” in every country we’ve traveled to so far, probably deterring us from a lot of painful rejections from locals.

Right at sunset, we arrived in Avignon, a small city in Provence. After dropping off our bags at the hostel, we wandered up and down the streets. Since it was late and the sun was just setting, people were scarce, and it felt like we had walked into a storybook with no characters yet; it was just us.

 

Tall, gorgeous buildings rose on either side of us in neutral earth tones under a pastel-colored sky. Then the stone wall of the city was on our right as we walked along the inside of the city limits. All the buildings were adorned with beautiful 17th and 18th century architectural features.

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Avignon is a walled city, with giant stone pillars and lookouts that stretch 5 kilometers around the tiny city. Avignon used to be the home of the Pope back in it’s heyday. In the 14th Century, due to wars in Italy and other parts of Europe, the Pope was no longer safe in Rome so he relocated to Avignon and built a giant stone fortress around him not letting anyone within its walls. It held a high real estate price.

In the center of the town, we visited the Papal Palace, where seven different popes resided in Avignon throughout the war years. It overshadowed much of the rest of the city. Back in the day, the Pope was seen as one of the highest-regarded officials (not that he isn’t today) and the position carried a lot of weight across all of Europe.

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But the French king wanted to remind him who was boss around here, so he built a rather impressive French castle just on the other side of the Rhone River.

Avignon is surrounded by the Rhone River, one of the largest rivers in France that stretches all the way from Switzerland and empties into the Mediterranean. It has two arms; Avignon rests as an island right in the middle. We visited the Pont d’ Avignon, a bridge that once served as the only bridge across the Rhone River between Lyon and the Mediterranean but was later destroyed due to weather. It still stands, ominously ending in the center of the river; a bridge to nowhere.

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Starving and willing to eat the crumbs off the ground, we found ourselves face-to-face with a French menu in a much-too-fancy local restaurant on the west end of town. With not a single person speaking English, we pointedto the first thing that looked remotely appetizing on the menu. Somehow we ended up with an amazing dinner. Jordan had poitrine de veau confite aux senteurs (veal with mashed potatoes) and rinsed it down with red wine while Cori ate risotto cremeux de homard (risotto and lobster, shown below) paired with white wine. That was hands down our favorite meal so far, and it better be…our wallets felt it.

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After a morning walk around the entire city, we took a tour with two older Brazillian couples out to some of Avignon’s neighbors. Our first stop was in Orange, an old Roman town now holding just 3,000 people. It’s known for its antique theater and Triumphant Arch, a feature in most Roman colonies to remind them of the Empire’s victories.

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(Fun fact: A lot of Roman cities contain four things: an arch, a forum, a theater for entertainment and a bath, all traditional fixtures that tie all Roman cities throughout Europe together.) It was in nearly perfect condition after being built in 20 B.C. We think it’s the oldest thing we’ve ever seen. The antique theater was marvelous. It was built in the first century and still holds concerts in it today.

But the real reason we went on this tour was to go to a wine-tasting in the South of France, upstaging our usual patronage to Whole Foods wine-tastings on Fridays. Avignon is known for its vineyards. One of the more popular wines, Chateauneuf-du-Pape (this means “New Castle of the Pope”…when the city got too crowded, he moved out to the countryside for some peace and quiet) is not too far outside of Avignon. You can actually see the city in the distance. After traveling through miles of farm fields and old French towns (the fields alternate between wheat one year and sunflowers another; when we were there it was a wheat year) we arrived at the 8,000 acres of the vineyard near the valley of Provence’s tallest mountain (Fun fact: this mountain is frequently climbed by cyclists in the Tour d’France).

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The weather was nothing but blue skies and luminous sunshine, but one step outside, you’d think we were stepping into a hurricane. With winds reaching 90 kilometers an hour, Avignon and much of the South of France is home to what is called the Mistral. Meaning “masterly” in French, the wind is a strong, cold regional wind that comes from the North and accelerates through the Rhone valley all the way to the coast of the Mediterranean.

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The Mistral lies a heavy hand on the South of France, altering every little detail. Bell towers are left as skeletons out in the open due to the wind blowing the stones right off steeples. Even the French Riviera crops are kept extremely short with heavy thickets of Cyprus trees in between fields because the wind will sweep the crops right out of the ground.

The Mistral was literally knocking us over. It pushed Cori down some stairs and left Jordan grasping for the nearest railing. Probably not the best day to wear dresses… All over Avignon, we battled the Mistral, just walking 10 meters was quite the feat.

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We were told that the Mistral lasts in multiples of threes. It lasts for either for one day, three days, or up to six days. We were currently on day two of what seemed to be a three day cycle, but it was the strongest it had ever been this year.

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After braving the wind, we stepped into an old winery, with barrels larger than the both of us together. The smell was so sweet and promising. We wanted to bottle it up and take it home with us (pun intended).

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Chateauneuf-du-Pape is an extremely unique vineyard. When the Pope moved to Avignon, one of the first things he longed for was a summer home away from his cramped city and for some good wine. So he built a vineyard for himself and called it home in the hot months of France. In Chateauneuf-du-Pape (the name of both the vineyard and the small town), there are over 300 winemakers in a town of only about 2,000 people. The winery we went to makes mostly red wine (about 93%) and about 7% of white whine, but since white grapes are so sparse, they don’t export their white wine outside of France.

There, a wine master taught us how to tell if wine is good, how to read its age and the differences between the grapes as well as the soils used to plant each. You know if a bottle of wine is actually from Chateauneuf-du-Pape by it’s label and seal. It is the seal of the Vatican, with the two keys of Saint Peter. So, you can say we drank wine endorsed by the Pope himself. Holy wine.

At Chateauneuf-du-Pape, they use four soils, Rhone river pebbles, sand, limestone and sandstone. The Rhone river rocks heat the ground and keep the crops warm during colder nights. The 8,000 acres are picked in September by hand and take all of three weeks to do. Doesn’t sound like too bad of a job, does it?

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The differences in wines usually come from the soil its planted in, but at Chateauneuf-du-Pape they have 13 types of grapes to combine with all the different types of soil, allowing for thousands of combinations. Some of the grapes are ONLY found in the South of France, such as La Counoise and Le Cinsaultare, giving the wines made here a unique and rare taste.

The winemaker poured us three different glasses of wine. A fruity white wine from 2011, a dry red wine from 2009 and another red wine from 2005. Each drop was as good as the last. Speaking of the last drop, the French have a common legend that if you are poured the last drop of wine from a bottle, you will be married within the year. Our wine master jokingly told us that he should have been married 45 times by now.

With our bellies full of delicious wine (honestly, we could’ve had five more glasses), we ended our vineyard tour and headed back to Avignon for dinner at a bistro that specializes in a popular plate in France known as tartine, its basically toasted bread with melted cheese and vegetables on top. Right up our alley.

We’ve found our time spent in countrysides and smaller towns our most favorable experiences, always leaving begrudgingly and wishing for just one more day in the quieter towns and rolling hills of Europe. If we could have it our way we’d just bounce from small town to small town everywhere in Europe.

Next stop: Barcelona via a train that smells like we’re sitting in Goliath’s armpit.

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Always craving spontaneity (and for some French teenagers to shower),

C&J

We did it again.

We made a big decision after finishing a bottle of wine.

Here we are all caught up in the commotion of our hostel: Canadians were singing, Americans were dancing, someone was pounding out Elton John on the piano… and we were trying to book our next location. For the next day. Nothing like last minute, right?

We gave ourselves a cushion day between Switzerland and Italy. Originally we assumed we’d want the extra day in Switzerland. But the rain was sweeping us out of the country. And we had no where to go but Italy. Everything was booked in Cinque Terre and we decided against Venice last minute, per other travelers’ suggestions.

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So we hit the “confirm booking” button and shut down all communication to the outside world. We didn’t write down an address. No phone number. Not even a name of where we were staying. Until we showed up at the Florence train station. (Were we even suppose to be here?)

We knew we were staying somewhere close to Florence. Or Tuscany. Or Venice. It was all a blur.

Standing at the platform, not having a clue where our hostel was, we picked up our bags and headed for the outdoors. And you wouldn’t believe it, but the sun was shining like we just posted up on a beach in Hawaii. It bathed our faces and gave us a radiating smile. With old churches, bells and art surrounding us, we soaked in the moment, trying to ignore that fact that we weren’t sure if we were even supposed to be here or not.

With no information about our next place but maybe a botched Italian name, we headed for the information stand.

After piecing together our tipsy puzzle from last night, we knew our lodging had the name “camping” in it. We also knew it was in Tuscany, not far from Florence. It also began with a “P”. And the word “Chianti” had something to do with it.

Great.

So we hopped on a bus that had Chianti in the name. We found ourselves winding through the hills and vineyards of Italy. With Florence behind us and the homes and people becoming more scarce, we only hoped that we’d find a stop that sounded familiar.

We don’t need to tell you this, but the Italian country side is gorgeous. It’s exactly as you’d picture it. Old women hanging clothes outside their window to air dry, men sitting at street corners smoking a pipe and children playing soccer in the field. Orange roofs sat juxtaposed next to a blue lake and green mountains. Boats rocked back and forth in their docks.

There was even a really ancient guy on our bus getting off at a stop, tiny roadside flowers in hand. His wife sat waiting for him at the stop, helped him off the bus and walked him home. The entire time she was probably worried about her husband going into the big city. It was the perfect little Italian love life.

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So our bus bounced on and we became a little more worried the further we got from Florence. Looking behind us, the red-tiled buildings of Florence resting in the crooks of the Italians hills looked like the sun scorched the earth and left a few domes rising here and there.

The road became dustier, the hills more grand. The streets were so tight, our bus and other cars had to give a little beep when rounding a corner to let other oncoming traffic know.

A German couple muttering something behind us that sounded remotely close to where we thought we were supposed to be headed.

“Il Pogetto!” screamed Jordan. “That’s it!” We turned a corner and there it was, a giant sign welcoming us home. Kinda.

Weary from a day of travel (but seriously, sitting on a train is more exhausting than you think) and spending a majority of the day lost in Florence, we threw our bags on our beds Not wanting to waste a minute of sunshine, we took off for the hills and vineyards of Chianti, Italy.

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The views were more than breathtaking. Behind every hill was another, larger hill, dotted with little houses and castles. Going from the rugged mountains of Switzerland to the soft, rolling hills of Italy was somewhat calming. Actually, it may have been the sun, tricking our minds into a lull of laziness we had yet to see for two weeks.

We walked through a vineyard, another vineyard, more vineyards and a farm with goats and horses. We walked a mile uphill and then back down hill, not knowing where the road was taking us…eventually leading to a high point with sprawling red rooftops and vineyards below. And the sun was shining brilliantly…it was beautiful.

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We ate dinner at our campsite. Conveniently, there is an award-winning pizzeria on-site. We indulged in a giant pizza and another bottle of local Chianti wine (as if we needed it) and watched the sun set on our tiny little village (it was called Cellai). The stars began to settle above us; the first time we have seen stars our entire trip.

When we returned back to our room, our roommates (two German girls who were also traveling in Italy) were home. After exchanging our travel-war stories, we fell asleep, planning for another day of hiking in Chianti for the next day.

But, wait! We woke up and it was raining. Our only option was to go into Florence for the day and pop in and out of a few museums and marvel at the art.

Since we are so far out in Chianti, buses are few and far between. We were waiting at our bus stop for nearly an hour in the pouring rain. We got so bored, Cori began to pick branches off the cherry tree in the house behind us and we snacked on those for awhile.

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We were soaked to the bone. Our shoes were drenched, our pants were sopping wet and our hair was matted down on our heads. Even with an umbrella and rain jacket.

When we arrived in Florence shivering uncontrollably we sprinted through the rain down a back alley to anything that looked warm.

Up ahead, as if the crowd parted for us, was a brick oven blazing. Mesmerized by any source of heat, we sat down and ate another pizza. I think our pizza count is up to 6 or 7 right now.

We tried to wait out the rain, but without luck we ran outside again.

At this point, the rain broke our spirits. Every puddle we stepped in felt like we were drowning in our own misery and tears. We were both ready to wager our first born son for more than 3 hours of sunlight.

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Seeking warmth again, we ducked into the nearest museum and wandered around there for an hour, basically paying six euros to be dry, if only for an hour.

When we walked back outside, the rain had stopped. There was no sun, but we took our chances, let down our umbrellas and our guard. And smiled. Despite the gloom in the sky and the chilly air sweeping through our jackets, we were happy to not have rain dripping off of our eyelashes.

The German roommates had told us of a gelato festival. So with high hopes, we set off for ice cream, and my Lord, did our eyes light up when we found tent after tent after tent lined with different flavors of gelato.

For the past four years, Florence has played host to the Gelato Festival. Gelato-makers from around the world gather with their most unique gelato flavors for eager folks like us. Flavors ranged from pistachio, to sheep cheese with honey and pears, to dark chocolate ganache to coffee. We indulged for an hour, trying each other’s gelato, ignoring the belly aches. We are becoming addicted to the sweet taste and smell of gelato.

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Then, wouldn’t you guess it, a thunderous storm rolled in and washed us back to the bus stop and back to Chianti.

We went to the campsite bar (I know, shocker, but really there is nothing else to do there given the rain was stopping us from any more hikes) and settled in to watch the Champion League soccer game. Thinking everyone else would be in a cheery, European soccer mood, we ordered two liters. Right when the word “liter” rolled off our tongue, the entire bar turned to stare at us, as if we had just cursed out the Holy Spirit itself. A closer look around, we found our bar-mates to be older couples, mostly drinking wine. Even the waitress was surprised, saying “LITRE?!” After the day we had, we needed it. So lo and behold, two Hofbrauhaus-worthy liters of beer made their way to our table.

But whatever, when in Italy, order a liter and cheer on a German soccer team.

In the morning, we set off for an early morning hike, wanting to soak in every last piece of Chianti possible. The hike took us down a back dirt road. After climbing a ridiculously steep hill, we began to hear beautiful singing and music floating out of a church below us in the valley. It was picturesque and neither of us wanted it to end.

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However, Rome was beckoning. With a grudge and one last glance of the Tuscan hillside, we hopped another train and set off for southern Italy. We arrived in Rome ravished. Seriously, besides gorging ourselves on pizza and gelato, all we’ve had to eat was bread. We might regret saying this, but gnawing on bread for so long tires one’s jaw.

Having food on our mind, but needing a bed pronto, we set off for our final AirBNB stay. Conveniently, every water fountain in Rome is safe to drink. No kidding, fill up at Trevi Fountain if you want. It was cool to walk down the street and easily fill our water bottles (probably to the horror of our mothers). After mastering yet another country’s public transportation (seriously…can we put this on our resume somehow?). We arrived, threw our luggage in our room and set out for food. Pizza, actually.

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In Rome, we shared lodging with two guys from Michigan who were traveling Europe and playing ultimate frisbee for two months. Rough life.

In the morning, with nothing really planned, we roamed around the city of Rome. Get it?

Getting there was a bit of a hassle. We’d call ourselves experts at public transportation. Hopping on a tram here, getting off a bus there. So when Cori dashed onto a tram and the doors closed behind her with Jordan standing, waving at the platform, panic settled in our hearts and brains.

What the heck happens when you lose each other? Jordan had everything. Our credit cards, our IDs and our keys. Cori was on the train. Standing there, anonymous. Jordan laughing, waving goodbye.

But, we planned for this! We told each other that if we ever get separated via public transportation to just get off at the next train stop.

So Cori hopped off and waited at the next stop, only to find Jordan, still waving and laughing, as if she had never stopped, getting off the tram. We found each other.

Originally, we wanted to go see the Vatican. When we got off at the train station, we were greeted by a horde of hagglers of every shape and size: A child trying to help us buy a train ticket, a man trying to sell us a glass box, a woman trying to sell us tickets or a guy trying to sell us a pin of Pope Francis’ face. It was ridiculous and extremely overwhelming.

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But seriously, the amount of sweaty, smelly people in Rome is no joke. And being hassled every 2 minutes gets really old.

When we looked up, the line to get into the Vatican Museum snaked around its outside wall, pretty much deterring us from any holy exploring. Plus, at this point, holding on to greasy poles and riding the slimy tram was enough germ-swapping for one day. Hand sanitizer was not spared.

So we took the train deeper into Rome and found ourselves at the Colosseum, the Old Forum, Trevvi Fountain and the Spanish Stairs. We spent most of the day just walking around, enjoying the sun and the “Eternal City.”

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The next day we went to the Vatican—finally. Miraculously, its like everyone disappeared. There was no line and very few hagglers. So we headed for the Vatican Museum, which is a lot more confusing than you’d think.

Inside, we had only one priority—Sistine Chapel. It was beautiful. The colors Michelangelo used were so rich and saturated. From floor to ceiling were these amazing scenes out of the Bible. We marveled at the surrounding works of art, thinking of the time and skill it took to create such a magnificent work. Jordan’s jaw dropped in amazement at seeing something she had only learned about in school. The sacred place required proper attire, peace and quiet and absolutely no photos, as was reminded to us by the screaming, not-so-quiet guards everywhere yelling, “SILENCIO!”.

After the Sistine Chapel, we visited St. Peter’s Basilica. When we walked in we both started saying “holy sh–“, then remembering where we were, shut our mouths and marveled at the giant church that surrounded us.

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It’s massiveness is hard to describe. Even though there was a pretty big crowd inside, we felt like we were the only ones there.

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After the Basilica, we went to the Cupola, the upper-most part of the Basilica’s dome. We climbed more than 500 stairs, squeezing through passageways and turning sideways to make our way up there.

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Waiting for us at the top was a spectacular view of Rome, or any city, that we’ve ever seen. Red roofs lined the streets, monuments we were familiar with rose up out of the sea of buildings, then nothing but green pastures and hills that met rising mountains way out on the horizon.

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We didn’t want to climb back down. It was our favorite part of Rome. After being swept up and jostled in crowds, standing above all of them was a breath of fresh air. You couldn’t spot any crowds and you could see for miles. I guess climbing 500 steps weeds out a lot of people, it was slim-picking at the top.

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We returned back to the room, put on some different clothes (we’ve really worn our our jeans and shirts) for a change and set up a time to meet up with the Michigan boys (Ben and Ryan) to meet up later. At 10:30 p.m., we’d meet them at Venezia Plaza and head out for what was known as the “party scene” in Rome.

After wolfing down yet another pizza and downing one more beer, we ran to our meeting place, late of course. But they were no where to be found.

So we had the bright idea of parting ways with each other (again!) to find them. Cori waited at the plaza with no credit card, no ID, no key. Anonymous.

Jordan set off for uptown, leaving Cori standing there vacant. In the dark. Alone.

After nearly 20 minutes, and panic setting in again (What if someone took Jordan? What if she’s lost? Is this even the right meeting place? Where are the boys? Should we go get gelato tonight?) Jordan rounded the corner to announce that she found what looked like a “mini-Colosseum” but no boys.

Feeling defeated, we turned to walk off without them. Then, as if out of a movie, Ben and Ryan came sprinting around the corner, “WAIT! We’re here! Don’t leave!!”

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Kind of relieved that we wouldn’t face the Italian night life solo, we trooped off, a group of Americans, into the belly of Rome. Somehow, idiots always find each other, and we ran into another giant group of frat bros from California. We told them we’d wander with them for awhile, but after they led us into a dead-end we ditched them (the four of us) and went out on the town alone.

We tried a few bars, one guy tried to convince Cori that he was a documentary filmmaker, making a movie about Italian voiceovers (steady our beating hearts). The crowds we kept running into weren’t the greatest. But with good company, we made do in the tiny, winding streets of Italy. After a few beers and a fairly good time bouncing from bar to bar with our Michigan friends we dared to try to find home.

We drunkenly only remembered one thing about getting back. The trains don’t run and we could only take a bus. I think it was bus 25.

So an hour later, Jordan and Ben snapped back to reality after we all zoned out on the bus. We somehow returned home, and turned in for the night around 4 a.m.

With a flight to catch just a few hours later…

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Always craving spontaneity (and triple scoops of gelato),
C&J

We originally planned to stay another day in Gimmelwald and do some more hiking that we missed out on due to snow the previous day. But when we woke up, the rain was pounding on our window, the mountain across from us not even visible. Hoping to have better weather further down the mountain, we filled up on nutella and bread and began the trek to Interlaken.

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We stayed at Balmer’s Herberge, a hostel known for its outdoor excursions and living on the edge. It was raining still, which is kind of a big problem when you’re visiting a city just to spend time outside. With Plans A, B and C extinguished, we decided to go canyoning.

Canyoning is basically turning the side of a mountain into a water theme park; the rapids are slides the rocks are diving boards. We took a bus half way up the mountain, and with nine others, we set off on our first adventure in Interlaken.

We were given wetsuits to shimmy on ourselves. The boys were dressed in 5 minutes flat, must be nice to not have a curve on your body. Have you ever tried squeezing into something three times too small? We waddled downstairs, trying to keep up with the boys, to get our shoes (that still had water in it from the previous canyoners), jackets and helmets.

Since instructors can’t be expected to remember everyone, each helmet comes with a pre-determined name depending on the size. We both grabbed small helmets. Jordan was Sexy and Cori was Bru.

The water was clear and cold as could be. With no sign of the sun and rain still falling, canyoning seemed to be the best alternative considering we were already going to be soaked to the bone.

Cori had the bright idea of just storing her jewelry in her swimsuit, but when she tried to place them inside, they fell further into her wetsuit, down to her belly button. The guide asked for volunteers to reach in and grab around for them, as a joke. Great first impression, huh? Jordan had to reach into Cori’s wetsuit, shoulder-deep to fetch her rings, causing us to miss all the safety instructions (more reckless abandon).

To begin canyoning, we had to repel down a 50 foot wall into a pool of rushing, chilly mountain water. We floated down the rapids on our butts to our first jump about 20 feet high, landing on our backs.

Freezing water flowed into and out of every orifice in our faces and gap in our wetsuits.

Next, we slid down some more rapids and reached another jump where we were instructed to cannon ball as close to the rocky wall as possible. We did about 5 or 6 different jumps, each one colder than the previous jump.

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No one looks graceful canyoning. We emerge out of the water like we’d just escaped an icy hell, shocked and sucking for warm air and flailing for any near rock or person to latch on to so we don’t get swept into the current and back over a waterfall not safe for canyoning. It’s hard to see where you step, if (and when) we lost our footing, our heads would disappear under water until we had to repeat the entire process again.

One guy in our group looked like a newborn baby giraffe. His entire body was shaking in fear and his expression was a permanent “WTF, who thought this was a good idea?!” I’m not sure he still had his balance by the time we returned to solid ground.

When we returned to the station, we bolted for a hot shower—walking in on four busty, curvy women buck naked showering with the curtains wide open. Neither of us spoke each other’s language, so confusion was at an all-time high. They just stood there and stared at us, gracelessly lunging for clothes and screaming in embarrassment.

After a refreshing beer, we headed back to eat a dinner of Pringles, nutella and bread. And cheese. We’ve eaten a lot of cheese.

If you couldn’t tell, Switzerland is really expensive. A McDonald’s burger is 13 francs, just to eat a decent dinner cost 40 francs, a beer at a bar cost about 8 francs and coffee was bout 6 francs.

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We spent most of the night meeting other travelers staying in our hostel. A handful of guys from Florida, a backpacker from Texas and another from Malaysia.

After a bottle of wine, we took off for one of the few clubs in Interlaken that was conveniently located under our hostel. To no surprise, Jordan, Cori and the Texan were the only ones there. The DJ greeted us with a giant puff of fake smoke and some “hip” music. We watched people trickle in and out, all of us eventually escaping back up to the main floor where we could just sit around a table and drink the alcohol we bought at the store.

Most people at hostels in countries this expensive opt to just do some light grocery shopping for food and beer and cook their meals there. The kitchen was more “hopping” than the club.

In the morning, we got locked out of our room until 12:30 for cleaning. With all our hiking essentials lying on our beds, we had no choice but to wander down the street and do some light shopping. Feeling very Swiss, Jordan invested in 60 francs worth of chocolate. Trust us, it was worth it. To kill more time, we did a little grocery shopping for dinner later, buying beer, wine, cheese, bread, pasta and vegetables.

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Right when we returned back to our room, the sky cleared up and the sun paid a visit. We booked ourselves for paragliding, but the next available one wasn’t until 4:30, which didn’t give us any time to go on a hike. We had to stick around our hostel, watching the sky anxiously. It turned white, then gray then dark gray. Around 4:20, someone came out to tell us paragliding was cancelled. We’d just wasted an entire day waiting.

Feeling frustrated and in dire need of warmer clothes, we set off to find some cheap, warm clothes. Unfortunately, cheap doesn’t exist anywhere in Switzerland. Just to buy a regular crew sweatshirt would’ve cost us 60 or 70 francs. Bound and determined to find a second-hand store, we stumbled across what they call a “bazaar” run by little old ladies selling what was probably their husband’s clothes.

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They didn’t speak a lick of English—or anything we could fake— so we grabbed what we could and set it on the counter. Cori, armed with three sweaters, set her clothes down on the counter and the older woman held up 10 fingers. 10 francs for 3 sweaters!? It felt like paradise in the cramped basement of that cabin.

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Warmer and in a better mood, we set off for the hostel once again, cooking enough food to share with our friends from Florida. After dinner, we retreated to one of the common rooms and joined a brother and sister from Canada and a handful of other travelers to share a few drinks and laughs. Another Canadian played the piano in the background and a few drunkards sang along.

We know we didn’t get the most out of Interlaken. As hard as we tried, it’s next to impossible to enjoy an outdoor city with rain always on the horizon. Lustfully looking at the hiking maps and all the peaks and towns and hills we didn’t get to visit, Interlaken is somewhere we vow to return. But maybe in July when the sun burns up the clouds and the chance of rain is about as rare as finding a cheap meal.

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Always craving spontaneity (and no more nutella and bread),

C&J

Whoever thought it was a good idea to take a night train to Interlaken is an idiot. Our train had to make three changes. Our first, in a German town called Stutgartt, we got off the train around 1 in the morning and our next one didn’t arrive until 3. Since it was an outdoor platform, there was only one room we could hole up in and wait away from the cold harsh air. We walked in, and honestly thought it was a homeless shelter. Every bench was occupied by sleeping, hairy and smelly men. It was almost comical. As soon as we sat down, a man on a bench in the opposite corner ripped out the largest fart we’ve ever heard in public, immediately followed by a snore so large it shook us out of our seat. Lovely. It felt like something straight out of a horror movie. Or a comedy. We’re still not sure which one.

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Two drunk boys walked in and immediately noticed the two blonde Americans, sticking out like sore thumbs, and began to bother us about our travels; food flying from their sandwiches and their mouths. A large German woman was dying laughing at us. We needed to get out of there.

We beelined it to the train station and waited for our train there, instead. Our next stop was in Bruschal, where we occupied a small 5-foot square of tile in the basement of a train station, aching for just an hour and a half of sleep.

Our next train took us to Basel and finally to Interlaken, where we arrived there around 10 a.m. Not wanting to waste any time, we hopped on the gondola that would take us more than 1000 meters up the mountain to our hostel in Gimmelwald.

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We stepped off the gondola with eyes-popping and jaws-dropping. Gimmelwald is a tiny town nuzzled into the side of a mountain. Goats graze on fields of dandelions, fresh water flows down the mountain and little wooden lodges are skewed across gravel paths up and down the mountain. It looked like a fairytale.

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Across from us was a mountain with peaks so high and majestic, even the clouds had to take a rest on top of them. Waterfalls streak down the mountains, creating soft mists on the unforgiving terrain. The beauty was overwhelming—it felt like no other world existed.

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As tired as we were, there was too much exploring to be done in our little town. We set off, following the bells of goats that were traveling between pastures. A few homes down the street from our hostel was a house for sale. We strongly considered snatching two goats and making a living for ourselves right here in Gimmelwald. We never wanted to leave.

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We hiked up to the neighboring town, called Murren, about a 45 minute hike uphill. We stopped to chat with every goat, cow and pony we passed. When we arrived to Murren, there was hardly anyone in sight. We had this whole mountain to ourselves.

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We filled our bellies up with wine and soup and took shortcuts back down to our little town, where we talked amongst other backpackers that were staying in the same hostel. Three from Texas, an Australian and a guy from Seattle. One of the best parts of our trip was so far has probably been all the people we’ve met, swapping stories and advice over beer and fondue.

After a goodnight sleep in our hostel room (we are in a room of six beds, but we’re the only ones in there, right up next to the heater) we shoved some Nutella and bread into our mouths and headed out the door.

The weather was not as good as our first day we arrived in Gimmelwald. The clouds were curled around the midsection of the mountains and it was a little chilly and gray, but we were hiking in the Swiss Alps so our optimism was at an all time high. And our bellies were full (kind of)…on Teddy Grahams (the last of our food supplies from back home).

We set off for a point on the map noted as Chilchbalm at an elevation of 1631 from our hostel at 1363 meters. The trail followed up a beautiful stream coming from melted snow off two mountains we were headed toward—Gspaltenhorn and Buttlassen. The water running off the mountains formed crystal-clear water that was clean enough to drink straight from the streams (which we did…it tasted as crisp and clear as any water we’ve ever had).

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There wasn’t a single soul on the trail. Just a mountain goat that took up residence on the sagging roof of an abandoned cabin about a half mile from Chilchbalm. Everywhere we turned walls of mountain and ice rose above us to meet a ceiling made of clouds and fog.

The hike was fairly easy, just rocks and crossing streams. As we got closer to Chilchbalm, the path became snowy, slick, and a bit more steep. Cori managed to sink her entire left leg into a snow bank (Jordan describes Cori’s hiking as “with wreckless abandon”).

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Chilchbalm dead ends into what looks like a monumental glacier so large it’s hard to describe sufficiently in words—just a bank of snow and ice that was untouched by anyone or anything.

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On our way back, Jordan gracefully slid down 20 feet of ice on her feet. She challenged Cori to do the same, but 3 feet in she was on her ass, sliding down the snow until she skidded out at the bottom (that was trip #26, #27 and #28…*Note: Jordan is still at #9).

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Our original plan after Chilchbalm was to head to the right of the mountain and make it to a point on the map called Birg, from there we could take the gondola up to the 2970 meter peak of Shilthorn. We knew some trails would be closed due to snow and ice; but Cori mapped out a plan that kept us in the evergreen portion of the mountain for the most part.

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We continued to climb further and further up the mountain. Our next stop was another 300 meters above Chilchbalm—which meant more snow. The trail we were following veered steep uphill. We turned a corner and faced a giant 50 foot-wide sheet of ice going straight up the mountain, careening into a foggy ravine below us. On the other end, we could just spot the trail marker. The only way across was climbing across the giant sheet of ice. Below it was a drop-off and around it was rotten, brown dead grass. Neither of us were equipped with shoes that would give us a grip on the ice. Sliding down the ice and into what looked like an icy landing was not on our list to-do. On our hands and knees, we grabbed deep into the dead roots of the grass, uprooting some of it, and clinged for dear life—nothing like having your entire life depend on the roots of dead grass. As we went, Cori’s foot slipped and a rock bounced down, down, down. We watched it fall further and further, echoing as it went, until we couldn’t see it anymore. We knew that one wrong slip, and that could easily be us. Silently, we bear crawled vertically next to the ice until we reached the top and could crawl above the ice and slide back down to the trail.

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With a we-didn’t-fall-off-the-cliff-victory! high five, we headed up the trail only to face another sheet of ice, twice the size of the last with and even more of a drop-off, too.

In the distance, we heard what we thought was a storm beginning to form with claps of thunder and a spitting of rain (given we were literally in the clouds—we knew avoiding moisture wasn’t a possibility). But the thunder sounded too close—right behind our ears—to be a storm. We turned around, and on the mountain across from us, an avalanche began sliding down, crashing as it went. Then another. Then another. It was both eerie and foreboding. With jaws dropped, we watched the avalanche come to a stop half way down the mountain—thankfully we weren’t at the base of that mountain anymore.

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We both looked at the ice we were crossing and hurried across, not wanting this snow to mirror the avalanches on the other mountain.

Again, we got on our hands and knees and crawled up the side of the ice. We silently agreed not to talk about the perilous, icy death that loomed under the soles of our feet. As we reached the trail after another bear crawl across the sheet of ice, we gave each other a we-didn’t-fall-off-the-cliff-or-get-caught-in-an-avalanche victory hug. Again.

We thought these were the worst of our worries. WIth a little adrenaline in our step, we made it to our next point of reference on the map: Oberberg. It was a small cluster of homes, abandoned, of course. From here, we planned on taking a trail to our next point of reference: Rotstockhutte, just another hundred meters higher than Oberberg. The terrain was soggy and snowy, our shoes were soaked through. Keep in mind, avalanches were still crashing across the mountains behind and across from us. Who knew what loomed over our heads.

We followed a fork in the road and came face-to-face to more sheets of ice stopping us from easily walking on the trails. This time, the area was much less steep and if we slipped, the hike back up wasn’t a grave one. After walking across three sheets of ice; the next one was insurmountable. This drop-off was much more steep than our first, and the clouds were beginning to envelope us, we couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front or around us. We had to turn around, but we couldn’t go back toward Oberberg, there was no way we could cross that again without slipping, so we had to take an unknown trail back toward Murren.

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We managed to lose the trail after crossing the ice—having to jump from snow bank to snow bank trying to reach our trail again. Impossible to climb back up the way we came, we knew we had reached the point of no return. We had to keep pressing onward, as the weather started to turn for the worse.

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We eventually reached a trail marker and hopped a closed gate to the trail (foreboding?). On the other side was a sheet of broken, black rock, as if God had taken a giant sledgehammer and took a big baseball swing at it. It was practically gravel under our feet, sliding out from under us and tumbling into whatever nothingness lie on the other side of the clouds. It was probably a blessing we couldn’t see what was below us.

Since Cori is a more experienced hiker, any sign of terror or fear would probably set Jordan off. Everything that we spoke was positive words of encouragement. There’s something about fearing for your life (and the thinning air) that makes you loopy. We’d watch rocks tumble downward and laugh uncontrollably. But inside, we were scared for our lives. We kept thinking that if one of us slipped down the mountain into the clouds, the other wouldn’t be able to find their way in the fog to find them.

As we continued to Murren, the clouds were so thick, we lost each other for a little, even though we were only 10 or 15 feet apart. At one point, the clouds were so bad Cori made Jordan wait at the last trail marker while she continued on to make sure there was another marker we could follow on the trail—disappearing behind corners and trees into an unknown abyss of fog.

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Then it started to hail. Then snow. Then sleet. Then rain. Then, it began to blizzard. We knew we were still a good 500 metres from where we needed to be. Once the snow started to stick and we couldn’t see the trail markers, we wouldn’t be able to find our way down until morning. The snow picked up, starting to fall down on us harder and harder, slowly hiding the trail.

We grabbed each other’s hands and blindly set out on the trail, hopefully home. All we could make out was dark, ominous shapes in front of us—not sure if it was trees, the side of a mountain or homes.

Right as the snow was so thick, we almost had to walk with our eyes closed, we were standing on top of a peak. Below us the trail curved sharply down a steep mountain. We could almost make out 4 or 5 trailmarkers that lie below us. Beyond there, we could make out the shape of what looked like another cluster of houses—a beacon of hope.

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Practically running down the mountain, snow still thick, sliding from one mud bank to another—we reached flat ground. We looked behind at the mountain towering over us and wondered how—or why—we crested the mountain the way we did.

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From there we quickly hiked to Gimmelwald, still an hour away, finally arriving to the comfort of our warm beds and away from a ravine that could have been our graves.

It was absolutely the most terrifying yet exhilirating experience either of us have had. On the mountain, both of us thought of our families sleeping in bed while we tumbled face first down a mountain, never to be found again.

It was a blessing we made it out of there without a cut or a bruise. Well, there are bruises. It was a face-to-face encounter with God himself. Maybe we complained about the rain too much so he threw us through some hoops so we could be thankful again. I think we had some guardian angels guding us that afternoon.

After napping, we hiked up to Murren to stop by a grocery store. There, we ran into our Texas friends. We picked up pasta, fruit and bread and they bought eggs, sausage and cheese and we cooked a potluck in the safe confines of our Mountain Hostel—feeling full for the first time this trip.

We ended our night with a backpacker from Minnesota playing his guitar while a girl from Canada joined in on her banjelele.

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It was a hike that we will surely never forget. Not even this story comes close to the fear that encompassed our minds; but in the end, we’d do it again.

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Always craving spontaneity (and the thrill of clinging to a mountain),

C&J

We’re really making a good habit of arriving into cities and countries well beyond midnight. In Munich, we stayed in another AirBNB home. Munich was silent when we got off the platform and headed for a taxi. Our AirBNB host was gracious enough to hide our key outside for us since we were arriving so late and he couldn’t come open the door for us.

Our first full day in Munich was spent wandering the city and getting our bearings. Again, it rained. The storm must be following us across Europe. This was the seventh day of rain for us. Wet jeans and soaked shirts and jackets were as normal to our wardrobe as socks and underwear.

We spent the night getting lost in Marianplatz, where a lot of their beer gardens like Hofbrauhaus, Schneider Wies Hauss, Ayinger Wies Haus and Augustiner Wies Haus are located (where we had a sausage platter for lunch. Sounds appetizing, right…?)

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We woke up on Friday morning to the strangest thing—the sun! We were actually skipping down the road to the train station we were so excited. With the weather finally on our side, we took a 2-hour train ride to Salzburg, Austria.

Coming around the corner from Germany to Austria was breathtaking. A mix of snow-capped mountains, forested mountains and an ancient city that reflected the sunlight off its tiled roofs lie ahead of us.

The city of Salzburg can easily be crossed in a matter of 20 minutes at a leisurely pace. We made our way across the newer side of town and across the Salz River into Mozartplatz. Street musicians, vendors and markets filled the square and just above it sat Hohensalzburg Castle.

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After climbing what was easily over 700 steps and 15 euros later (yes it costs that much to climb to a building), we mosied around the castle. The views from atop a watch tower had us aching to get back down and experience the same view but from a mountain.

Once at the bottom again, we picked our way through a crowded cheese and fruit market and bought the largest pretzel we could find so we could have a picnic up in the mountains.

On a whim, we hopped on a bus that took us to a town called Fuschl. We really didn’t know anything about it besides the fact that it took us into the interior of Austria, up into the lake district, where the mountains all meet at the base to form several lakes.

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Right when we couldn’t stand the confines of a bus, we hopped off at a random bus stop and walked toward a lake like insects to a light. The smell of the freshwater, the sun beating on our bodies and the breeze blowing through the evergreens was enough for us to lay down for a half hour and soak in the new scenery. We took to the mountains like we’d been there for years. The mountains have some sort of power that can’t be explained unless you’re sitting in the meadow of one, looking at the reflection of the mountains in a lake that no motor or chemical has contaminated.

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Houses hung to the side of the mountains above us while more homes circled the lake, and built a fortress around the base of the mountains we were looking up at—each with its own dock and fishing boat.

We didn’t want to leave Austria. The warm weather and the mountains were all we needed.

Sine we got off at a random bus stop, we had to find our way back by chance. We hiked a trail along the lake; the sun was setting and cast beautiful shadows across the trees and the fishermen out on the lake. We eventually found a side road that crept up the mountain and back to the main drag where we caught our bus back into Salzburg.

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On the train ride back to Munich, we sat across from a print graphic designer. It was fun to talk nerdy about fonts, the end of print and the rise of digital media.

By the time we arrived back to Munich, we finally had the pleasure to meet our AirBNB host, Ben. He was extremely gracious—even offering to do our laundry while we were out on the town the next day. His apartment is on the top floor of a little cottage looking house on the west side of Munich. It was pretty normal besides the fact that the bathroom was extremely odd. To take a shower, you had to do a constant squat because there was no shower head, just a hose that de-tached. The toilet was weird, too. The hole where the water (and everything else) goes into the sewer was in the front and the back was like a little shelf and when you flushed everything went zooming down like a waterfall. It was weird, but the place was only about a ten minute train ride into downtown.

The next morning we woke up early to catch a train to Dachau, a concentration camp that was built as an example for the rest of the concentration camps. We got there right as it opened, for awhile we were the only ones there. It was a beautiful morning, not a cloud in the sky, being at the concentration camp almost felt ironic and disrespectful to those who had suffered there.

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Dachau was originally built to hold 6,000 prisoners, but by the time the American troops liberated the camp, it was holding more than 32,000 prisoners.

As soon as we left the camp around 10:30 a.m., it began to rain. Of course. Our plans to go out to Neushuanstein Castle were squashed but Ben and his wife did offer to drive us to the Andechs Abbey—a monastarey that has some great German food and brews their own beer— for dinner.

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Driving in Germany is terrifying, Ben said traveling at 80 m.p.h. is slow. The Germans love their cars but they have no regard for the brake pedal nor other cars, we whipped around corners, smashing us both into the windows and cut off more cars then we can count. We were both about ready to write a “good-bye” note to our families. Luckily, the conversation with Ben and his wife was distracting enough to not notice the lights we ran and the u-turns we pulled.

They asked us how far we lived from Little House on the Prairie, probably the oddest question we’ve gotten so far. They also asked about our health care system, the farms in America and Arnold Schwarazenegger. They also said they were afraid to travel to the U.S. because everyone has guns. We told them otherwise and hopefully stifled their worries.

The German roads are lined with these yellow plants/flowers that Ben called biofuel. Apparently it can be made into oil, but if you turned every crop spanning the globe into this biofuel, it still wouldn’t be enough to meet our oil consumption.

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It was raining when we arrived to the Abbey, so we immediately booked it to the restaurant to order some warm food and bread. When our waiter set down our meal in front of us he said, “You have to cut it open from the belly.” Red flags.

Ben insisted on ordering for us—a steckerlfisch (or, as we later referred to it, “shitty fish”)—fish on a stick (for fifteen euros!). Cori thought it was pretty digusting, considering we were both picking fish bones out of our teeth. But we ate what we could and Ben finished the rest. They weren’t joking when they said Germans eat a lot. Its almost gluttonous. And they waste nothing. Considering the fish was staring at us with his lifeless eyes, we didn’t quite feel like eating all the scales and sucking the meat off the bones like Ben and his wife. Yuck. Needless to say, our stomachs were turning the whole ride home.

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After a meal like that, all we wanted was some bread and beer to actually fill our stomachs. Since our train left at 22:50 for Switzerland, we packed our bags and headed down to Hofbrauahaus and Schneider Wiess Haus to kill some time before our train.

As expected, Hofbrauhaus was packed. There wasn’t a single table for us on the main floor where all the merriment and celebration was. We wandered upstairs to find a table, again, to no avail. As we were walking back down the steps, a guy who was wearing what looked like a group t-shirt stopped us and asked us to join him and his friends at his table. We followed him back downstairs and saw that he was sitting at a table with ten to fifteen other men wearing the same shirt. We just walked into a bachelor party of a bunch of twenty-six and twenty-eight year olds. They were in all types of competitions like who could get the most kisses and who could drink the most beers and chug their mugs the quickest. The usual bachelor party antics, except with Germans.

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Most of them were already well on their way to hammered when we joined them. Keep in mind it wasn’t even eight yet. They bought us a round of Hobrauhaus Original beer and proceeded to attempt to teach us German songs so we could sing along with them. Most of them were extremely vulgar once we learned the translations of them. The Germans are very forward when they wanted something, especially when it comes to anything sexual. They assumed that all Americans are extremely religious. They acted as if we’ve never heard the word “boob” before. Yes, that immature. They were loud and belligerent, but besides that, really a lot of fun. One guy already took his shirt off and was dancing around on the table. Needless to say we (they) began to attract unwanted attention and we (they) were kicked out.

We all headed outside, something about the fresh air caused their blood alcohol level to double, their drunkenness hit a new high. In a matter of a split second, we found ourselves in the center of what I can best describe as a mosh pit. They were chanting and jumping and throwing us around in between all of them.

One of the guys (who we were told was the group drunkard) pulled down his pants and mooned/flashed another restaurant across the street. Not once. Not twice. But three or four times. Another friend decided to join the pantless party and he too dropped trousers to moon and flash the restaurant. So we moved to another street corner where they could proceed to chant and jump and do their “hometown” dance, which basically looks like a dying fish (the man would lie on the ground and flop around…it was strange). They even built a pyramid in the middle of the street, everyone outside applauded them.

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As they headed to a club, we parted ways and went to get pretzels and beer at Schnieder Wiess Haus. We kept running into our bachelor men peeing on the streets and hanging off street lights. At Schneider Weiss Haus, we ran into Ben and his wife again and had some beer and pretzels with them before we caught our late train to Switzerland…onto our next adventure.

As we left for our train, the boys were chanting “ole ole” in the background for all of Munich to hear.

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Always craving spontaneity (and more German beer),
C&J

Put your seatbelts on, this is a long one.

At the time we left Amsterdam on Tuesday, the sun was setting as our train headed South to Germany. We pulled into the station around 11 at night at a deserted platform. When we stepped outside into Cologne (or Koln, as it is spelled and pronounced by Germans), a dark, marvelous cathedral loomed over us.

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The shadows played off the spindling spires with gargoyles adorned over windows and entryways. We later learned that it took over 600 years to build. There aren’t many corners in Cologne you can stand at without spotting a spire from the Cathedral—lovingly referred to as Dom.

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We hopped on the underground, rode it one station up to a neighborhood called Neumarkt and transfered to another tram that was supposed to take us to Rudolfplatz. Running on fumes, our exhaustion caused us to get on the tram going the opposite way of our hostel. At a graffitti-riddled station, we waited for the tram to return from the other direction to go back to where we began.

When we got off the tram, a couple who spoke a little English (we must’ve looked lost) directed us to our hostel. It’s a true luxury to have helpful people wherever we go.

By the time we made it to The Meininger Hostel, it was well past one in the morning. We were staying in an 8-bed mixed dorm room, a layout we have yet to see, so in the pitch dark it was nearly impossible to find a few empty beds.

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Everyone else in our room was in for the night. And by everyone else we mean a bunch of men. When we got settled in our beds (Cori was in a bottom bunk with a Belgium man on the top bunk and Jordan was in a top bunk with an African man in the bottom bunk) all you could hear were snores coming from the six other beds. Perfect.

The Belgian woke up and exclaimed something in German, it sounded like “shut up” but everything in the German language is intimidating. Honestly should have checked the sheets. Scared the shit out of both of us. We couldn’t laugh about the incident until the next morning though, because we were afraid of being shushed if we whispered anything across the room to each other.

In the morning, we headed to a small cafe down the street for brunch. It was our first true test of our language barrier. It was a tough one to master. Germans serve all their water as soda water, so you have to be very clear when ordering water. Twice, as hard as we tried, we ordered soda water instead of regular water. Their regular water tastes like dish soap. Lucky for us, beer is cheaper anyway.

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We spent most of the day wandering around the streets. Since we never figured out exactly how the ticket system worked, we continued to hop on and off trams and the underground without paying. We basically went everywhere in Germany for free so far…by accident. From there on out, our morning conversations always began with, “Do you want to walk or scam the tram?”

We took a boat tour on the Rhine, that was an hour round trip, expecting to see some castles. Although the riverbanks of Cologne is beautiful and marked by old estates, churches and statues, it wasn’t what we were quite expecting. We came to Cologne expecting to see castles, only to realize we were about an hour too North of them.

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We headed back to our hostel through the outdoor shopping district—a pedestrian-only area. It was an ideal place to people watch and enjoy street music and performers. One girl was singing, or belting, Adele. Not very impressive in a German accent.

When we arrived, we finally met some of our roommates in the daylight. One man, we didn’t bother to catch his name, we quickly learned was the king of elaborate lies and oversharing. We realized this after just a few minutes of meeting him. He told us he is divorced and has a ten year old. He also said he was in NATO, played on a basketball team (he was shorter than both of us) and his team was sponsored by a club in Cologne, where he spent all day partying. And partying. And partying. To paint you a picture, he sported jorts, an Ed Hardy shirt, brown shoes and black socks.

The other roommate, who we later learned to be Trent, was from Australia on a 3-month backpacking excursion. He gave us a desperate get-me-out-of-this- conversation look. The no-named German (who was violently sucking down an alcoholic beverage) was trying to convince Trent to come to “his” club to meet women and get wasted. Trent kept reminding him that he was gay and that meeting women and going to a club was not a night he had in mind. So we all silently agreed to sneak out in “shifts” and grab dinner.

Trent went outside “for a smoke”, Jordan left next to “check for wi-fi” and before Cori could leave, no-name German went into the lobby, only to see Jordan and Trent sitting outside having a beer. We were so lucky to have met Trent when we did, he was one of the sweetest guys we’ve met so far and was just as excited as us to meet someone new.

In Germany, you are allowed to drink and walk on the streets, so we ducked down a side alley to finish our beers and wandered around to find somewhere to eat. We settled on a local pizzeria. Since it was crowded, we had to share a table with a group of people. We asked if they spoke English (in our botched German) and they said, “yes, a bit,” (every German says, “Yes, a bit”, but then they speak fluent English). We learned that their names were Felix, Andre, Sarah and Ronald (roll the “R” and throw an “f” in there- that’s how it sounds). Felix and Andre are in a relationship and the pizza place was run by a gay manager. Apparently Cologne is the second gay capital of Germany, followed by Berlin.

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We spent all dinner talking to them. They were a little older than us and lived about 5 kilometers down the road. Andre is earning his Ph.D in economics and Felix is a real estate agent. We talked about Germany, our visit so far, where we were headed and the places they’ve visited. After London, we really didn’t have time to meet new people, so Trent, Andre and Felix were a breath of fresh air.

Andre and Felix insisted on taking the three of us out to the gay bars and bought us their favorite drinks, mojitos and Kolsch (a beer brewed in Koln).

After an hour at the gay bar, we went to a Andre’s favorite club, “Loom”. They played a lot of songs we recognized, such as “Don’t Wake Me Up” by Chris Brown, “Scream and Shout” by Brittney Spears (Andre’s favorite song), among others. Everyone there was mouthing the songs word for word, even though they were in English. When the clock struck three (we had to catch a train at 7:45), we exchanged emails and said goodbye (Germans kiss each other on both cheeks to say goodbye).

When our day in Cologne began, we weren’t expecting anything exciting. But making friends and having someone take us out and show us around made our night in Cologne one of our favorites so far. (Thanks boys!!)

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In the morning, we departed early to catch a train to the sleepy town of Kolbenz and took a boat down the Rhine River past all the castles to a town called Mainz.

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The low hum of the boat, the lull of the river and the church bells ringking in every town we passed was just what we needed after the past few days. The sun even came out to say hello as we made the last few stops on the riverbanks of the Rhine.

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The river is dotted with gothic castles and lined with farms, fruit plantations and vineyards that climb all the way to the top of the hills, looking like someone took a giant quilt and gently laid it over Rhineland.

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We drifted through towns called Boppard, St. Goar and Bacharach. The towns were the kind of cute that you wanted to pick off the hillside and put it in your pocket. Rows of houses lined cobblestoned streets, with church towers and clocks rising above the treetops. It left us lusting for whatever laid beyond the crest of the hills. The only thing that stopped us from jumping ship was the drizzling rain that would have met us a half step off the boat.

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So we’re a week in and so far:

– We’ve worn the same outfit practically the whole time (the weather hasn’t been the best, so we’ve resorted to our one pair of jeans and rain jacket most of the time)
– Cori has tripped 13 times, Jordan has tripped 6. (It was 5 to 1 for a long time with Jordan losing and then out of nowhere Cori more than tripled her count in Koln…must have been something in the water)
– We keep speaking Spanish to people…Jordan said “Si” instead of Yes to the guys checking us in at our hostel…Also, the way Germans say yes is Ja, and it sounds like they’re saying “Ya or Yeah” in an annoyed tone.
– Cori put her hands together and bowed to someone to say thank you. (WTF)
– Between the two of us we’ve had 20 coffees.
– We’ve gone through two packages of cracker sandwiches.
– Fallen asleep on 4 trains.
– Snorted laughing 5 times…loudly
– We’ve showered 4 times, and have done laundry once…mostly because of Cori’s bloody nose
– We’ve made exactly 3 friends (We are going to count them as friends if we’ve exchanged information with the intention of keeping in touch or sending one another photos)
– We’ve already taken 667 photos…don’t worry we have been editing and deleting as we go. Only the best ones will make it back home with us.
– We both pulled a muscle in the arch of our left foot on the same day in London….it still hurts.
– 1 Claritin (It’s the only one Cori had, but Jordan’s allergies have been a nightmare, so it was such a blessing when Cori found it in one of her pockets..)
– We’ve each had about 16 beers (9 new ones we haven’t had before this trip…5 of those were in London), a rum and coke, a mint mojito, a glass of Chardonnay…and probably not nearly enough water.

One regret: We are already so sick of having our second bag. So we are slowly downsizing, trying to squeeze everything into just our backpacks. We may ship some stuff home, it’s just heavy and inconvenient to have a second bag.

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Always craving spontaneity (and more friends!) And some damn sunshine!!,
C&J