By Kailyn Mariot
Like many people, travelling abroad has always been camouflaged as a distant and unattainable dream in my mind. Drowning in the impatient and fast-paced current called life, it is incredibly easy to forget the rich diversity that surrounds us. Thanks to the generosity of my grandmother, I was able to experience the trip of a lifetime with her – the first of many.
Through a company called EF Tours, and an excellent music teacher from my high school, my grandmother and I were able to travel to the Alps, Provence, and Barcelona. EF stands for Education First, and their emphasis on this aspect of travelling is what made me, as an art history major, excited beyond belief.
Arriving to Miami International Airport, I had no idea what was in store for us. All I knew was I had about eleven hours until I would be in Europe, most of which would be spent hunched over and fast asleep in an economy class seat. Our first stop was Zurich, Switzerland. Upon arrival, we instantly met up with our tour guide who was eager to embark on the excursion.
The first day in Switzerland was spent exploring the city of Zurich. I was able to see Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows inside of the Fraumaünster church. From Zurich, we travelled by bus to our quaint, traditional hotel nestled within the mountains near Lucerne. To my surprise, the hotel raised their own livestock, and harvested from their very own vegetable garden. The view from the dining room was unlike any other: we were seated straight across from a mountain, overlooking Lake Lucerne. Being up in the mountains, accompanied by chilling temperatures, were experiences entirely new to me, as the highest any land gets in Miami is probably the hills found in Tropical Park.
The following morning, we woke up bright and early in order to visit Mount Pilatus, a mountain named after Pontius Pilate. Legend has it that Pilate threw himself off of this mountain, while locals have ancient records of dragon sightings on the very same mountain. On the way, we were able to make a quick stop in order to visit the Dying Lion Monument, created in honor of the Swiss Guard members lost during the French Revolution. Finally arriving to Mount Pilatus, we each took a ten minute cable car ride up to its summit. Battling the frigid wind and drizzling rain, the views seen in between enormous clouds of fog were breathtaking. The sheer beauty of standing at an altitude that high made me understand why being “on top of the world” is such a popular expression. I believe the only reason I left the top terrace was to find a chance to defrost. Luckily, they sold hot chocolate at the top of the mountain! We then traveled down the mountain on what is the steepest cogwheel railway in the world.
Waking up early once again, our tour traveled from the Swiss Alps down to Italy. Arriving in Lake Como, we all embraced the drastic change in temperature. Strolling around the lake, I was able to taste my first real gelato. After visiting Lake Como’s beautiful cathedral, I shopped my way through the array of street vendors whose prices were a blessing in comparison to those of Switzerland. From Lake Como, we made an unexpected trip to the glamorous city of Milan, where I was overwhelmed by the grandeur of the Milan Cathedral. As if the catwalk through luxury stores like Prada and Louis Vuitton wasn’t enough, the Milan Cathedral was both enormous and incredible to be able to step foot in front of. Its magnificence is only amplified upon entering, and we were able to stroll through the neighboring museum, as well as below the cathedral. After Milan, we continued towards our hotel by stopping in the city of Nice. Unsurprisingly, we enjoyed gelato by the rocky beach after exploring the city’s stark contrast between its older and newer, more commercial areas.
In order to begin our fifth day of travel, we traveled via train towards Cinque Terre, Italy. Being a national park, we were able to appreciate a multitude of gorgeous views of nature. I was able to see flowers and insects I had never before seen. As we were all feeling adventurous, we decided to embark on a small boat ride and definitely, almost literally, got a taste of the Mediterranean Sea. Cold and drenched in sea water, we decided to have lunch right along the beach before leaving to Monterosso, where everyone was able to enjoy the ocean and take a swim.
Ready to head towards France, our first stop the next morning was the principality of Monaco. We were able to visit Grace Kelly’s grave, and the views seen from above were absolutely stunning. Traveling through the ancient town of Eze, we hiked to the top to where the city rested after taking an educational tour of the Parfumerie Fragonard. Concluding our day in Carcassonne, we had dinner within the medieval walls of the historical fortress.
As for my favorite city of all, Barcelona surpassed my expectations through its extravagance. Collectively taking the subway to travel to and from the heart of the city, I was reminded of the bustling nature of New York City. I felt surrounded by art in Barcelona; everywhere I looked, I was able to spot some sort of innovative creation. Parc Güell and La Sagrada Familía are the two most astounding and impressive architectural creations I have ever been lucky enough to experience and appreciate in person. The excessive detail seen from Gaudí’s work was absolutely refreshing, and undoubtedly inspiring.
Overall, our trip was the most incredible and enriching several days in which I have had the immense opportunity to enjoy. EF Tours is extremely accommodating, and encourages travelers to truly “seize the day” while on the tour. I never expected to have been able to embark on a trip like this, but doing so has sparked an intense desire to learn, experience, and enjoy more of life through the art of traveling.
Learn more about EF Tours and check out more photos below.
Photos by Kailyn Mariot
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