Monday, June 25, 2012

Free Travel 1: Paris

6:50 came quickly and I rolled off my bed, put on my hat, and my jeans, and my shoes. Then I brushed my teeth, packed my backpack back up, documented with a couple pictures, and then headed to the lobby to meet everyone and check out. We were out of there before the sun was fully up! We walked a few blocks away and got out our maps to try to figure out where the Etap hotel was, and how to get there from where we were. Maggie called and found out that they had five rooms left, so we booked four of them. We still weren't sure how to get there though, and due to the lack of sleep, lack of food, and abundance of stress, tempers were short and tears were abundant - at least with some of the people in my group. We decided we were going to take the metro, so a couple people found maps of the metro - but they couldn't find the corresponding street with the right metro stop. It may be that I'm a third born child, it may be that I was with William, or it may be that I was in a  group of ten people.. but whatever the reason, I was probably one of three or four people not freaking out. Luckily, God is GOOD! He decided to send us an angel and out of nowhere (literally) came a sweet lady who spoke English, had a map of the metro and the streets above, and was able to tell us exactly how to get to where we needed to go. She walked right up and offered her assistance, and then was gone as soon as we were oriented. To celebrate God's goodness, we went to Starbucks. :) I got a donut and a vanilla frappuccino. We all relaxed a bit while we ate, and then we headed out to give the metro a try. We bought 2day passes and then took our first ride. We all had our packs with us, and since it was "rush-hour" the first two trains we passed up because they were stuffed full. The third train came just as full, but we manned up and shoved our way on. These crowds were unbelievable - they literally just packed in right up against each other. They didn't smell good whatsoever, and personal space did NOT exist. If you've ever been caught in a crowd in Vegas outside oh, say, the Pirate show at Treasure Island... multiple that by four or five and you've got the metro in Paris. Multiple times I had to press my face in against Will's arm to get a breath that didn't reek and remind myself I was OK. After that lovely ride, we got out and walked about a half mile or so to our new hotel. When we got there most of us hadn't showered for a couple days, we were still wearing our clothes from the day before, and honestly we would have liked to have freshen up a bit before hitting the city. The lady at the desk gave us an option - pay twenty euro to check in early, or pay twenty euro to store our bags. Tough choice.. right? Well, in the commotion and stress we somehow ended up paying the 20 euro to store our bags. HA. Life went on, and we headed back down to the subway. We took a couple trams and finally got into the middle of Paris! We walked to the Opera house and took some pictures. Half of the group wanted to pay to go in and look around, and the other half was ready for lunch. So we split into two groups and went our separate ways. I was ready for lunch, and so was William, Kelsey, Jordan, and Britt. We decided to meet back up with the group at 2, and went and found a little Chinese restaurant to eat at. After we met back up we headed to Musee D'Orsay which is famous for it's impressionism collection. On the way there we stopped so that William and Jordan could get crepes. Once we got to the museum and got in through security, (an adventure since Britt liked to store all his food he traveled with in the many pockets of his red jacket and his cargo pants... lol) we split off into little groups to look at whatever we wanted. William and I set off in search of Monet since this museum housed many of his original works and I love Monet... but he was very elusive. We saw a lot of the galleries, but couldn't find his. Until thirty minutes before we were supposed to meet up, of course. If you ever go he is on the fifth floor ;) It was really cool seeing his art work in person. When we left Musee D'Orsay it had started raining. We headed to the Notre Dame but by the time we got there it was pouring rain. We spent over an hour inside, and I took a TON of pictures. It was incredible, I loved sitting down during a service and just taking it all in. Great experience. The rain was still dumping when we left, so we ran across the street to a restaurant for dinner. Will's order got messed up - actually they just forgot to put it in, so he didn't get to eat. After dinner we split up into three groups. Some of the girls went to see the Moulin Rouge; Jordan, Britt, Brandi, and Kelsey headed back to the hotel to try and check in (but weren't able to because the reservation was under Maggie's name), and William and I went to get him some dinner. We went to a pizzeria that took FOREVER to make him some pizza. It was still raining when we were done, and the wind was blowing hard and was bitter cold.. so we ended up heading to the hotel to wait with the others for the girls to get there to check us in. They had decided to go to the Arc di Triumph and the Eiffel Tower so we waited for a while, but had fun just hanging out in the lobby. It was an exciting and exhausting first day in Paris. I made some incredible memories, and that night I got to sleep in a double bed and I didn't even have to share it with anyone. (p.s. that shower felt SO good after a couple days no showering and walking around Pari!!) Up next... Paris day two!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Switzerland And One CREEEPY Night In Paris!!

Tuesday morning I got up around 8 to get ready, and then met everyone in the lobby around 9:30. We headed to the train station and got our reservations for our train to Paris, and we got some Franks out of the ATM. Then we split into two groups and set out for our day. When we walked out of the grain station we found a lake with some swans and ducks. We stopped to take pictures and a couple of them came over towards us looking for a snack. I got some of my smooshed crackers out of my bag and threw the crumbs out towards them. Pretty soon there was probably a couple hundred birds begging to be fed. The swans were probably my favorite part of our stay in Luzern(Lucerne). Then we walked around and took some pictures until we came to a Rolex/everything expensive store. Katie and Maggie wanted to get some knives (Swiss army knives that is), so we headed into the store. At 11:30 we headed out to find something to eat, but every restaurant we came to was super expensive. We ended up stopping at a cafe, where I purchases (what was supposed to be) a cinnamon roll, a normal, delicious-looking roll, and a piece of pizza. I ordered cheese pizza and was given a piece of pizza with a bunch of vegetables on it. I ate it anyway, though after a couple bites I peeled the peppers and cheese off. I was a little offended when the little waitress lady told me I couldn't drink my water bottle in there, simply because I didn't buy it there. Rude. The "cinnamon" roll was very lemony and gross, but I ate at least half of it. The roll, however, was amazing. One of the most delicious things I'd had to eat in a long time. (Maybe not, but it was SO good) After lunch we went to a chocolate shop where I treated myself to some delicious Swiss chocolate. After we were done shopping there we headed to a souvenir shop and bought some little trinkets. Once we completed our shopping excursion we headed out across a really old bridge. I took a lot of pictures, and we played with the swans again. Then we decided to get some Starbucks while we sat in the sun and soaked up some vitamin D. After a half-hour or so we headed back to our hotel to pick up our backpacks and then headed to our train station. We took a hope on train, and then we switched over to a French train that we had reservations for. Upon arriving in Paris we first went in search of an ATM so that we could have money to pay our Taxis since we were staying out in the boonies. Unfortunately, we couldn't find one because they don't apparently have an ATM in the Paris train station. Anyway, we caught our taxis and headed to our hotel. We drove for about 15 minutes and even though my group of three was not in the first taxi to leave, we were the first to arrive at our "hotel." It was off one of the bigger roads, but it wasn't in a very pleasant area. My first impression was "this is sketchy." We waited outside for about five minutes before the next taxi arrived. We waited another few minutes and when the other taxi still hadn't shown up William called to make sure they were okay. (Mostly because that taxi had left first and was a group of three girls). He finally got a hold of Maggie who said that the driver had taken them to the wrong zone, but that they were on their way. Once they arrived we went in and got our rooms. The hotel didn't look any better on the inside. The whole building seemed to be caving in, the stairs especially leaned in towards the middle. There was no elevator, it had a tiny lobby, and the whole place smelled bad. My "intuition" wasn't very happy, and when the gentlemen checking us in reminded us three or four times to leave our keys with him while we went out for the day I instantly feared leaving my things in my room. Britt (who joined our group the evening before we left for free travel, so wasn't included in the number we gave the hotels for our reservations) was supposed to get a room at the same hotel after we checked in. We had one room of three, one room of four, and one room of two. William and Jordan were in the room of two; Brandi, Kelsey, Amanda and I were in the room of four, and Katie, Maggie, and Jenna were in the room of three. While we were getting our bags put into our smelly, very red rooms, Britt came in and said that the gentlemen at the desk told him all the rooms were booked. Either he had to sleep in one of our rooms or he was going to have to go to a different hotel. I told him not to worry, that we would figure it out. In our room we had three single beds and one double, so I knew we could rearrange to make it all work out. We went to the room of three girls with all three guys and told them the situation. We decided to put the guys in the room of three, and two girls in the room of two, with five in the room that had originally held four. Crises averted. It was getting late and there was wifi in the lobby, so almost everyone was down there. Most of the group wanted to leave at 8 in the morning, so I decided I should probably go to sleep. I was talking to Jordan on the stairs when Jenna came up and said that we were going to have a group meeting in the guys room upstairs. When everyone got up to the room, Katie got everyone's attention and said, "We need to checkout in the morning. This needs to be the only night we stay here." Turns out there were almost 50 reviews of the hotel and all were negative reviews. (Apparently the hotel bookers forgot to look at those before booking us for three nights) There were multiple reviews complaining that the hotel workers would go through their stuff while they were out for the day, and a couple even said that they stole some of their things. Some we all agreed, we should probably get out of there. That and a few of the other hotel guests was enough to give us all the heebie-geebies about staying there for very long. Luckily we found an Etap hotel and decided to try our luck there for the next few nights, so long as they had rooms available. Unfortunately, when we called them that night the desk worker didn't speak any English, so we couldn't see what they had available. (Not to mention it was after midnight). We changed the sleeping arrangement yet again, and put Jordan on the floor of Brandi and Kelsey's room to be their protector. The room with five girls put a table in front of the door, and William and Britt (both over 6'2) were together in their room. The girls in the big room tried to decide what to do for the five hours we might sleep. After pulling back the covers and finding someone else's hair in my bed, I decided to sleep fully clothes on top of the covers. Call me crazy, but that is just one of those things that makes me go EWWWWW. Then I laid down and slept curled up in a little ball for a couple hours..
Paris Day One next ;)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Free Travel Day Two: Salzburg, Austria

Monday morning I slept in until about 8:45, then I got up and started getting ready and packing up my stuff. Check out was at 10 o'clock that morning, but thankfully the hotel had a storage where they let us keep our backpacks (with no additional fee). Kelsey, Brandi, Katie, Maggie, and Amanda went on the Sound of Music Tour, so they had to meet the group for pickup at 9 o'clock. William, Jenna, Jordan, Britt and I took care of checking out of the hotel, and then we went to get our train reservations for later that evening. We met in the lobby and headed back over to McDonalds to get breakfast because the hotel breakfast (which coast an extra 5.50 euro) was closing down as we were about to eat. Unfortunately, McDonald's stopped serving breakfast just as we got there, so we all had lunch for breakfast. Well, except for Britt because he had gone down early to get breakfast at the hotel, and I bought a donut as we were heading out. After breakfast we walked to the train station which took us probably about forty-five minutes. The latest train we could book left at 4:02, and since we were supposed to meet up with the girls at 3:00 we didn't have a ton of time on our hands. So we walked through town and did some shopping in the pouring rain/snow. My pumas were completely soaked through, as were the socks I was wearing (two pairs of wool socks!), so I was feeling pretty miserable. Luckily we walked past a store having a huge sale on shoes, so I got a pair of boots for 5 euro and felt much better after that. We kept walking until we found a restaurant that looked decently priced and that had wienerschnitzel. Then we stopped and had lunch probably around 1:45-2. It was funny how our first reaction was to answer our waiter's questions in Italian, even though we were speaking English to one another, and he clearly spoke German. I was pretty happy I remembered how to say a couple simple things in German from two summers ago! He asked Jordan a question, and when Jordan answered in Italian he (Jordan) got the funniest expression on his face. He turned around to the rest of us after the waiter had left and said, "I've probably got this guy so confused! He doesn't know what language he should be trying to speak to me!"After lunch we walked back to the hotel to meet the up with the girls, pick up our backpacks, and head to the train station. I loved watching the Austrian countryside flashing by out the window as we went zipping by on our train heading to Lucerne. The clouds and rain and fog made it look so cozy out! I wanted to take pictures but the train was moving too quickly. It's a wild, mystical beauty with the huge mountains the shoot up from the flat countryside. It's so striking! Also the huge pine trees that make up the dark patches of forest, like a fairy-tale. I love Austria; I wish I could have spent a few more days in Austria. We got off of our Austrian train and hopped on to a Swiss one - apparently on Swiss trains you don't get to make reservations. You just jump on and hope to find a seat, which we did. Our second train was only 50 minutes long. When we got on the train I started to not feel very well, and when we got off I was feeling even worse. The group stopped at a burger king right at the station when we pulled in, but it was really expensive and they wouldn't let me get a kid's meal. So William and I didn't get dinner that night. When everyone was finished eating we got taxis and headed to our hotel. We had three rooms of three at this hotel, which was an Etap Hotel (college kid friendly). It was funny, I walked in and I saw the bed, and the sink, and the shower all in one room. I was like.. OH. Luckily the toilet was closed off, though the door was missing it's handle so there was a big ol' hole in the door. Privacy was clearly not a top priority in the room, but at least it wasn't a communal bathroom! I went to bed pretty early, and fell asleep quickly.

Looking back, I really wish I could have done more in Salzburg. Yes, I was there, but I didn't get to see anything. I enjoyed being there, despite the rain, but I'd definitely like to go back.

Free Travel: Venice - Saturday & Sunday

(from my journal) Saturday afternoon we made our way from the Villa to the train station in Florence. I'm proud to say my backpack really isn't that heavy! I will probably run out of clothes before the end of the week, but I plan on re-wearing some things! My "frontpack" is really heavy right now because it's got my telephoto lens, my wide-angle lens adapter, and all my snacks. Anyway, we took a train to Mestre, the station right outside of Venice, because our hotel was located in Mestre. In our group of ten, we had to take three cars. There were seven people in car four, William and I were in car five, and Britt (who got his reservation about an hour before the train left) was in car six. I don't know if he fell asleep or if he just didn't understand us when we said get off at the stop before Venice, but when the rest of us got off, he did not. So when we all met up, the first thing we noticed was that Britt was missing. We decided to try and figure out the best way to get to our hotel while we tried to get ahold of Britt, who wasn't answering his phone. We figured that he would probably try to get ahold of us once he got off in Venice and realized none of the rest of us were there. At the station they only had maps of Venice, which didn't really help us navigate Mestre, so we ended up taking three taxis to our hotel. We checked into our rooms, and then took the hotel shuttle into Venice. Britt was supposed to stay at the station in Venice until we got there, but he misunderstood us again and ended up back in Mestre. He eventually met up with us in Venice though, and after that he paid very good attention to where we said our stop was. Poor guy!! Even though it was dark, we walked in across the big bridge by the train station and stopped by the water. William took me to a ristorante/pizzaria right on the water while everyone else ate their "sack suppers." (Will and I ate them pretty early on the train ride over because we were hungry!) We finished dinner about nine and then went to get some gelato!! After gelato we walked up and down the main street by the water and looked at shops. We ran into Mont, Possey, Barrett, Weston and Emily on the way, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves! They were taking a night train out of Venice a few hours later. A couple minutes after saying goodbye to them we ran into Emily, Karli, and Abby. We talked to them for a minute or two, and then continued back up the street. Once we got back close to the restaurant we ate at, we ran into Kyle and Summer, and then the rest of our group, and then Alex and Lynn. We hung out and talked to everyone for probably almost an hour before we split off again to go look at some more of Vince before we had to meet the shuttle. We sat in front of a church on a bench for a little bit, but when a lesbian couple started making out on the steps in front of it, we decided to head back towards the bus. We met back up with our shuttle, which was kind of like a party bus - it had blue lights on the inside, a sparkly floor, and they were playing popular American music. We got back to our hotel, Villa Dori, hung out for a while and then headed to bed.
We got up about 7 the next morning and took the shuttle (and our backpacks) into Venice about 9. First we got our train reservations for a 1:30 train headed towards Salzburg. Then we broke up into two groups and walked around Venice. We saw some big, special bridge and then went to San Marco church. It was HUGE and really pretty, but since it was Sunday we just took a few pictures from the outside. After that we went to get some lunch and stopped so a couple girls could shop, on the way back towards the train station. We caught our first of two trains without any issues. It was about a five hour train ride, and it was exciting because we had two compartments to split between our group. It reminded us all of the Hogwarts Express. I really do enjoy traveling by train! Good thing too because I will be on them a lot this week!! We switched trains after five hours, and then took a two hour train ride into Salzburg. It was a lot of fun watching everything go from Italian to German, though it was a little harder to decipher the messages. It was also fun going through the alps, I LOVE the mountains, though they always make me feel homesick. Once we got to Salzburg we took taxies to our hotel, got our rooms, and then some of us went out to get dinner. Since it was around ten when we got in, there wasn't a lot close by that was open. We ended up eating at a McDonals, but it was an awesome McDonalds. They had free wifi too, which was a plus. I got to text my family and that was a nice little treat :) After McDonalds we went back to the hotel and went to bed!

A couple of details that I left out:

While in Venice, William, Katie and I decided to skip down the street, we actually got a lot of smiles and it was fun! hahaha :)
When we first got there and we were standing on the huge bridge, I waved at a boat going bye. A guy on board started whistling at me, and then waved back! Aaaaand then.,.
While we were walking by some restaurants on the way back to the train station in Venice, there was a friendly host/waiter guy who said to me, "Ahh, Bella! Can I come with you?! Just say yes!" As we were walking by, so I said "Yes!" to which he said, "Ah, Mia! My last day to work here! Let me hang up my coat!" And started taking his little jacket off hahahaha.. silly lil guy!

Well, I had a great time in Venice, though another day or even a few more hours would have been nice!! Beautiful, fun place! Next up - Salzburg!

Kortney Alacyn

Saturday, March 3, 2012


Hey all!

I'm about to go on a big old adventure!! In about 30 minutes I'll be leaving the Villa and taking a train to Venice! I'll stay there tonight and spend most of tomorrow there before catching a train and heading over to Salzburg! I'm really looking forward to being back in Austria, even though it's supposed to be pretty chilly! After a day in Salzburg I'll be on my way to a day in Lucerne, Switzerland!! And last but not least I'll jump over to Paris, France! Spend a couple days in Paris and be back here next Friday/Saturday! Between now and then, WHO knows what could happen?! It's going to be exciting no matter what! We're setting out today as a group of ten: Katie, Maggie, Kelsey, Brandi, Jenna, Amanda, William, Britton, Jordan, and me! :)

I'm really excited, but I only have ONE memory card to get me through the whole week. AHH. that's probably what I'm the most anxious about, the rest I know is going to work out :) Keep me, my group, and the other groups all in your prayers!! I'll do my best to journal about everything we do so I can share it all with you later! Thanks for hanging in there with me and my sporadic blogging!!!

Lots of love,

Kortney Alacyn

....Joshua 1:9; Jeremiah 29:11....

Monday, February 27, 2012

San Valentino ♥

Okay, so Valentines Day! 

Valentines Day we started out with classes. Then we had an INCREDIBLE chapel, with the message presented by Jordan. It was so good. I recorded it and I am so glad that I did. Jordan is one incredible young man, I'm really glad to be getting to know him. He's been a great friend so far!! And his message was heartwarming. In fact, it brought Robbie to tears. Jordan is just so very genuine! 

After chapel it was time for lunch. We were instructed to dress nice for San Valentino, so the guys were looking spiffy and the girls pretty classy. (or at least we weren't in t-shirts). The ladies went in and were seated (there were name tags), and then the guys were announced by Kyle piccolo. (That's how we distinguish between Kyle who works here {piccolo} and Kyle the student {grande}). They walked in with roses for each of the girls, and serenaded us with HUF Girls (My Girl) before presenting each of us with a rose. After lunch we had some free time, where we did some homework and hung out. 

For dinner William took me out to a cute little ristorante near the Duomo. As we were walking in he bought me a couple of roses from a street vender. We had some good pizza for dinner and then walked around Fiorenze for a while. We stopped and got some gelato on our way back in. Overall, it was a very nice night. :) 

When we got back, it was bed time! I think.. it's been so long I don't really remember. But I know nothing more eventful happened after that. 

And that's what happened on Valentines Day in Italy! 

I'm about to run into town (well, walk into town) to get some groceries. I'll try and get on soon, but the rest of the week is super packed and starting Saturday I'll be gone on my first FREE TRAVEL!!! SO excited. But I do have to tell you all about Rome and about the Opera and everything else that's happened in the last two weeks. I'M SO BEHIND!!! 

Until next time... 

Kortney Alacyn

Friday, February 17, 2012

"I'm Behind, Rewind"


Welll. So much for staying on top of this whole blogging thing. It's definitely been over a week now. And, of course, so much has happened in that small amount of time! Let's see... where did I leave off.

Okay, Thursday.
Thursday I woke up early(ish) because we had to be out of our rooms by 9 o'clock. I got up and got ready and took my bags to the room where we were storing them. Then I went downstairs and got some breakfast. The rest of the day I spent eating, taking pictures, and relaxing. Katie, Maggie, Amanda and I took a nice walk and had a snow ball fight which was fun. After that we spent some time in the TeaRoom just talking and relaxing. When it was time to head home, we all piled on the bus. I sat up close to the front, and let me just say, that was a terrifying experience!!! I do not know how we got home without hitting anything because it was close just about every single turn we came within inches of a wall or a car or the edge of a cliff. Eventually I had to just close my eyes, and turn on my music. I sat by William on the way home, and he slept most of the ride too. (though he had a bit more of an excuse since he'd actually been skiing all three days, and took a pretty rough fall on the second day).
When we got home we had dinner and unpacked. The rest of the night... I honestly don't remember. But I know I was exhausted for some reason.

Friday morning I had my first class at 9, and finished up with classes by lunch time. After lunch I got ready and then my group was shuttled down to the bus stop where we took Bus 6 into Florence. We waited in a piazza for our onsite teacher to join us, and then we headed to an artisan's shop. The artist that we visited works with metal and has some big clients in the US. He makes logos for clothing companies and designers, makes jewelry, and SO much more. It was really neat to see his shop where he has worked since he was between fifteen and seventeen years old. He was the sweetest man, too! I loved looking around his shop, and I loved listening to him talk about his work. He didn't speak English, the passion with which he spoke made it obvious that he loves what he does. After we were done at the shop we went to get a cappuccino while we waited for our next onsite teacher to meet us. When she arrived we finished our drinks and then headed to the shop to make our Carnevale masks. The young lady who was the master at the shop had already prepared the masks for us to decorate. She showed us the steps in creating them, and it took me back to making the plaster balloon when I was five. Decorating the mask was a lot of fun. I wish I were more artistic because some of the designs people made were so cool, but overall I was pretty happy with how mine turned out. :) After we were finished with our masks, about 7:30 if I remember correctly, we were free to go get dinner in Florence. Me, Kyle, Katie, and Maggie headed back to Scandicci where we had pizza at one of our favorite little pizzarias. We went back to Scandicci because I was supposed to meet up with William, but I couldn't get my Italian phone to work. We ended up running into him and Jenna at one of the bus stops on the way back to the Villa, so it all worked out.

What happened Saturday. I can't remember.. THIS IS SO FRUSTRATING!! I know we had classes until lunch, but after that I have no idea what happened. Hmmm. It's possible that I went and got groceries with Amanda and William Saturday afternoon and made it back in time for dinner. After that... I don't know.

Sunday we were going to go to Florence for worship, but we ended up staying in because of the snow. We had our own church service at the Villa and then Bible. At six thirty we had a song night with some members from the Florence church and the mayor and his family. Then we had dinner with a ton of people, and then we had a concert. A band called Metamorphosis came to the villa and played for us. They were wonderful!! They played jazz and some traditional Italian songs for us. Afterwards we had snacks and just socialized for a while.

Monday morning we headed out to one of the local high schools in Scandicci. We had a "language exchange" with them. They helped us with our italian homework, and we helped them with some english homework. We also taught them a song. Lean On Me. haha. It was an interesting experience. I got paired up with a young man named Mirko.  He was nice, but shy. His English was good, but he seemed a little hesitant to use it. As the class went on he seemed to get a little more comfortable with it, and he definitely helped me with my Italian homework. After that we headed back to the Villa for the rest of our classes and lunch. After lunch we had a few "free" hours before we had dinner. Dinner was basically a party! The kids from the high school came and had dinner and played games with us. It was a lot of fun. I met some friends, and even got invited to go to a pub with some of them. I played soccer with one of the guys for a little bit and found out that apparently girls don't really play soccer in Italy. It's a guy sport. SO he was impressed ;) haha. Another thing that I've noticed is that EVERYONE in Italy smokes. We walked out of class while everyone was on break and probably between 70-80% of the kids there were smoking. Some even took smoke breaks during class. It seems to crazy to me. Anyway, Monday was a good day.

Actually, I have to go get ready, so I'll tell you about Valentines Day next time!!! :)