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Steven Stucki

European Travel Journal

June 4, 2011 -- June 26, 2011

Compilation of letters written while traveling with Ryan
through the countries of Europe


EmailSunday June 4th 2011

Hey so I'm in Nice right now. I got in a couple
hours ago. All the connections to barcelona were
full so i'm taking a train from nice to marseille,
and then marseille to montpellier. I have to stay
the night in Montpellier in heaven knows where
and then catch a train in the morning to barcelona!

All is well tho and I am safe. I've met some great
people already on my flights and have been able
to connect with people all over the world in less
than a day. Traveling is cool.
I'm going to kill the next couple hours until my
train leaves walking around the streets here. It's
a ton like argentina!!! It honestly looks soo
similar to Buenos Aires. Just checking in.

AMy and alyssa, please let me know where
you're going to be in the french riviera and
what days! COME ON DUDES!

Steven Stucki and Ryan Cope
Steven and Ryan's summer European tour
beginning June 4, 2011

Travel Letters

EmailSunday June 5th 2011 top

Okay so Im going to use this as my journal for the next while since i didn't bring a journal to write with. Im sitting in the train in Nice waiting to depart for marseille. I'm currently in nice, France. I landed this morning in nice after a long but good flight and found out that I wouldn't be able to get to Barcelona until the morning. That is where I'm meeting Ryan at. I can't wait to meet up with him. We chatted for a bit earlier today through gchat which was lucky that we both logged on at the same time. I also had a few emails from Julia who surprisingly enough misses me quite a bit more than i expected she would. It makes me happy knowing she feels my absence. I like that girl.

Okay so i just got done talking to a young man named Luis i think he said his name was. He is from venezuela and we talked spanish for about thirty minutes. It was nice but all i want to do is sleep! I feel pretty tired and kind of sick from all the traveling. I'll write more later today maybe but now I'm going to rest.

Man what an experience this has already been. I finally got on my second connection to montpellier but not until i stood in the station for over an hour trying to understand the French blasting across the loudspeakers to find out which platform it was changed to. Not sure why but it got delayed 20 minutes and was changed to a different platform than what my ticket originally said.

The view from right outside the station here was amazing! I can't really explain it but the entire landscape feels fairly rugged and all the architecture and building appears somewhat ancient seems to all be centered around and raising upwards to some giant cathedral thing with a golden statue at the top in the heart of the city. For all I know it could've been an lds temple but I don't think so. It is jaw dropping the same.

The train just left the station so it's a matter of getting off at the right stop now.

I should mention just briefly the highlights of the trip and flights so far. Its been kind of fun traveling alone. Because I've met a few people that I probably wouldn't have if if I was with a friend. On mynfirst flight I met a very down to earth and nice man named Joe Schwartz. He is 69 and was actually on business in Orem taking a significant role in the Geneva Steele land cleanup and development. He is from Connecticut and owns several businesses there. We talked for a good majority of the flight to new York and he told me stories about his life and asked about mine. It was really inspiring actually. He got my number at the end of the conversation just in case our paths would ever cross again and I said I'd check out his businesses online and send him an email. I for sure will soon. On my flight from JFK to Nice I basically slept the whole time and kept to myself. There wasn't anyone on the seat next to me so that allowed for a little kickback if you know what i mean. It is Sunday so I spent a while listening to old general conference talks on my iPod too:) There was a young 18 year old girl behind me who I began speaking with as we were getting off the plane. Her name was Chelsea and she was beginning a two month study abroad. We talked as we went through customs and I ended up helping her with her luggage on to the bus and to the train station. We separated then but she already added me on facebook so might stay connected. Who knows. It's just fun to meet people and make friends. On my first train ride i met Luis from venezuela who's been living abroad in Europe getting his masters and currently phd. He got his masters in rome a couple years back and now his phd in chemical engineering i think. I talked with him about lots of stuff, including the Church, and then said goodbye once we reached the station. I should mention I have given CDs to each of these people I've been meeting. I only brought like 10 with me but I figured it's a sincere personal gift I can share with people. I also met a man from Scotland who is making a journey to pick up a yacht he purchased. He's heading somewhere France and going to sail it home with a crew! Cool! I can't remember his name.

Well I'm still on my way to Montpellier. I just finished speaking with Benoit George who got on a stop or two after me and off a stop or two before me. He is an engineering student on his way back to school from visiting his girlfriend for the weekend. He met her while studying in Nancy. Now he works in Paris and visits her every month in Marseille. He spoke English pretty well and it was fun to talk to him. He just got off the train tho. He helped me get a better idea of when my stop is coming up so now I don't have to stress to understand the conductor every time we approach a station.

EmailMonday June 6th 2011 top

K it's 5:30 am Monday morning. I don't need to be up for at least another hour to catch my train but i cant sleep. Here's what I did yesterday after writing. Right after Benoit got off I began speaking with an old gentleman named Alain. He must have been at least 70. He is also an engineer. He works in Montpellier and has been living here for about a year. We chatted about random things and I asked lots of questions because it seemed like he e enjoyed speaking English and I for sure enjoyed the conversation. He overheard me speaking with Benoit about the hostel where I was staying and he began explaining to me kind if where it was. I get the feeling it's very common for french people to stay in these hostels because he has stayed here several times before and many of the people here in the hostel speak French. We chatted away and got along well. As we approached our stop he actually offered to have me stay at his place! Sadly enough we double checked the bus routes to make sure I could catch my train in the morning but I wouldn't have made it in time so I had to decline. Dang! He was way nice and said he'd show me where the tram stop was to get to the hostel and drew a little map on a scratch piece of paper he had. Earlier tho he had mentioned it was only about a 15 minute walk through the heart of the old downtown to get there so when we got off the train I told him he child just point me in the right direction because I wanted to go by foot. He said he would and then even offered to walk with me as long as he could until he had to get back to the bus stop. He ended up walking the whole way to the hostel!! I could have easily spent an hour looking for what he showed me in 15 minutes. Old downtown here is closed to cars the streets are just a maze and network of small paths and alleys through stone buildings and apt complexes. The architecture is indescribable. I'm pretty sure I'll be saying that a lot this trip. Every block or two the small streets open up to large squares where several routes meet and there are a few cafes or nice restaurants that are all setup outdoors so people are just sitting outside laughing eating and drinking. It is so cool. Alain left me at the hostel and I was so gracious to him except he seemed to be more pleased than I was. God bless him.

This hostel is the first ever ive stayed in. It's built in a large old church and is just filled with tons of rooms that have bunk beds in the. 4 people to a room. They hand you clean sheets when you check in and all bathrooms and bedrooms are shared. Below me is a young kid named Alex from London who is here on a little trip dancing. I guess he does swing dancing like the charleston and stuff. On the other bunk bed is a guy from France and above him is some kid who honestly hasn't gotten out of bed since I for got here at like 8:30 yesterday haha They are all asleep. Last night I got settled in to my room and decided to go out and explore. It took me about 10 minutes to get completely lost but I loved it. I stumbled across a couple large cathedrals and looked inside the shops that were almost all closed. I bought a delicious piece of pizza from a little cafe and bottle of water and walked around some more. Finally I made it back to the hostel, showered, got changed and then went downstairs to see if they had wifi. They do! So I got online and was lucky enough to chat with Julia, my dad, and Ryan. They are well and I miss all of them. My dad loves hearing about my experiences and following my travels so thats part of the reason I want to write well in this journal.

it's 6:15 now so I think I'll get up and get a little earlier start. Breakfast doesn't start till 7. I wish it was earlier. I'm always so scared I'm going to miss my trains! I already feel so incredibly blessed to be here. What an amazing opportunity it is. The Lords hand of prosperity has given my dad the opportunity to be able to help me and me a good enough job that I have sufficient savings and flexibility at work to travel. The more I see of the world the more humbled and grateful I am that his presence and guidance encompasses us no matter where we go or what language we speak. Amazing and wonderful. As Alyssa might say but only copying mom, "joy rapture". Haha

Steven and Ryan

LetterTuesday, June 7, 2011 top

Well it’s 12:45 here so I guess technically it’s June 8th. Today was a great day. I’m in Barcelona Spain staying with Patricia and Doralba who are Melissa’s cousins. Melissa is a girl that was on the study abroad with Ryan and she’s the one who offered to let us come to spain and stay with her relatives. I’m also here with Emily who is another girl that was on the study abroad with Ryan.

I have to kind of recap how the last two days have been and the best part will be the reunion with my good friend Ryan when I finally made it to Spain. I was so excited to see him, and it feels so good to finally be together. My train ride from Montpellier was pretty long (4 1/2hrs) and the Spanish land was a welcome sight. I got off the train, and made my way across the platform and up the stairs to the main terminal where Ryan and I had planned to meet at Mcdonalds. I was swimming through the sea of people when I saw him from a ways away leaning against a pillar and I surprised myself with how happy I was to see him. I think it’s because I knew I was in for the trip of a lifetime with him. We kind of ran to each other, hugged and laughed, and then the the first thing he really said to me was “I have to go to the bathroom so come with me” haha It’s kind of funny be he had needed to go to the bathroom for a while, but because I would be arriving at any moment he didn’t go because he was scared he wouldn’t be there when I showed up. What a guy!

We made our way to the house we’re staying at, and I couldn’t believe how much Spain felt like Buenos Aires. It’s very similar, and because everyone was speaking Spanish I couldn’t get over the feeling that I was back on my mission…except this time I could party a little moreJ We took the metro to their house, and when we got there I met Emily and Melissa. We chatted for a bit, but wasted no time getting in our suits to head to the beach. Melissa’s uncle, Nelson, was also there to visit Melissa and we decided to all go to lunch first. It’s been a pretty interesting experience for Melissa because she is from Colombia but has grown up her entire life in the States, and now coming over here to Spain she’s had the opportunity to meet lots of her family that lives here. Many of them (including her uncle Nelson) she’s never met. So we were happy to have Nelson show us around. He told us about a good buffet we could go to that was close to the beach so we headed to the metro station. Turns out it was a chinese buffet. Chinese food in Spain?? Sounds good to me I guess! It was so fun just walking the streets and catching up with Ryan. We sat and ate, and just chatted. Nelson was such a kind man! Like so many people here he works in a factory and makes a modest living for him and his family. I was impressed by how sweet he was to Melissa, and inviting and cordial he was to us. That’s something that has always impressed me by the Latin people. They’re exceptionally giving and kind. He told us maybe a million times that we could eat as much as we wanted at the buffet. Maybe he thought we’d never been to one before, but either way, he continually invited us to enjoy the great meal. After a time there we got up to head to the beach, and as we approached the cash register, and before we knew what happened, Nelson had paid for all of our meals. I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure how much the meals were for each of us, but I’m about 99% certain he hadn’t budgeted in a huge buffet dinner for himself and 4 extra people this month. I was so flattered, grateful, and humbled. He wanted nothing more than to treat us to a good time, and help us feel entirely welcome in his home and presence. Ryan and I talked about it on our way to the beach, and were just so moved by his kindness. Here we are, a couple of single, young, world-traveling super losers who aren’t loaded but definitely have money to spend on a meal who are having our food paid for by this kind man! It should have been us rushing to the counter to pay for his meal, but he was the one anticipating the opportunity and seeking to serve us. It was good meal, and better learning opportunity. Just thought I’d share it.

Another learning opportunity, when on the beaches in Spain, keep your eyes down towards the sand or up high towards the horizon because bathing suits are definitely optional around here! It was a lot of fun at the beach, however. I went with Ryan and Emily and the fact that we were swimming in the Mediterranean was pretty surreal. We spent a handful of hours there swimming around, and laying out. The only thing more freaky than the topless sernorita’s around us was when I was walking along the water about waist deep and I stepped on some squishy something that swam out from under my foot! Yikes!

Yesterday night we just relaxed at the house. We made a quick trip to the train station to buy our tickets, I skyped with Julia for a “bit”, and we slept.

I’ve been waking up at least an hour before I need to every morning but that’s completely besides the point. Today was a reeeeally cool day. We saw some seriously cool stuff! The first thing we had planned was to head to the monastery at Montserrat. It’s this monastery that’s nesting up, high up, on the mountain side. It is jaw dropping. We took the train about 40 minutes to get there and then a lift ride up the mountain to it. It’s totally a touristy attraction so there were people from all over but I really enjoyed it. We hiked around and took a fahillion funny pictures and tried to soak in the amazing views from so high up. WITH EASE the coolest part of the visit to the monastery was packing into a big cathedral with hundreds of other people to listen to the oldest boys choir in the world sing hymns. They perform each day at 1pm and it just so happened that we were there at that time. As soon as the organ started playing and the deep sounds began to reverberate off the walls I was awe-struck. It was amazing. But then, the boys started singing and I was honestly so moved. It’s an understatement to just say it was beautiful, but that’s the only word I’ve got. They’re all young boys so it was like a mix of soprano and alto singing, but with male voices and I was just so impressed.

We took the lift down and just as we were reaching the bottom we saw the train we needed pull in to the platform and then leave. The next one wouldn’t come for an hour. That hour passed quickly because I laid my head down on Ryan’s lap on a bench, and just napped while he read. I don’t know what the girls were doing. I was out!

We finally got back to Barcelona, and when we came out of the station it was raining SO hard. We got soaked on the way back the apartment. It was kind of fun but we were soaked. So we had to change before we made our way back out to go to the Sagrada Familia. I don’t know the story behind the Sagrada Familia exactly but it’s like a modern day “ancient-style” catholic cathedral. It was so amazing. I kind of complained to about having to pay 12 euro to get in, but from the very moment I stepped inside it was completely worth it. The architect for it was Goudi. He has since died, and the cathedral is still under construction somewhat with his original blueprints but the honest truth is that walking through that cathedral was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life. It was just absolutely incredible. It was a hybrid mix of old-style gothic architecture and modern art and development. It was so so so cool! We took loads of pictures that won’t do a bit of justice to the actual magnificence of the cathedral, but will at least give an idea.

We rushed back to the apartment after the Sagrada Familia in order to be there by 7:30pm because we had been invited to go to dinner at the house of a family friend of Melissa. Liliana and Manuela were very hospitable and I felt like a missionary again being fed way too much, way too strange food. It was good, and so sweet of them to have us over. Liliana is Manuela’s mom. She works in a factory close to her house, and lives in a decent sized 4 bedroom apartment. Manuala is 16 and is just going to school and living the teenage dream I imagine. She reminded me a lot of Melanie, except she was way more polite than Moe and seemed to not be quite as weird. Haha It was such a fun night with them. I love being able to speak Spanish. It gives me an opportunity to connect and become friends with so many people that I would otherwise be confined to only achieve the status of being an “acquaintance”. By the way, I had to Google that word to figure out how to spell it. Needless to say, tonight was filled with laughter and jokes, the food was unique, and I’m loving trying to emerge myself into the culture as much as possible. It was fun enough tonight that Ryan and I almost considered staying in Barcelona another day, but fairer weather in France was the deciding factor for our decision to leave. In the morning we’re leaving for Marseille. Remind me to share the funny story about Ryan’s little sip of alcohol that I ALMOST saved him from at dinner tonight. I’ll fill you in on the train.

EmailWednesday June 8th 2011 top

So we're on the train again. Just left Barcelona and on way way to Marseille and finally Nice but we won't be there until tomorrow. We're sitting across Jade and Julie who are from New York. Jade graduated in Psychology and Julie in biology just this past semester and this trip to Europe was a gift to themselves. They're both 22. It's so easy to connect with people if you're just open and nice to people. I've met both locals and other travelers every single day.

But anyways I need to write down then story about Ryan's little sinful sip. Aka...his drink of alcohol. I don't know if it's going to be that funny in writing nor even if it was funny at all but i thought it was! So we were sitting down and eating dinner and chit chatting when Manuela came out with a two liter bottle of soda pop that they wanted us to try. Of course we thought nothing of it but then i read on the bottle "con tint de verano" which is "with tint of summer" ...what does that mean??? No idea. All I know is that it gave me the idea that it had alcohol in it, I just felt like the only time I had seen drinks with tinto it meant they had alcohol in them. I wasn't sure though. They poured Ryan a glass and he was holding it asking if it was good and such and I was like hang on we gotta find out if this has alcohol! I grabbed the bottle and smelled it and definitely thought i recognized the scent of alcohol. So we asked if it had alcohol and they said no. I wasn't convinced though. While Ryan was about to drink i leaned over and asked liliana if really didn't have alcohol and she said "well it has a bit but nothing really" haha! It was so funny because we honesty had asked several times and each time they said no! I was sitting next to Ryan and turned and he was raising the glass to his lips. I didn't want to just reach over and grab it because I was scared I would offend the people we were with so i tried to whisper to Ryan in english not to drink it but it was too late! He heard me go "oh no" though because he was like what does this have alcohol and in was like yea man! Then they wanted to pour me a glass and i felt way bad because i had to say no. Latin people just love to invite others over for food and drinks and you could tell all they wanted to do was please us. I explained that we don't drink alcohol and she was like that's okay this doesn't have any! And i was like no look it says on then bottle! And then she was like yea but only a little but. Ryan explained that we don't even drink a drop of alcohol. That we're totally sober and she understood better. I think that's where the confusion was. In here mind no alcohol meant that we didn't drink beer or whine or any hard drinks but something like this with just a bit of alcohol was okay. Needless to say I was laughing sooo hard afterwards and it was for sure one of the funniest experiences I've ever had with Ryan. I'm pretty sure he was hung over this morning too because he had a pretty hard time getting up. Haha

Ryan is reading then count of Monte cristo at the moment. It's cool because we are going to be right where a lot of that story takes place. For example, we're planing on going to Chateau D'if which is where Edmon Dantes was imprisoned. The story is fictitious but it's still interesting. I think I'm just so happy to be traveling around here that any little thing like that gets me excited!

EmailThursday June 9th 2011 top

Wow I have quite a lot I could talk about. I feel like tons has happened in the past 24 hours. There's only 6% of battery life left but I'll write a couple things down.

So whats going on right at the moment: Ryan and I are on the train on our way to Nice. We'll be there until Saturday I think. I'm sitting next to a young French kid who is now sleeping but listening to one of my favorite bands, Phoenix. It's funny because I'm wearing my Phoenix T i got at their concert. We talked for just a moment and now he's out. I'd like to be too. I'm so tired. In front of me, Ryan is reading and sitting next to a another young french kid named Shawni. Shawni is 18 and going to school for business. He's way energetic and super loves speaking English. I just talked to him for about 30 minutes. He plays the drums and likes music a lot. I told him I play a bit and gave him a cd which i think he was flattered by. At least he seemed really grateful and excited. Well the battery has lasted longer than i could! I fell asleep and just woke up! I awoke to the train personal coming by to check tickets and passports. Also, to Ryan scrambling up and down looking for his passport which was with his wallet, which, he left in the bathroom on the train earlier when wen changed out of our swimming suits. Id have killed him if he lost it! Haha I guess someone found it and turned it in. What a blessing! You're probably wondering why we were in our swimming suits. I'll get to that in w bit, but for now I'll just say because we went cliff jumping at one of the sweetest spots I've ever been! Ryan just got done talking to a couple ladies from new Mexico a few rows in front of us, and just in the seat behind me there's a kid from Price Utah. Im so amazed at how many people travel through Europe like this. Honestly, I think there are relatively few but you jut run in to so many people traveling the way we do by train and sleeping in hostels at night with loads of other people in the same room. But okay, I need to fill you in on what has been going on. I need to back track though to our train ride yesterday from Barcelona. Real quick tho, the kid I'm sitting next to, the one listening to Phoenix earlier, has really good taste in music. He's listening to Ratatat right now. Word. K so anyways, Ryan and I sent emily off on a train to the airport yesterday, and finally for the first time it was just Ryan and I which I had been really looking forward to. We got on our train from Barcelona to Marseille and while we were on it met a couple girls from New York, Jaden and Julie. They (ipad died)

Well my iPad died so now I’m on Ryan’s computer. It’s in the red too though so we’ll see how much I get written. Geeze I can’t even remember what I was talking about. Okay well I think I was on our train ride from Barcelona to Marseille, and I had just introduced Jade and Julie. We met them on the train when we first got on, and ended up chatting just a bit until we got to our stop in Montpellier so we could connect to our final train to Marseille. (Quick scenery break: We’re currently traveling along the coast of the Meditarrean somewhere between Marseille and Nice and it is absolutely gorgeous. Goodnight!) But okay, we talked a bit with Jade and Julie on the first train, and had chatted a bit about our travels and whatever and told them that we were headed to Marseille and then Nice. They were headed straight through to Nice, and needed to book a hostel online for that night so ryan offered his computer if they wanted. When we got off the train they came with us to Mcdonalds where we could get wifi and ryan could get a Double Big Mac Meal. Hahahaha Did you even know they had those? Well here in France they do. They also have Big Macs on wheat buns which seems ironic since anyone who cares enough to want a wheat bun probably wouldn’t be interested in a big mac, but I guess I make a perfect hybrid because that’s what I got. But yea, they came with us to Big Mac and we just hung out in the super classy mcdonalds they have in Montpellier and waited a couple hours until it was time to board our train. It’s almost moving how easy and fun it is to connect with people while you’re traveling like this. I don’t know what it is, but almost everyone we meet is so easy going and open to friendship that it’s easy to hook-up and hang with strangers and just talk about what you’ve seen and what you plan to see. We all went back to the station together, and got a little 4-seat spot on the train so we could sit together for the ride. It wasn’t until we got on the train and about 2 seconds after it started moving that we realized we were on the wrong train! We only realized it was the wrong train because it started moving. Usually the trains will pull in to the platform a bit before they’re scheduled to leave and you can get on and hang until departure time, but when it started to leave 20 minutes before it was supposed to we got a little sketched out. Everything turned out okay because we got off at the next station and only had to wait until the next train came after about 15 minutes. Luckily there was another one or that could’ve been really bad. Just before we got off at the next stop our conversation with them lead to Ryan mentioning something about how we really liked Barcelona because we both speak Spanish so it was fun to be a bit more flexible there. I could tell the girls were surprised that we both speak Spanish, and I’ve found that many times mentioning my mission leads to a good opportunity to speak about the church so I quickly added “Yea I lived in Argentina and he in Mexico for two years serving a mission for our Church.” They were even more surprised by that so we got to talking and it turned out they were WAY interested in it. Especially Jade. She was like, “Wow, I’ve got tons of questions for you guys. I hope that’s okay” Of course we were more than willing to talk about it, and I was so glad to be with Ryan because he’s a great example of a faithful saint and righteous example so I couldn’t be happier to be with him talking about the church. We talked for a bit, got to the next stop, talked on the platform while we waited for the right train to come, and got on that train, and kept talking. They both had tons of questions and we shared a lot of our insights and feelings. It honestly felt good to bear my testimony and hear Ryan bear his. Having served a mission makes it so easy to talk about the Church and it was a great feeling. I found myself praying for Ryan while he was talking just like I did for my companions, and he admitted later that he was doing the same. The girls both seemed very impressed by our willingness to talk, and our sincerity in what we shared. They repeated a couple times how surprised they were because they had such a different idea of what Mormons believed and what kind of people we were. Seriously though, they didn’t even know if we believed in God or Christ, or what. Julie even mentioned that she had always kind of been “scared” of Mormons. Weird right? I guess it’s just a matter of being informed. They are definitely informed now! They were most surprised by how we don’t drink coffee I think. Jade was like, “So what time do you go to bed if you don’t drink coffee?” Both Ryan and I were like is that a trick question or something?? But I guess she just couldn’t wrap her head around how someone could ever have the energy to start a day off without it. I’m pretty surprised myself how I start my day without it because I seem to go to bed on average at about 3am every night I feel like. Not my fault. Well kind of. But the point is, the conversation with Jade and Julie was amazing and fun. They are sweet girls and I’m sure we’ll be in touch somewhat. Ryan emailed Julie about meeting up in Nice because they’re going to be there when we arrive, and I’m sure we’ll connect on Facebook. I was glad my Dad gave me some pass along cards when Julia and I swung by the house Friday night because I gave each of them one with an invitation to check out I also gave them one of my CD’s with the pass along card. Just for good measure you know? Ha We got off the train in Marseille, and they head to catch their connection and we split for the city.

The hostel is Marseille was less than a ¼ of the size of the first I stayed at in Montpellier. (Another random break: Ryan breaths weird anytime he does anything besides sit there. Haha I’m sitting next to him now and he’s writing some thoughts down in a journal and he will take a breath, and then hold it for a while, and then let out a long, quiet gasp. That’s how he breathes. It’s really weird and really funny because he only does it when he’s focused on something besides just being alive. I just showed him what I wrote and now he’s doing breathing exercises. Good man.) We got to the hostel, and got a key to our “room”. Our room was one of three and had like 5 or 6 bunk beds in it, and there were like 8-10 other people staying there! Gotta love the life of staying in hostels. It’s a really weird experience but way cool at the same time. We ony had to pay $25 Euro for this one. The one I stayed in in Montpellier was only $19 and you can’t beat that. The bathrooms are shared by everyone, both boys and girls, and so are the rooms. We met a kid from Japan, New York, some girls from Canada, and a few others in about 15 seconds. We got clean sheets for our beds, put them on, threw our packs down, and took off to explore the city. There is a large Basilica of Notre Dame in the middle of the town so we figured we’d spend the evening heading for that. We found a metro stop and took that as close as we could and then went the rest of the way on foot. It’s so surreal to walk through these European streets. It’s just so different from the States, and I love the feeling. We walked through a maze of streets high up the hillside overlooking everything, and then along this cobblestone road with steps that passed the open windows all along the street and could and would just look inside these people’s apartments to try and catch a glimpse of the lifestyle. It was all really neat. We’ve been snapping pictures everywhere we go. Finally we reached the Bascilica and it was breathtaking. It was high up on a little mountain/hill overlooking the entire city and bay. In the middle of the bay was the Chateau D’if, and far in the distance was the train station and our hostel. Ryan was determined to enjoy the sunset there so we took a bunch of pictures, and just goofed around. The basilica was closed but we decided to jump the stone wall and walk around a bit. We figured if we got caught a French prison couldn’t be that bad! Ryan and I did some yoga on a ridge overlooking the city just to say we did, and just layed around enjoying the dream life.

Once the sunset we started to make our way back. We decided we’d just walk instead of take the metro so it took longer, but it was fun because we threaded our way down through the streets to the pier and admired the docks and sailboats. Once we finally got back to the hostel we basically just got ready for bed after chatting with some of the other guys and girls at the hostel. I was SO tired. Ryan tried to talk to me about some of our plans but I just kept falling asleep. It was pretty funny. Every time he asked me a question I fell asleep before he even finished and then I would wake back up when he would pause and then say, “Steven, what do you think of that?” I’d have to make up some response because I had no idea what he asked me each time. It honestly happened like three times. We were laughing about it this morning.

I am in Nice now. I just got back from going out on the town with Ryan, Tyler (a kid from Ryan’s study abroad because we’re staying at the same house he was in during his study abroad) and Julie (one of the two girls I was talking about earlier that we met on the train. We ran into them at the train station when we got in earlier today). I reaaally like Nice. It’s way awesome! But I need to catch you up on the rest of today before I get to tonight.

We didn’t set any alarms for this morning because we were pretty tired and figured it was okay if we just slept in a bit and were awoken by the light and other people in the room at about 9:30 probably. We had originally planned on dedicating part of the day to going to see the Chateau D’if but last night we talked to some girls I the hostel, and they told us they had gone to this national park place that was super cool called Les Calanques and they highly recommended it. We decided we’d do that. We packed a couple of twix we had bought the night before and left for the metro. From there we got on Bus 21 and road it until the very end of the route which was the “entrance” to the national park. The girls had only given us somewhat vague directions but we made it there just fine and headed up the main trail. The hike was about 20-30 minutes and I knew it was going to get good once we got to the edge of a tall canyon-like drop that funneled towards the water. We figured that was the way down so we started to make our way. The view was amazing. In the distance was the Mediterranean Sea and we could see the crystal clear blue waters in the cove we were headed towards below. There were a couple cruise liners and sailboats in the distance as well. When we finally made it down I was so excited. It was just absolutely picturesque and I could for sure see some good cliffs for jumping. We saw some younger French kids swimming around and jumping off a lower ledge, and we thought we’d check it out. As we were throwing down our bags and taking our shirts off a couple girls said “hi” to us in English so we started chatting with them. I think their names were Brianna and Danielle. They were from Philidelphia, and were traveling around just like us. They had heard about this spot from someone on the train. We chatted a bit with them then, and then later on. We climbed down to the water, and it was freezing, but we dove in the same and swam across to the big rock-island in the middle of the cove where we saw people jumping from. It was cool because all the ridges in the cove around us were just sheer rock faces so the water was very deep very fast, and you could see all the way to the bottom. Beautiful! So we swam over to the island and climbed up past everyone and got to the highest point we could. I don’t think I could’ve been happier. It wasn’t way high, maybe only 30-40 feet but we jumped off and I thought I was in heaven. Honestly, it was so fun. We swam around, jumped off some other cliffs, layed out for a bit and just enjoyed it for a couple hours. It was most definitely a highlight of the trip so far and I don’t imagine it will get pushed out of the top 3 of my favorite things in Europe. It was just great!

When we finally left we took the bus back to the metro, and then went straight to the docks where there were some good restaurants. We figured since we shared a twix for breakfast, and then another one for lunch we could probably afford a something a bit nicer and couldn’t definitely benefit from it. We went to a restaurant called Hippopatamus and sat right outside on the road while we ate. Something kind of funny about France that Ryan told me about is that when you go out to eat it can take a long time. He was right. We were probably there about 2 hours. They took forever to come get our order, and then forever to serve us the food, and then forever to bring us our check but luckily we were in no rush. We sat outside and enjoyed it. It was kind of breezy and my trunks were a bit wet so I was cold, but without a doubt happy. From there we went straight to the train station. We had locked our luggage earlier in a locker there so we grabbed that and then got on the train. The ride was good. The only highlights were talking to Shawni and Ryan losing is wallet like I mentioned earlier.

We arrived in Nice a few hours later, and it was really weird to be back there. It was the same station I had first arrived in but I’ve become so familiar with the train and stations that it didn’t feel nearly as foreign as it did the first time. When I first got to France I had the hardest time figuring anything out, but now it all seems so common. We got off the train and when we came off the platform we heard someone say “Hey!” and looked to see Jade walking towards us. Her and Julie, who arrived to Nice the day before, we buying tickets for their train they planned to take tomorrow. We talked with them for a bit and made plans to go out later that night. Something a little funny about the conversation is Ryan climbed under the rope barrier thing to talk to them and the guy behind them (who was the last person in line) was WAY mad. He stamped off to one of the station officials who came over and somewhat rudely kicked ryan out of the line. The guy who told on him was like, (in broken English) “I’m not a donkey! I know what you’re doing!” It was a little uncomfortable but Ryan was really nice and just apologized. I guess the guy just felt offended that he didn’t ask if it was okay for him to go in front of him to talk to our friends. Okayyyy okay okay.

After talking we left the station for the house/apt we were staying at. It was only 5 minutes from the station walking. We got there, dropped off our packs, jumped online for a sec to buy our Eurorail passes, and then headed out for a walk. We were only in the house for a very short time. We had planned to meet Jade and Julie at 10 so Ryan, Tyler, and I headed to their Hostel. Jade wasn’t feeling well so only Julie came with us and we walked through the main strip of town, which was sooo wonderful. There is quite a bit of shopping here but everything was closed, but there were still hundreds of people at the restaurants and bars all along the strip eating, drinking, and talking. It was almost midnight and there was still quite the bustle of peeps all over. This town is really nice. Just like the rest of Europe it’s not very clean, but seemed to be a bit more classy than previous places we had stayed. From the strip we made our way to the beach and skipped rocks for a while. There were lots of people on the beach too. There must have been at least 20 different circles of big groups of people (mostly younger people, like 20’s) sitting down and smoking and drinking. They were all just chillin hard and having a good time. On the way back we stopped at a small window café and I ordered a giant crepe packed with Nutella. It was good but I feel a bit sick! We dropped Julie off and now we’re back at the apartment, in our room, and I’m listening to Ryan snore. For some reason the internet isn’t working so I won’t be able to send this tonight I don’t think but I will as soon as I can in the morning.

This trip is nothing short of bliss. We’re having a great time and I’m really looking forward to meeting up with Amy and Alyssa tomorrow. They get in around 4:30-5 and we’re planning to meet up at 6. Talk to you later.

EmailFriday, June 10th 2011 top

It’s Friday morning. Ryan just got back from a little run, and I’ve been sending some emails and writing down some more thoughts. I had an email from Julia talking about how blessed she felt to be in California, and going out to eat with her family, driving in a nice car etc. She just sort of talked about how amazing it was, and how humbled she felt. It reminded me of an experience I forgot to record (or at least I think I forgot to record). So I wanted to add a piece of my email into my journal here.

“How can one person on earth have absolutely nothing and starve the majority of their life, and then another can go to eat with their family, order fine meats all around, and be driving home in a luxury vehicle without even the slightest twinge of sacrifice. It's not fair, but of course humbly and graciously accepted by you I know. I have no doubt that Heavenly Father will make all this right, and those of most lowly temporal status in this life will be exalted above the stars if it is that their hearts are good. I do understand what you're saying and have had similar reflections on my trip. How could I not! Something directly related to it happened yesterday while I was sitting on the pier in Marseille eating a steak dinner with Ryan. We had been chatting for a bit, and our food had just gotten there. I ordered a steak, and Ryan got a gourmet burger and since we had both only had a twix for breakfast and lunch we were starving and dug right in. Just a few moments later an old lady, at least 80 years old, walked up to us and leaned over the railing on the perimeter of the dining area outside with a little plastic cup in her hand and whispered something in French. She was obviously begging for change. I looked up and smiled at her and just kind of lifted my hand and shook my head. She reached out a bit further and finally when she saw that I had no intention of sparing any change she turned and began to supplicate others passing by. I watched for a moment as each and every person slipped past her without sparing anything, and observed her cross the street and continue on. Ryan was facing the opposite direction of her, and didn't really see any of this happen. It was loud where we were. I sat for a moment and then had a rush of shame wash over me. Was I honestly going to sit there on vacation in France and keep stuffing my fat selfish face on this steak and deny that tired old woman of even my spare change? Who did I think I was??!! I reached down to my bag and grabbed my wallet that had a couple Euro's of change in it. I told ryan I'd be right back, and I took off down the road trying to thread my way through all the people and find the woman. Finally I found her just a half a block away, walked up and tapped her on the shoulder, and dropped the coins in her cup. She repeated, "Merci, merci" a couple times and I went back to my table, and finished my meal. Now I know it might not be easy to give change to every single person that asks and begs, but really even if I did would it end up being that much money total at the end of the road? If I gave $.50 cents to someone begging every single day for the next 40 years that would still be less than $8,000 at the end of my life (assuming I die at 63. Lets hope not!) I guess all I'm saying is I surprised myself at my selfishness and hope to make a change. A similar experience happened when I very first arrived to Nice on my way to Barcelona. I was waiting in the train station, and bought a baguette which upon trying to down it I found I really didn't like the meat inside. I just didn't like it. So I got up and looked for a garbage can so I could toss the perfectly good meal I had. As I searched around I probably saw at least 5 people begging on the street. Can you believe that?? I just bought some perfectly good food (unless it had Ecoli haha), and decided it wasn't to my liking so I was just going to toss it. Pretty selfish of me. Instead I walked up to one of the old men begging and offered the sandwich to him. He graciously accepted.

But anyways, those are just some of my thoughts on the subject.”

And thus it is my homies.

Amy, Alyssa Ryan and I are sitting in mine and ryan's apartment right now! Yahoo! We just got back from getting some pizza in the old towne in Nice and now we're going to go get some gelato and then take them back to their hotel. It's been fabulous seeing them. They're so pretty! You'll love to hear them talk about their crazy travelers and especially the all the nutso people in their tour group. Anyways, just thought I'd let you know. Peace and love.

EmailSunday, June 12th 2011 top

Well it is 6:24am here in Nice, France. We boarded the train less than 5 minutes ago, and it’s already on it’s way to Ventimiglia where we’re supposed to connect to our train to Spain. The good news is, we’re on a train and headed where we want. The bad news is Ryan pulled a fast one on our alarm clock this morning and turned it off in his sleep so we missed our train that we were supposed to catch at 5:20. He wants me to clarify that he was not conscious and can’t be held responsible. We got up at 5:12, broke the world’s fastest packing job record, and then sprinted to the train station. We missed our train by 2 minutes! Bummer right? There was only one thing left to do, sit down and eat a melted twix for breakfast; So that’s what we did. We wanted to catch the earlier train, because we could’ve made it to church in Italy by 11am. I don’t think we’ll make it now. We’re both wearing white shirts and slacks because we had planned on going straight there. I don’t like missing church and I couldn’t go last Sunday so I’m put out we’ll miss today also, but who knows, maybe something will work out. We’ve gone two train stops, and are overlooking the bay at Villefranche. I’ll tell you more about this place in a moment, but suffice it to say it’s one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever been too. I just said, “So long Villefranche” as we pulled away from the platform and Ryan said, “I will be back, and you will bear me children” hahaha! What does that even mean?

Nice has been amazing from beginning to end. I am so glad we decided to come back here. Of course, meeting up with Amy and Alyssa was an amazing highlight, and just the city in general is gorgeous. We got in Thursday evening. It was funny because we got off our train and were walking through the station and we heard someone call to us. It was Jade! We knew her and Julie were going to be here and we had talked about possibly meeting up but we didn’t think it was going to be that simple. We stood in line with them for a while to inquire about possible trains we could take in a couple days when we had planned to leave for Italy (like the 5:20 we missed) and had kind of a funny experience. Jade and Julie were second to last in the line. There was one gentleman behind them. Ryan slipped under the rope barrier thing to talk with them in the line, and stayed for a while. We weren’t necessarily planning on buying tickets but just wanted to talk with them about possible trains we could take. Turns out the guy was super upset because a few minutes later he stamped down to one of the station officials, said something in French, and then the official came over and kicked Ryan out of the line. They were both fairly rude about it which was really strange because everything seemed so harmless. The French dude who got mad that Ryan stepped in front of him in line was like, “I’m not a donkey you know!” No one said you were a donkey, sir. It was pretty funny.

Alyssa, Amy, and Steven

So we left the train, and headed to the apartment where Ryan had been staying for 3 weeks on his study abroad. It was a 4 room apartment that a lady lived in who had been housing study abroad students for the past 15 years. There were some guys from other countries in two of the rooms, and then a kid named Tyler from provo in a room who Ryan had spent a lot of time with during his study abroad. Lucky for us we had a big room with two beds all to ourselves. It was nice to not be stuffed in a hostel room with a bunch of strangers we didn’t know. That first night we got there we didn’t have any plans really but we had told Jade and Julie we’d swing by their place at 10 and we could go to the beach or something. That’s just what we did. Jade ended up not feeling very good so it was just Tyler, Julie, Ryan and I for the night. We walked around the Old Towne in Nice and then skipped rocks along the beach. The beach in Nice is really rocky so it’s not the most comfortable place to lay out, but it’s beautiful. There is a loooong boardwalk that follows the coast all along the front of the city and there are always people biking, skating, running, walking, hanging whatever. Parasailing, kite flying, you name it. The night we were walked along the beach it was filled with tons of young people who just sat in big circles smoking and drinking. Lots of the groups had a couple people playing the guitar so it felt pretty similar to what we do on the weekends…cept without the drugs and beer aspect. On our way back to the apartment I was craving a nutella crepe so we threaded our way through the shops and alley’s so I could pay 3.50 euro’s to satisfy my craving. That was the first of many nutella crepes I will probably have this trip. Really though, my heart is fond of the chocolate crepes. I’ve had one or two since I’ve been here and I love them! All the chocolate I’ve had in Europe so far has been dark, and it’s so rich and delicious. Anyways, we dropped Julie off and made way back to our apartment. Friday in Nice was bound to be a good day and it was. We left the house around 11am (Ryan and I keep sleeping in) and headed straight to Villefranch to meet Tyler and a couple girls Ryan knew from his study abroad previously. Villefranch is one of my favorite places in all of Europe. I know I haven’t seen much but I don’t imagine there are many other places that can compare. It’s a cozy beach town nestled in a smalle bay, almost a cove, of the Mediterranean. The beach front is in the very center of this cove which has a barrier of hundreds of sail boats that guard it from the open ocean. Along the street are several very nice restaurants who set their tables up along the side walk and street, and the terrain is quite steep so if you look up around you you can admire the apartments/houses that are tucked in throughout all the greenery. As I mentioned, the terrain is steep so once we got off the bus at the top of the town we had to make our way down to the beach through the small maze of walkways that connect all the buildings in the area. There are staircases and tunnels below all the buildings, and the porches of all the homes are covered in vine and plants that hang over the network of pathways. There are small shops and restaurants here and there and dogs and cats that run around freely. The difference between these dogs and cats though is that they are actually cute and friendly looking rather than completely disease-ridden and rabid looking like the dogs in Argentina. I think these ones belong to the people that live here, and aren’t just stray animals.

When we got to the beach I was pleased to find that although it wasn’t a soft, sandy beach the rocks were all really tiny and gravel-like so it was comfortable to lay and walk on. The water was crystal clear and it was sunny and hot Friday so we enjoyed the next 4 hours or so diving off a large rock at the edge of the shore, searching all over for crabs, swimming, or laying out. There was a gelato stand a little ways down the beach too so we definitely got some of that. It was Ryan, Tyler, and I and the two girls I had met that day: Alexandra and Kjersti. Kjersti is pronounced Kirsty. Not that that really matters. They are nice girls from I think South Jordan Utah and are on a study abroad here in France. Ryan did the first session and they’re doing the second session. Alexandra is “almost 18” as she puts it and Kjersti is “almost 19”. We all left the beach together and took the bus back in to Nice and headed home. As soon as Ryan and I got to the apartment we had to leave again to go pick up Amy and Alyssa. It was pretty funny trying to get them because we had been given like 3 different hotel addresses and it changed again right before we left to get them. Good thing I checked “Write on Me”. That’s a little messaging thread that all of the family is connected to so anytime anyone wants to update the whole family of something they can just post it there. It was Camie’s idea. Nice one dog. It took forever to find their hotel, but it was a great reunion when we finally saw them. It had actually been a long time since I had seen them. Longer than I realized! I think because my memory isn’t the best my life passes like a dream sort of and I don’t really always recognize how quickly time passes. That’s part of the reason why I’m trying to record this trip with a little bit more detail. It has honestly been amazing so far and we’re only a week in to it. If I had to go home now I would already feel like the vacation was perfect and a total success. I’m so glad we have two weeks left, but I know it’s going to pass by too quickly. There are a few things slash people that I miss so I’m looking forward to seeing them already, but the general feeling I have is that I want this to last as long as possible. Ryan, Amy, Alyssa and I left their hotel for the center of Nice and just walked around and talked. They wanted to be caught up on my life, love-life (which are certainly two different things), travels so far, and life at home. They told us about their trip so far, and the things they’ve been experiencing. We stopped at a huge gelato stand that had like 100 different flavors and we all got a couple scoops.

We’re in Italy now. I took a little break because we got to our stop and had to switch trains. We also bought a couple croissants and some orange juice, which was delicious. We watched them squeeze it right in front of us! It was warm, haha, but that’s not really important. We’re sitting on the train waiting to depart and both talking to Felix and Philip from Germany. They are both 20 years old. They bought a car for a little road trip through Europe but totaled it yesterday! So they spent the night in the train station, and are now heading to Italy to their Grandma’s house. Pretty crazy. We just wrote their names down so we can connect on facebook and stay in touch. It’s fascinating we can do that!

So anyways, I was just kind of wrapping up the first night with Amy and Alyssa. We got gelato, and then took the girls to a taxi stop and sent them on their way to the hotel and then went home. I stayed up pretty late talking with Julia online. It felt good to talk to her as it always does, and I told her about what we had been up to and she filled me in on life at home. Since I know this journal is fairly public I’ll spare you the details.

Something crazy though, while I was talking to her I heard a bunch of yelling suddenly from below on the street. I ran to the window and saw 4-5 guys fighting. It kind of looked like it was 3 on 2. There was one guy on the ground who was getting kicked, punched, and hit with big beer bottles, and then another guy trying to help him out. I wasn’t really sure what to do but before I had to decide it broke up, or at least moved off of our street. It gave me kind of a sick feeling. I’m pretty sure they were drunk. It’s pretty sad to see things like that, and it reminded me a lot of Argentina. I think I saw more street fights on my mission than I’ll see the rest of my life, and I’m pretty sure it’s due to the extreme amount of alcohol that everyone consumes. Annyyyyways…I feel like sharing that kind of put a downer on this entry. Everything’s going to be just fine. There is a lot of good out there.

The next morning we planned to meet them on the Promenade Des Anglais and then take them to see Villefranche. When we met up with them we also met Alexandra, Kjersti and another friend they had met on their study abroad named Roberto. Roberto is one of the meekest people I’ll ever meet probably. He was such a nice kid and totally gentlemanly. He is from Mexico City and has been studying in Europe for almost 5 months. He doesn’t talk very much but set a good example of courtesy and kindness through his actions. He speaks Spanish, English, French, and I’m sure a couple other languages. I kind of wish I had spoken about the Church to him. We had some really edifying conversations though, and Kjersti and Alexandra had been talking with him about the church a bit. We’ll connect on facebook and stay in touch. It was kind of funny listening to both of them talk to him about the church. It was a noble effort, just a little bit funny because they were talking about stuff that I would never ever bring up in a brief introduction of the church and using vocabulary that I’d bet my last euro Roberto had no idea what they were talking about. Having served a mission gives me a deep insight in to how little people actually know and understand of the Gospel at first. The best thing to do is keep it simple, and find gentle ways to testify. Without a doubt Alexandra and Kjersti had already been doing significant teaching through their testimonies alone so I’m sure some great seeds have been sowed within Roberto’s heart.

Amy and Alyssa really liked Villefranche. I knew they would. We spent 3-4 hours on the beach, and then split to find a nice restaurant to eat at. That was kind of the plan all along. We wanted to take Amy and Alyssa to the beach to Villefranch and then find a nice restaurant where we could sit outside on street and eat. We found one, all sat down, and enjoyed a meal together. Amy and Alyssa of course ordered salmon, which wasn’t at all a surprise, and I got this chicken curry dish that randomly came with French fries. The curry was really good, and had bananas in it which was unexpectedly good! For dessert I went with Chocolate Mousse which I have decided will be my choice the rest of this trip because I’ve had it twice and both times I loved it. It was a pretty surreal feeling sitting there eating with Amy and Alyssa. I almost couldn’t believe that I was with them and my good friend in the middle of France in a quaint little town eating a delicious meal. I feel so blessed, and humbled. I’m grateful to my parents who help give me opportunities like this, and for a good job that enables me to obtain the things that I want. I have an amazing life.

I might add randomly at the moment that this train is so ghetto. It’s way rickety and loud. No big deal. Just sayin’.

After Villefranch we took the bus back into town, walked around the shops for a bit, and then waited with Amy and Alyssa to take the bus back to their hotel. It was about 9:30pm when we said goodbye. I was actually sadder than I thought I would be. I love them both so much and it was so good to see them! They’re excited to get home, and I think being together got them even more excited to see the rest of the family. After they left we sat outside with Roberto and the other two girls at a little café and ordered some gelato and crepes with nutella. We talked for about an hour and then parted ways for the night. Ryan and I showered, packed up, and set the alarm clocks for 4:45am. That brings us back to the beginning of this entry with the world’s fastest pack job, sprint to the station, and missed train.

I’m really enjoying this trip. And that was the biggest understatement of my life. It’s been ridiculous! So amazing! I feel like I breezed over Nice way too fast, but if anything comes to me later I’ll fill you in. I guess I’ll just say that if you’re ever caught between trying to decide to visit Nice or anywhere else in Europe, you can’t go wrong with Nice. Make sure you visit Villefranche. This weekend was unreal.

It was soooo fun to meet up with the girls! We're in riomaggiore, Italy right now. It's stunning here. We had like a 6 hour train ride this morning that started super early (check out my journal I sent) but it's totally paying off. This has been soo amazing already. The highlight with the girls was definitely eating diner in the narrow alley ways of Villefranche. I can't believe it worked out to see them. WE talked a lot about you and nick, Camie. WE're excited for you guys to come home! Gotta go tho. love much.

Dad it's been amazing over here. I can't convey it enough it my journal entries but I hope you know how awesome it's been and how grateful I am to you for helping me make this a reality.

I haven't necessarily been doing DAILY journal entries. I write when I get a chance so I think I covered June 11th in this morning's entry.

We're in Riomaggiore, Italy right now. It's a small town that's part of the 5-town chain of Cinque Terre. It's maginificent here. Absolutely gorgeous. Every place we go is just jaw droppingly beautiful. We've been changing our plans but from here we're leaving to switzerland wednesday morning, and then to Belgium to stay with Kate Harline's parents who are doing research over there and then we're headed to Paris and then finally to london. I'm looking forward to all of this. It's going by WAY TOO FAST REALLY.

I'm sure you're sitting down to dinner now. Tell everyone hi for me if you get this. Love you tons Pops.


EmailTuesday, June 14th 2011 top

I woke up to Ryan singing happy birthday to me. He was singing it all weird like Marilyn Monroe, or whoever it as, that sang “Happy birthday Mr. President” and the fact that we were sharing the same bed made us both laugh. I just murmured a groggy thank you, and then rolled over to try and sleep some more. Despite the fact we had a train to catch I still wanted to sleep in a bit on my birthday!

We left the Cinque Terre from Monterosso about 2 hours ago, and have been traveling in a highspeed train. Ryan is sitting across from me, asleep, and there are four other people in our car. Italians. They are kind, and we’ve tried to communicate a couple times but they don’t know a bit of English and our Spanish helps only minimally to understand. One thing is certain, the loud singing fluctuations in the voices and dramatic hand movements and mannerisms that are so over exaggeratedly depicted in movies of Italians are real! That’s really how everyone seems to be here, and it’s pretty funny. I like it a lot actually. It seems to really make the people connect in a more honest and real way than I think we do many times in the states. Often we’re too reserved and closed off I think. The openness of the Italians can be a good or bad thing though! If they’re nice it’s a great thing! If not, then it’s easy to feel offended. Ryan and I both agreed that in Riomaggiore (where we’ve been since Sunday evening) more than anywhere else that we’ve visited seemed to have the coldest service. It might not be so much that the people are mean as we’re experiencing a clash of cultures. Either way, we’ve interacted with kind and cold people here. I think no matter what effort you make to be courteous and helpful you’ll still appear subpar to some people. I’m making it sound like Riomaggiore and the Cinque Terre’s was a bad place though! I don’t mean to. It has been great!

As I said, we got in Sunday afternoon after what was the longest train ride of my life! We were up early early Sunday morning, missed our train, caught another at 6:20 and didn’t get to Riomaggiore until like 3 or 4 if I remember correctly. Maybe it wasn’t that late, but still it was a long ride. I slept lots of it, and Ryan stood guard so we didn’t miss the stop. He was reading a lot of it so I think that was why I was okay letting myself sleep. I felt bad after, however, not letting him sleep much. But I know he wouldn’t really ever get upset. He’s such a great guy! I’ve been loving traveling with him. In Nice we passed a little stand where two representative were passing out black Marc Jacobs ribbons that were sprayed with perfume so people could sample the flavor. We each got one and tied them around our wrists as “friendship bracelets” while we travel. Ha!

K so I stopped typing about 45 minutes ago when we got to Milano. We walked to McDonalds to use the wifi (which they didn’t have), I accidentally ordered an iced tea instead of a lemonade (which I didn’t drink), and our train just left for Venice and I’m typing again (which I don’t really want to be doing, because I started reading The Hunger Games on Ryan’s Kindle and I think I’m hooked). Jesse would be so proud of me, or maybe angry! He’s tried to get me to read the Hunger Games before but I refused for some reason. He said if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop, and that’s kind of how it was. I got to chapter 7 already. I’m sure many people in my life would be pleasantly surprised if I became a “reader” again. I can’t remember the last time I read a whole book!

Anyyyyyways, I need to talk less about boring me and more about stunning Italy. When we arrived to Riomaggiore we weren’t really sure if it was our stop, but we were so sick of the train that we decided to just get off and then sort it out afterwards. It just so happened that it was right where we wanted to be! We found a spot that advertised wifi and tried to swindle the unmovable mistress into letting us use the internet for free because we only needed it for 30 seconds to get the address to our hostel, but she was quite firm in requiring that we pay. So we paid 2.50 euro’s for 30 minutes and left the hotspot with 29 minutes and 30 seconds unused. Gracie! We found the place, and it ended up being a lot nicer than anywhere else where we’ve stayed. It cost 35 euro a night so that was a bit more but it was awesome. It wasn’t so much the room, although it was clean and comfortable, but the location. After paying the lady said, “follow me” and then we walked up up up through the small town which was a network of cobblestone paths and stairways until we came to a street where here daughter was. She said, “Oh my daughter, follow her!” and then left us to follow our new guide. We followed the little Italian girl and ryan practiced some of his Italian that he studied in the train ride from Nice, and finally were received by her father at the little townhouse/apt we were staying in. He showed us the room, and left. As tempting as the small, maybe queen-sized bed was we decided that instead of napping we’d go explore a bit. The Cinque Terre is a chain of 5 small villages right along the coast of Italy. Each town seems to consist of one main, steep cobblestone road that goes from the train stop, and up into the mountain. All along the main road there are staircases, and smaller paths that branch off of it. Shops, cafes, and tall narrow houses line the streets. All of the towns are kind of layered in a way, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. The first layer would be the Mediterranean sea which borders the whole coast obviously, then you have the town as I was just describing, which meets the vineyard which wrap around every town along the entire mountain side, and above them the steep mountains are covered in dark green trees and shrubs. It really was so beautiful there! Because the train station ran straight through the chain of towns and made them all so accessible it was a lot more touristy than Ryan and I expected. We hoped for some good secluded hiking so that ended up being a let-down but I suppose we’re not the only ones that are entitled to the beauty. The first afternoon we took a walk along a costal path high up along the cliff-side to the second town, and hung out there for a bit. We also explored through the vineyards above the town on the endless web of small paths that connect throughout them, and that was so much fun! Honestly this place is beautiful! The mountains are very steep and so you hike up a little ways above the town and you feel like you’re right above it, and could almost run and jump all the way to the water…which of course would be to your death, but still it was such a neat place. The views were absolutely stunning and the whole feel of the town was rich with culture.

Steven in Italy

We talked with a local woman and found out that there was a free hotspot by a church up the road a ways from the main strip and because it was Sunday Ryan called his family, and talked with them for a bit. I also made a phone call, but not to my family. I figured I’d wait until my birthday to call and talk to them. You can probably guess who I was on the phone with so I’ll just keep going. We finished the day out with a baguette, swiss and mozzarella cheese, and some nutella for dinner.

Monday the 13th was a great day too. I forgot to mention that Jade and Julie were in Riomaggiore the same time as us and we just so happened to pass them outside a bar/café while we were there. It was pretty crazy to see them since we figured that Nice would be the last time maybe in our lives that we would. We hung out with them for a bit Sunday night, and then had planned to meet up Monday morning and go hiking. Too bad for us, but mostly just Ryan because he thought Julie was a babe, are alarm clock didn’t work for some reason and we slept through the 9am meeting time we had set up with them. We felt bad because they probably waited around for us, but there wasn’t anything left to do but go hiking ourselves! We took the train to the 4th town and then hiked from there to the 5th and last town. That hike was sooo fun and pretty. We though it would take a bit over an hour but ended up being like a 3 ½ hour hike. It took us from the street of the 4th town, high above both, and followed the rim of the vineyards and mountains for a couple miles and then dropped back down into the 5th town. It was just soo gorgeous, and the view was amazing. We got some really great pictures. (side note, I’m starting to get some motion sickness on the train so I might have to stop typing soon. Like right now actually. I’ll write some more later)

EmailWednesday June 15th, 2011 top

Well what I thought was going to be a small break between writing ended up being over 24 hours and our entire stay in Venice. Ryan and I are back on the train to leave Italy, and head to Switzerland. The train was delayed almost an hour so we’re a little worried about missing our connection in Milan. We have like 2 more trains to catch before we reach Interlanken, and we’ll be on the train for probably the rest of the day. I know it maybe seems like we’re on the train all the time but really that’s just because it’s mostly the only time I write. I’m feeling behind right now so hopefully I can get caught up. Part of me just wants to steal the Kindle from Ryan and read The Hunger Games, however.

A quick wrap-up of Cinque Terre. It was gorgeous, and a lot of fun. The highlight was definitely the hike between the 4th and 5th towns and skinny dipping each night we were there. I didn’t mention that previously, but I feel that it should be recorded on these engravings. There’s something about being totally alone on a beach during a full moon that makes it absolutely necessary to shed the threads and take a dip. Oh another highlight of Cinque Terre was buying myself a pair of birkenstocks. I remember wearing those sandals when I was little and I’ve wanted a pair for a long time now so when we saw a little shop with them I bought a pair, and convinced ryan to buy a similar style. Here in Veniue I saw the same style I bought but with the exact strap I wanted so now I have a little buyer’s remorse but you live and learn and just relax when you don’t think you have exactly what you want. As Ryan puts it, “It’s not about getting what you want, but wanting what you have”. Truer words have never been spoken to a man who preemptively bought a less-desired pair of birkenstocks.

Italy has proved to be the home of the most delicious food so far on this trip, but the least hospitable people. For some reason I felt like the majority of the Italians we talked to were a punks. That’s not to say there weren’t some really kind people. One of those people is Ryan Cope. He is not Italian, but he’s a very good man. For my birthday he took me out to a nice 4 course dinner, and then bought me this little light-up helicopter thing we saw these kids shooting into the sky in one of the squares of Venice. Haha He also bought me some cool swim trunks today. That was all very nice of him. My birthday was a unique one being totally alone over here with Ryan, and it was a great time. Part of me longed to share it with all my family and friends, but I called a couple people at night in our hostel, and in all it was a great day. Hard to believe I’m already 23. Where’s the time gone? Have I become anything? Where am I headed? These are all questions to be addressed, and I will promptly give them thought when I’m done traveling.

EmailSaturday, June 18th 2011 top

I have to admit my journal entries have felt somewhat more shallow as of late. A week ago—or probably less—I started reading The Hunger Games and I find myself wanted to just dive back in to the story at the end of the day when we get back form exploring or are taking trains. Honestly, I’d probably be reading it now if Ryan wasn’t using the Kindle. He’s been widdling away at the Count of Monte Cristo since the very beginning of our trip and he’s almost done. We’re on the train now. It’s 8am in Switzerland and if we make our connection just fine and there are no delays we’ll arrive at our destination at 3:15 and add Germany to the significant list of countries we’ve visited this trip. Munich bound.

Switzerland was indescribable. But really, it was. From the first night we got here I’ve periodically thought to myself, “Oh man I’m never going to be able to capture how amazing this place is in my journal”. That’s probably part of the reason I’ve put off writing, because I feel a desire to do detail justice in my description of this place, but no that I don’t have the time or words to explain the beauty here. It’s a more natural beauty. Some of the places we’ve been so far have been amazing because of the structures, or people, or unique city but Switzerland was just a pure, simple, natural beauty. Really, Ryan and I both agree, that it’s like you’re walking around in a stinking postcard the whole time you’re here. The houses, streets, lights, street signs, landscape, everything is just so neatly but innately designed. When we left Venice and got closer and closer to Interlaken we began to see more and more beautiful trees, mountains, and lakes. The colors are vivid here. Mountains are steep, dark and many snow-capped. Trees are a deep green, and very thick. And the lakes are my favorite. They dot the whole landscape, and in the sun are a clear, light blue-green similar to Gma’s turquoise rings she wears. The water is clear as well. Throughout the town and country-side or quaint cottage-style houses all over the place. I swear there’s a competition to see who can build their house the most secluded and highest up on the mountain. As we’ve hiked, and biked around it’s been astonishing to look up—high up—on the face of a mountain to see that in a large green patch of grass in the trees there is a house. Houses like that dot the whole landscape more than the lakes do! They mostly seem to be situated in areas of light green grass so they’re fairly easy to spot not being secluded in the trees. I’m not sure what comes first, the grass or the house. Maybe Swiss people are drawn to the mountains and so when they see any grassy patches high up on the mountainside it’s just a matter of getting there and building a house. Or maybe they clear away the trees themselves, and then plant their own grass. I assume it grows easy in the rich earth. The weather is nice here. It’s very temperate, and hovered around 70 or so the whole time we were here. It did rain off and on, but that didn’t slow us down much. Last night it poured all night long, but stopped just in time for our 30 minute walk to the train station.

Despite the rain, we’ve done a lot of exploring. I think we only walked in one shop the whole time we were here! We got in late Wednesday to Interlaken. It was Midnight when we reached our hostel. I knew immediately I was going to like Switzerland, because everyone was pretty nice—even the first taxi guy we got walking directions from to our hostel. The lady who checked us in was very nice too. With each person I met I became more and more proud to be Swiss. The natural beauty already made me glad that I had a connection to this country, and the people only enhanced my love for this land. We shared the room we stayed in that first night with two men from South Korea who seemed very pleased when I told them my sis and bro-in-law we living in Seoul. And besides the weird smell in the room that can only be compared to smooth, sour bananas it wasn’t a bad place. There was a sink, and if it weren’t for my personal desire to maintain my integrity I’d have stolen the pillow I used. It was the most comfortable feather-filled sack I’ve ever laid my dome on. The next morning we had really no plans, but as usual Ryan was up early and continually coaxing me until I rose. Almost the entire trip has been that way. I have stayed up later than Ryan, usually reading or talking with Julia, but still I don’t know why I’m so tired in the mornings compared to him. In Barcelona I got up at least an hour before everyone else, but I’m guessing that’s only because of the weird time change I was adjusting to. Since then I’ve been exhausted every morning, and it’s been Ryan’s incessant pestering that kept me from sleeping in until probably Noon. For some reason vacations are always like that. If you want to just relax, take it easy, and get a lot of sleep then don’t go on vacation! Just take work off, and stay home. I’ve noticed that when I travel I have a hard time letting myself be idle. I want to take full advantage of the places I visit, and at the end of the trip find myself more tired than if I had just stayed home! Kind of ironic. Continuing, we were up early that first day and we packed everything up to check out because we were staying at a different hostel the coming night. We went downstairs and decided to talk to the lady in the info office/adventure shop in the lobby. Interlaken is like one giant adventure park. There are lots of businesses that offer anything from sky diving to rafting to bungee jumping to canyoneering (which they call canyoning here). My amazing dad messaged ryan last week telling him that we could plan something fun for my birthday, and he would pay for it. We knew Switzerland had a lot to offer so we waited until we reached here to redeem the offer. Of all the option the one that we both wanted to do most was Canyoning. We did it the very same day as well. The woman there said they normally leave at 9am (it was 9:10) but that she would call and see if we could make it. The shuttle to pick us up was there in less than 5 minutes. We were taken to the yard where we were all outfitted with helmets, two separate dry suits that went together, thick wetsuit-like socks, a small life vest, and a harness. It took about 45 minutes of driving, and a 20 minute hike to get to the beginning of the canyon we’d be hiking down in to, and then at least 3 hours to hike down and out. It was SO fun! The thick gear we wore kept us warm in the ice cold water, and protected us from the canyon walls, and faces we climbed and slid down. We hiked almost the entire time in the water from pool to pool jumping, sliding, and repelling. I was actually surprised at how technical some of the things they expected us to do were. I had full confidence that Ryan and I would be fine, but I couldn’t help but think how hard it would be for someone who didn’t realize what they had gotten themselves in to when the guide taking us (there were two) brought us to the first jump and the water was 20-30 feet below, and you only had a very small pool for target. The highest cliff couldn’t have been more than 50 feet, if that. It wasn’t the highest I’ve jumped but it was lots of fun. I can’t explain it, very well but the Canyoning was really great. The guides made us move very quick and gave us just a little instruction before we had to plummet down these huge natural rock water slides, or leap off a giant ledge into a small pool of water, or repel down into caves that were entirely hidden by waterfalls. They would just tell you, lay on your back, keep your knees and toes together, and cross your hands in front of your face to protect it and they say let’s go and send you careening down a small chute or crevice like a pinball until you splashed into the pool below you. Ryan and I loved it, and were laughing the whole time. It was all intense, but nothing was very scary to us and Ryan was goofing around and cracking jokes the entire time and I couldn’t stop laughing.

The next portion of the journal is kind of rated PG-13, just fyi. There was one long slide that the guide was like, “K everyone this is called the F*** Yeah Slide. Want to know why it’s called that? Because everyone has to yell beep yea when they go down!” Ryan and I were in the back of the line and just started laughing so hard. We’d been listening to the f-word from our guides and the others in the group at least every other sentence since the excursion began but we couldn’t stop laughing at how funny this was going to be because the guide was honestly sitting people on the top of the slide, screaming “Let me hear it!!” and then would release each person as they screamed the explicative. We were both joking around about what we’d say before I realized it was my turn. I sat down, he grabbed my jacket and demanded the ransom and I screamed out some kind of jibberish as he let me go, “blafoosh yea!” I choked on the water when I was submerged by the impact because I was laughing so hard. I came up and regained my bearings just in time to look up at Ryan and hear him let out a high-pitch scream like a little girl as he went down. I don’t know if I’ll laugh when I read this in the future, but I need to remind myself now that it was SO funny. The experience was all amazing. When we got back to the van and trailer we dogged the cooler of bears available, and enjoyed sliced bread, cheese, tomatoes, and cucumbers.

Later that evening after we got back, and had checked in to our next hostel we decided to do some more exploring. We had been talking to some people and had heard about a small lake that had a rope swing. Why not right? The hostel we were staying at was cool and weird at the same time. It was a little village of thick plastic canvas tents with wood floors. There were beds inside, and electricity, but I couldn’t help but feel like I was at a girls camp. The showers and bathrooms were also in these tent-like structures. Turns out the best thing about the hostel, however, was the tandem bike they had available for the guests. Ryan and I agreed this would be better than the buses. We grabbed our map and decided to try and find the lake. We were about a few hours and it was soo fun. It was drizzling off and on but we just wore our swimming suits and a tank anyways so no big deal. We made it to the lake without any problems, really. I should say that at one point though Ryan and I made a turn off the main road and started up a road when we heard someone heading the other direction honk their horn and yell something in German and wave us away from the direction we were heading. I don’t know what they said, but after taking moment to look around the bend I realized they probably said something along the lines of, “Are you Americans retarded?! You can’t take a tandem on the freeway!” Okay so it was an onramp…the signs are different here alright! I’m sure it goes without saying but that was also very funny and we laughed a long time about it. It still makes me laugh now. The bike ride was so fun. At one point we were riding along a road and since I was in front at the time I noticed there were what looked like little pebbles bouncing up and down on the street. Tiny frogs! I knew Ryan would love these so I was like “hold up man” and pulled the bike over, and told him, “look at these!” crouching down over a few. Ryan’s kind of a sucker for cute things and his reaction to the tiny little frogs was as happy as I expected it to be. There were tons! We probably had been running over a few without even realizing it. We spent a few minutes tip toeing around, took a few pictures, and then made our way. Amazingly enough we made it to the lake, and it was so pretty. We saw a long rope swing and hiked around to it. The incline from the trail down to the swing was very steep and the fallen leaves blanketing the ground were very slippery from the rain. I found this out soon enough when I took about three steps down, slipped, and then slid the whole way down. I thought I might just slide all the way off the edge into the water. Once Ryan realized I was okay we both laughed long and hard. Almost as hard as we did when ryan, camera in hand and filming, also slipped and fell the whole way down. The rope swing was huge! We swung for a while, caught crawfish that we noticed in the lake, and took pictures. It was one of those times that I was so glad to be alive, healthy, and with a good friend. Really, this whole adventure of here in Europe has been better than expected. Yes, it has been more expensive than I expected, but I feel so blessed to have the opportunity. I can’t believe there’s only a week left. We rode home from the lake, bought a baguette, some cheese, ham, and snickers and then watched Bourne Ultimatum on his mac. Good day!!

The next morning was the same, Ryan coaxing me until I got up, me feeling like I had been asleep 45 minutes, and then heading out to explore. We decided we wanted to bike up a valley to this little town called Looberdahn or something like that. We had heard there were 75 waterfalls in the valley and the ride wasn’t too hard. After visiting a few different shops we found some cheap mountain bikes for only 10 franks each. Best deal in town, easily. The bike ride up to the town was long and extremely satisfying. We’ve taken pictures of everything we’ve done but none of them really do justice. You can’t replicate the smells, warmth, view, and just all around vibe of the places we’re visiting. Maybe there’s some money to be made there. Invent some kind of camera that not only takes pictures, but has some kind of 360 degree high-tech lens that can record the entire view, smells, weather, sounds, etc and then play it all back. Yea it seems entirely impossible to do something like that, but the train I’m sitting on right now going 200mph, or the plane I took to get here that went 3x as fast, or this half inch thick piece of aluminum I’m typing this on that lets me see and talk with my friends and family face to face from half way around the world all seemed pretty much entirely impossible at one time. Won’t surprise me if the Unimaginable Camera is on shelves some day. When we made it to Lauterbrunnen (I just checked the map for the real name instead of just making one up that started with an “L” like I did earlier) something really cool happened. We were dropping down into the town and biking up a small hill heading for a huge waterfall we could see in the distance. We stopped to take a little break and I looked back down the hill and there it was…my name! “STUCKI” was written in big block letters on the side of a building. It was some kind of wood-working business. I can’t remember the entire name but it was owned by a Stucki. I took a picture and then we thought it’d be interesting to go try and talk to someone there. We rode over to the door, but the shop was empty. We entered and called out “Stucki? Stucki?” but it was vacant except for a radio playing some music. There was a pile of mail by the door that had the name, “Markus Stucki” on the letters. We snooped around a bit more trying to find someone and then decided to go. So that’s the story of how I almost found my long lost uncle Markus. I thought it was cool that I had been telling Ryan over and over that we were headed to my homeland, and then saw my name on a building to prove it. About 20 minutes later we saw “Stucki” lettered out in a business name on the side of a utility van. I guess us Stucki’s are born entrepreneurs…well were, until I was born and decided I want to be a musician. Not that I am banking on that. Just chill, mama.

We hung in Lauterbrunnen for a bit buying a bratwurst from the local butcher, examining the swiss watches and knives in a small shop owned by a lady who had actually visited Moab before, and then biked back to Interlaken. The ride back was infinitely more thrilling than the climb up. It was almost entirely downhill and took about 20 minutes rather than the two hours required to reach Lauterbrunnen.

We showered back at the girls camp and lounged for a bit before deciding to head to get some dinner. As much as I hate to say it, I was totally craving another Bratwurst. There just so happened to be some annual yodeling fest that takes place in Interlaken going on this weekend so there had been some preparations going on the entire time we were there, and it kicked off yesterday. In the main square of the town there were lots of white booths set up with all kinds of swiss foods, games, and keepsakes but what seemed more exciting to everyone was the fact that many companies were giving out free beer throughout the town. Everybody drinks here. Everybody drinks everywhere. It’s quite surprising how much and often people talk to us about drinking. It seems like the majority of people have nothing better to do than look forward to heading out at night to drink. It’s really too bad. We ended up walking around the festival for a while, buying a bratwurst (yes!), and then heading back to the tent. We watched a movie (The Tourist), I read for a bit, talked to Julia and James over the phone, and then took 3 seconds to fall asleep.

So here I am, typing and feeling entirely satisfied to be caught up in my journal, but knowing that I’ve for sure missed some things. I haven’t mentioned the people we’ve been meeting but through all these entries know that there are tons of other locals and fellow travelers that we meet and interact with each day. I think because I’m with Ryan I don’t really meet and connect with as many people because we have each other for company, but I’ve really enjoyed the human to human interaction we’ve had with so many others. There’ve been people from all over the world and all different styles and personalities. Ryan and I both have had an attitude of trying to be helpful and friendly. We talk openly about the church, and bring it up as often as natural conversation permits. We’ve both realized that we’re very different as far as our values are concerned from many of the people traveling like us, but that there are so many good people out there worth knowing. If one ever decides to prematurely judge another before giving them a chance to open their mouths and introduce themselves through word and action then it’s a missed opportunity to find another friend on this vast globe. Ryan and I now have connections throughout the entire world of people we can stay with or get help from if we ever need because we’ve made an effort to be inviting and warm. I guess that’s a good lesson I should remember. Well, I don’t guess it is, I know it is.