Where ya been?

*pauses to catch breath*

Wow it’s been a crazy few weeks.

If you’re my parents, my grandparents, or my girl Sam, you may be wondering why I haven’t blogged recently. Otherwise you probably hadn’t thought about it. But here I am!

I can’t believe it’s been three weeks since my last post, where I reminisced on days alone. Since then, I’ve visited seven cities with a girl who’s had to put up with me for 18 years straight, my lil sis.

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When my parents agreed to let Anna come visit me in Europe, it was clear that they were pretty dang nervous about the whole thing. There was a hot contest between being the cool, adventure-encouraging parents they are and the basic instinct to protect their child.

Admittedly I think that one of the scariest things about sending Anna over was knowing who’d be waiting for her at Arrivals, yours truly.

Yes, I’m a little bit wild. Under my introverted exterior (sounds oxymoronic, huh?) is a girl who will push all boundaries. If you only knew the stories that were censored from this blog for the sake of my future employment…

Yet there I was in the Madrid airport with arms wide open when Anna walked out of the terminal.

If you don’t have a sister, you probably won’t understand this post. I’ve been blessed to have two, and cursed to be the middle child. This post mainly references Anna because Blair has a big girl job and thus could not join us on this excursion.  But of course we think of her every day.

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Less than 24 hours after Anna flew into Madrid, we promptly made our way to my favorite party city in Europe: Barcelona. After five nearly perfect days, I’m psyched to say that she loved it just as much as I do.

Next we flew to a city that I’ve visited three times but didn’t manage to hit earlier this semester: Roma, Italia.

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Despite being overrun with tourists (myself included) Rome is incredible. Our eyes took in lots of ancient ruins while our mouths feasted on tons of pasta, pizza, and for your caffeine-obsessed writer, lots of ristretto.

The next part of our journey gets a little choppy, and will likely make you think “wow Megan is not cut out to be a travel agent” which is correct.

To start, here’s a timeline:

May 18:

22:30- flight from Rome to Athens

May 19:

00:30- Arrive in Athens

6:15- flight from Athens to Chania

8:00 Arrive in Chania

21:30- Boat from Chania to Athens

May 20:

6:00- Arrive in Athens

May 21:

6:15- Flight from Athens to Brussels

After spending the night in the airport, we arrived hazily at the Chania airport on the island of Crete and immediately hit the beach. Along the way we met a delightful pair of canines that stayed with us for the majority of the day.

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At lunch we discovered just how cheap Greece is thanks to the recession. I could go into a Eurozone rant right here but I’ll refrain.

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After a nice beach nap (one that got me thoroughly sunburned) we walked to our overnight boat from Crete to Athens.

This was for sure the worst night of the entire trip (so far). Anna spent most of it wrapped up in a cheap tapestry while I curled up like a dog on a towel. I’m convinced the boat cabin was 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This photo was the only real highlight.

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On Friday morning we arrived in Athens at 6:00am, before the sun was out. Without any Wi-Fi, we were forced to simply follow a gang of locals until we found a train station that took us to the Acropolis.

At this point we had gone two nights without a bed, yet we were about to experience the best moment of our trip.

Sitting on top of a hill by the Acropolis we changed clothes, brushed our teeth, and did our makeup with handheld mirrors.

All while watching the sun rise over the Acropolis #lifegoals

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Our day in Athens was surprisingly pleasant given that we were two Sheets girls on no sleep (scary).

It was a blessing to check into a hostel where we’d be able to lay on an actual bed…until 3:30 on Saturday morning when we had to head to the airport for our 6:15 flight.

At this point I’m positive Anna hated me. Not only had she been stuck with me for two weeks, but I hadn’t let her really sleep for far too long and I was dragging her to Belgium.

But nothing could ruin my reunion with Brussels. We arrived at 9:00 on Saturday and I instantly felt relieved, like I was home. Unfortunately old apartment is gone, but we were lucky enough to be welcomed into the home of one of my SWIFT coworkers.

Anna spent that Saturday in bed fighting a fever while I went to my favorite spot in BXL, Flagey.

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Thought BXL was a pause? Nah. On Sunday afternoon we jumped on a Megabus to Paris.

Anna took French for two years in middle school but somehow managed to say “bonjouR” to the waiter in our first Parisian eating establishment. I was embarrassed but also recognized that French people really are rude…

The weather during our time in Paris was classic Northern Europe, so we were consistently cold and wet.

On Tuesday night I managed to get Anna on a train back to Brussels. Once again, I was home.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent showing Anna my temporary home while letting her get a glimpse into my work life by meeting a couple of my former coworkers. And of course we hit up happy hour at Place Lux.

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Haha you thought I’d be stuck in BXL? Nope, on Friday morning we jumped on a bus to Amsterdam.

Amsterdam was special because for the first time in weeks, we’d be around people our own age: my friends from Mizzou.

Nearly three years ago, the University of Missouri placed me in the College Avenue residence hall. I knew my roommate’s name, I knew I would be living with other journalism majors, and I knew I was terrified.

To this day, though, those CA friends are some of the best I have. And this weekend, I was able to take on Amsterdam with three of my old floormates.

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I think the hardest part of going abroad was knowing that life would continue without me in Columbia. What can I say, I suffer from FOMO on a regular basis. As I sit one week away from leaving Europe, I’m so glad that I had a weekend with these crazy Tigers to remind me of why I’m ready to head home.

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At this very moment I’m sitting in Flagey once again, trying to ignore the fact that I have a mere 24 hours left in Belgium and five days left in Europe. Too little time, too much nostalgia.

Good luck getting me to leave this place!

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6 reasons you should travel alone in your 20s, dissected by an admittedly lonely 20-year-old

I’m currently sitting in a taperia in Madrid surrounded by three empty chairs, making conversation with the straw in my sangria.

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When I realized that I’d have some time alone between Morocco and my sister’s arrival in Europe, I told myself, “I’m a big girl, I’ve been traveling Europe for months, I can handle four days solo.”

I also knew there was a wealth of online literature about “Why you should travel alone in your 20s,” at my fingertips, each post brimming with more wanderlust than the one before.

It’s a romantic idea, exploring a place on your own. You get to do what you want, when you want, where you want. The thought of compromise is nearly nonexistent.

I’ve met a few solo-travelers in the past few months, and while I admired them, I’ve never been confident that I could follow in their solitary footsteps.

But baby I’ve done it. Here’s what I’ve learned versus tips from the good ol’ interwebs:

1. You get to make plans that fit your travel style.

For these few days, I decided to be a little unconventional with my travel schedule because there was no one around to complain except for future-me.

My flight from Tangier arrived in Barcelona on Saturday evening, and by 11pm I was on a night bus to Bilbao on the northern coast of Spain.

The overnight bus sounded like a good idea when I booked it. Skipping the hostel made my wallet happy, but my body wasn’t keen on the plan a couple hours in when I was crammed between a wide neighbor and reclined seat in front of me.

After the excruciatingly long night, I stumbled off the bus at 7am into the fresh sea air and felt like the day was new, even though the previous one had never really ended.

So yes, traveling alone does let you make your own breed of travel plans. However you may, like me, realize that you yourself are not a fan of the type of travel you thought you’d like.

2. You can move at your own speed

If you’ve ever walked anywhere with me, you probably know how important this one is.

I’m an extremely fast walker, and it drives everyone crazy. Anatomically I am 75 percent legs and 25 percent everything else. Thus naturally I just walk faster than you. This issue is only exacerbated by the fact that I am not an idler, I like to get where I’m going. On several weekend trips Sam had to tell me “Okay Megan I like walking fast too but damn slow down.” Frankly, walking slowly (or at a regular person’s “normal speed”) gives me anxiety.

Once off the bus in Bilbao, I stretched my legs by walking a couple kilometers up to the sea. I kept waiting for someone to tell me to slow down, but the complaint never came. This is one part of solo travel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

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3. You eat when you want, not when society tells you to.

It’s been 84 hours since I had Saturday breakfast with my parents, and I’ve only had three meals since.

Given that I consider this to be a food blog, you might find that surprising. But while I love food, I am also exceptionally bad at keeping a regular eating schedule when there’s not someone around to say, “It’s noon, we’re eating.”

My sustenance this week has been a little bit of bread, a little bit of olive oil, a modicum of prosciutto, the incredible rye pancakes pictured below, and a boatload of M&Ms. Once again, no one is complaining.

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4. You can be your own breed of tourist

Despite taking a lot of art classes in high school, I’m not really a museum girl. This semester I’ve spent a lot of time waiting at the exit for those who don’t blow through the way I do (*cough Sam cough*).

However, the main reason I went to Bilbao was to see the Guggenheim.

Photos really don’t do this building justice. Just being able to ogle at it from the outside felt like a treat. I splurged and bought the €9 museum ticket and made the most of it by spending two hours inside enjoying the fact that I was alone so I had no pressure to be anywhere else.

Perhaps I felt like I had met my museum quota because as I was exploring the Prado in Madrid, I felt no remorse skipping the museum.

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5. You’ll be forced to make new friends

Ehhhh this one is false, in my case at least. It has been exceptionally easy to ignore any and all human contact outside of talking to waiters and the hostel check-in people. I can walk down the street with femme-pop blasting through my headphones and no one has the power to bother me.

That being said, I did make a couple fleeting friends on busses and in hostels, because as great as travelling alone is, we all need to ask for a hand sometimes.

For me, these few days were about embracing the silence and leaning into the loneliness. There may have been several times that this happened:

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…but it’s been a long semester with very little alone time, so it was nice to have a few days to get reacquainted with the voice inside my head.

6. You’ll be changed forever

Maybe I didn’t have enough time alone for this to come true, or perhaps I’ve maxed out my capacity for personal change already, but I can’t say that I’m transformed after these few days of hitting the sidewalk solo.

I don’t think that solo travel changes you. I think it’s more likely that the ample headspace forces you to think more than you’re accustomed to. So don’t worry, ya girl is still here, maybe just a little more in touch with herself (and a little more liberal with the selfie stick).

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This solo Spanish experience certainly hasn’t been lively like the trips that preceded it. I can’t say that I have any thrilling stories, and I won’t be posting many pictures to my Facebook album. But I agree with the Internet, everyone should travel alone in their 20s.

That being said, I’m counting down the hours until Anna gets here. Europe, if you think I’m crazy, get ready to meet my sister…

Insha’Allah Morocco

Here’s yet another installment of “holy cow I can’t believe I’m here.”

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That’s right, I needed a little break from Europe so I decided to check out Africa.

I’ve wanted to visit Morocco since I was 13 years old. I remember planning a whole two week trip for my family: transportation, hotels, sightseeing and all, desperate to see the Sahara from the back of a camel. Nearly 8 years later, that dream finally came true.

This is a long post, so I’ll start with a few bullet points for those of you who don’t feel like reading:

  1. Several of my parents’ friends expressed concerns that they were going to an Islamic country, but as of right now the US considers Morocco to be safer than many places in Europe, especially my adopted home in Belgium. A week in Morocco showed why: despite having a wide range of faiths and skin tones, there isn’t really any segregation. Additionally, there is minimal political unrest as the king is widely supported and the government takes good care of the people. Any preconceptions that you have about Morocco being unsafe are likely groundless.
  2. There are cats EVERYWHERE. Apparently the Moroccan people believe that dogs are dirty but cats chase the demons away. Maybe because said demons are scared of cats, I don’t know. But yeah, many cats = happy Megan.

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  1. When speaking about the future, you say “Insha’Allah,” meaning “God willing.” We used is mainly in a context of coming back to Morocco someday.

After four months of traveling with 20-year-olds, it was interesting to make the switch to parental companionship. On the one hand it was a little more stressful because my parents had a much less “let’s just see what happens” attitude than my previous travel buddies (besides Sam, traveling with her often felt like being with my mom).

On the other hand, I was relieved to be eating three full meals a day, not staying in hostels, and spending more than €4 on souvenirs. And I admit they’re pretty good company.

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We arrived in Rabat on Saturday afternoon and were met by our driver for the week, Abdul. This man is a saint, but more on that later.

After taking in a few local landmarks, we began the 4-hour drive to Marrakech. While it sounded long at first, the time passed quickly as gazed out the window at the Moroccan landscape.

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We reached our Riad in Marrakech around 9pm and immediately went exploring with our guide, Abdou. He won me over quickly by turning on his Wi-Fi hotspot so I could reconnect with the world while we walked.

After rounding the medina and having a quick conversation with a monkey we filled up on mountains of traditional Moroccan food like tomato soup, lamb with prunes, saffron couscous, and lemon chicken.  I’m fairly certain it was the biggest meal I’ve had since Christmas, excluding the Budapest buffet and all-you-can-eat tapas in Barcelona.

We spend Sunday exploring the medina and the surrounding area. We stopped into various stores to look at caftans and djellabas, leather shoes, antiques, and most importantly, carpets.

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We walked away from this store with not one, not two, but three Moroccan carpets. That afternoon as I was taking a photo with one monkey, another monkey-handler came up and put his monkey on my other shoulder. These noodle arms are not built for two 20 lb monkeys, let me tell ya.

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The hand in the photo is Abdou’s as he scolds the second monkey handler for trying to scam me with his second monkey. Yes I realize how weird that sentence sounds.

Easier to hold were the snakes, which my dad was too afraid to touch but my mom and I thoroughly enjoyed.

One day in Marrakech definitely wasn’t enough, but on Monday morning we were on the move again, headed up into the Atlas mountains. We broke the 5-hour drive up into segments with short stops at panoramic views and one long stop for lunch in Ait Benhaddou, the location of movies like Prince of Persia and Gladiator and of course, Game of Thrones.

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We arrived in Boumalne Dades as the sun was setting over the mountain range. The serenity was dampened a little bit by the mass of tourist bikers staying in our hotel but they were still better company than the rowdy hostel crew I’m used to.

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One of the biggest culture shocks for me was the lack of alcohol in Morocco. When you walk down the street in Brussels at 11 a.m. you can already see people sipping beer, and by 4:30 it seems like every outdoor bar is filled. In Marrakech, I didn’t see a single alcoholic beverage during the day or at night. Given that it was geared toward tourists, the hotel in Boumalne had a modest wine list with four options, along with two beers.

Being the family that we are, we got tried both beers and got a bottle of wine to share.* At the end of the night, the waiter took a million years to get us the check, and my mom is convinced it’s because he was punishing us for drinking. Not likely, but perhaps.

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Tuesday brought another hefty drive to southern Morocco and perhaps the most highly anticipated part of our trip: camels.

We reached the camel riad in Merzouga a couple hours before we were set to mount up, giving me time to say good bye to my Wi-Fi world and prepare for a night in the Sahara (sounds like a prom theme, huh?)

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I’ve ridden horses since I was a baby, so I wasn’t really nervous about riding a camel. The only thing about the experience that surprised me is that I felt none of my typical animal feelings toward this beast that I named Carl.

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As you may know, I am obsessed with animals. When we saw a group of five spaniels in Paris I literally started crying. After this many months away from my pets, I would probably coo at a rabid hamster if I met it on the street. But this camel? Nothin. It was mangey and weird and the dessert was covered in its poop.

Our Sahara-saunter took about 45 minutes, but out there in the dunes it felt like time didn’t exist. After dismounting, we climbed (nay, struggled) up a large dune with old snowboards and slid down 150 feet. Needless to say I got a lot of sand in my pants.

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We shared the campsite with an Arabic couple and a family of four from Rabat. The couple didn’t speak any English or French, but the family spoke Arabic, French, and some English, so we were all able to communicate pretty well as we sat around a short dinner table eating family-style.

The two girls from Rabat were around 7 and 9 years old and admittedly made me feel very inadequate as they could speak several different languages and managed to stay up later than I did (I’ll blame it on the altitude sickness).

The next morning, slow from the fever that I’d been fighting all week and sore from the previous day’s camel ride, I can’t say I much enjoyed the commute home on my buddy Carl. It was nice to finally shower off when we got back to the hotel.

Wednesday was our longest car-commute, around 7 hours from Merzouga to Fes.

Unfortunately, Wednesday was also the day that our relationship with Abdul got rocky. In the middle of the drive we got stopped at a police checkpoint where a power-hungry officer noticed that yours truly was not wearing her seatbelt (oops). He attempted to get a bribe from Abdul, who refused and took a ticket instead.

Not one hour after that we stopped at a panorama and my dad accidentally slammed the car door into a median not once but twice, making poor Abdul’s day worse. It was a brand new car. *wince*

The Riad in Fes was an incredible three stories of carved plaster, stained cedar, and authentic furniture. As we waited for dinner to be prepared, my dad decided to ignore the advice that we had gotten from LITERALLY everyone and went exploring in the medina. He got lost, just like everyone said he would.

The next morning we went out with our guide, Rasheed, and it became very clear why everyone told us not to go out in the Medina alone: the streets aren’t marked and they all look the same.

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Thankfully Rasheed was able to navigate us to a very important locale: the tannery.

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I am bit of a leather jacket fiend. I’m also the luckiest chick in the world, because I walked away from the tannery with a custom burgundy leather jacket.

That night we went out for dinner and ended up getting lost on the way home. That place is really a maze.

On Friday we took our final car journey with Abdul up to Tangier in the coast. Before dinner we went up to the Kasbah, known for housing famous people like Jack Kerouac, Yves Saint Laurent, and Keith Richards (whom our tour guide called “Kief” because of all the stuff he smoked).

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Saturday we woke up, ate our final Moroccan breakfast and took in our last few breaths of Moroccan air before heading to the airport.

It was a beautiful week, Morocco. Insha’Allah.

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*My family members would just like to note that we are not a family of drunks, we were merely curious to try what the region had to offer.

Au Revoir MUBXL

Four months ago today, my dad dropped me on the curb at DFW airport with two stuffed suitcases and a heart full of anxiety.

When I found out I had been accepted into the Brussels program in November, I didn’t really tell anyone. I didn’t feel remotely prepared to pack up my life in Columbia for an entire semester abroad. I spent the next couple months dreading the trip, and didn’t really feel actual excitement until the wheels were up.

My anxiety wasn’t about the independence, because I’ve always had a little too much of that. I was more worried that I’d be living with 15 girls whom I had never met before. That’s right, this girl went to a foreign country and her biggest fear was the people coming with her.

If you recall my first blog post, my Belgium experience began pretty rocky with a couple of lost suitcases. But when I finally got to the apartment, I was greeted by the girl who would become my ride-or-die, as they say, Miss Sam Kummerer. She said she and my other love, Hanna (who was napping, of course) had waited for my arrival to go out and explore.

This was my first Instagram post in Brussels, taken with a jet-lagged hand.
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Over the course of the semester I’ve passed this spot a dozen times (usually on the way to Delirium) and it doesn’t get old.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that a lot of other girls on the trip felt similar anxiety about fitting in and making friends. Within five minutes of meeting Sam she told me that she’d travel by herself if she couldn’t find anyone to go with her. Lol Sam, as if you could survive alone.

It’s important to note that our class was made up of 15 girls and one token boy. That’s a lot of estrogen, people, especially for a girl like me whose friends are mainly male. But getting to know each of them was a privilege, and can promise you that I’ll miss them all.

It’s been one week since the program ended. Half of us have already gone home and half are spending a few weeks here with their parents. I’m sitting in a tent in the Sahara reminiscing about the semester and wishing I had the Wi-Fi to tweet something with #mubxl

At the end of my Moroccan adventure I’m excited to welcome my little sister across the pond and show her the incredible world I’ve experienced here, but it won’t be the same without my mubxl-ers.

Thanks for a dope semester, Tigers, and see y’all on campus next year.

The water…

There really is something in the Croatian water.
This blog post is over a week late, but it’s been typed out on my phone since I was on the plane back from Zagreb so I figure I might as well share it.
We booked our trip to the Dalmatian coast back in January, when the Brussels chill made Croatian beaches sound impossibly appealing. Just our luck, though, Croatia had an uncharacteristic rainy weekend, squashing any chance of a sunburn. Oh well, the country was still impossibly beautiful.
We arrived on Friday night around 10 and immediately hit the Bacvice beach clubs. It only took a few minutes to realize that Croatia is a super cheap country. In my #mubxl class this semester we learned that Croatia joined the EU in 2013, but hasn’t yet entered the Eurozone, so they use Kuna, which have a conversion rate of 7.49 to 1 (yes please).
It was raining when we woke up on Saturday morning, but that didn’t stop us from hitting up Mereda, or Croatian brunch. We feasted on meatballs, stuffed peppers, stuffed zucchini, and a mountain of mashed potatoes for only €6 each (once again, yes please).
In the afternoon, the sun finally came out. As we walked along the Adriatic coast, we made the impromptu decision to jump into the icy Adriatic. I consider myself somewhat of a cliff-jumping veteran after dozens of summers in Colorado, so I took off first (after 10 minutes of panicking):
Jumping into the ocean in your underwear on a whim is exhilarating (or maybe that feeling came from the cold water?¿)
On Saturday night we found ourselves back on Bacvice, this time for the pizza (Croatia is adjacent to Italy, after all). We then spent the night with other travelers in the hostel.
On Sunday morning we made the trek up to Krka National Park to see the waterfalls:
For lunch, our guide brought us to a local restaurant where we ate unlimited prosciutto, cheese, bread, pickles, and olives. Also included: bottomless house wine and grappa (yikes). I’m going to refrain from commenting on the amount of alcohol that was consumed at that farm table.
A booking snafu meant that I spent Sunday night at a different hostel than my friends, which was actually cool because we got to meet a new group of people and the hostel owner, Josko, was one of the top 10 coolest people I’ve met on this trip.
On Sunday, our schedule was open, so we slept in, ate breakfast made by Josko’s mom before hiking up to a couple different panoramas above Split.
Josko took us up to Klis Fortress on Monday night for archery and to pretend like we’re in Game of Thrones. It was freezing.
Monday dinner was pasta made by Josko and his adorable daughters. When the hostel crew turned on the new GOT episode, Sam and I checked out a local bar.
Tuesday morning started early with a 4:45 ride to the airport, where I learned that my flight was actually booked for the following day. We’re not going to talk about how expensive that oopsie was /:
Our layover in Zagreb was a hefty seven hours giving us ample time to spend the few Kuna we had left.
20 of this kuna went to the Museum of Broken Relationships, which exhibits different pieces and anecdotes about people’s personal experiences with love and loss. I spent over an hour in the museum just bathing in all of the feelings I’ve ever had about my own relationships. That kind of experience cannot be put into words, but I would strongly recommend you visit.
We finally reached Brussels at 6pm, ready to tear up our final days in the city as MUBXL-ers.