Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Skydiving in Interlaken

I had signed on for Interlaken, Switzerland for my last weekend trip ready to participate in some extreme sports. What I didn't know was that I would be jumping out of a helicopter 14,000 feet in the air within an hour of being there.

For an entire week before leaving I had been wrestling with the idea of skydiving. I had about a hundred different people in my head influencing my decision. I received opinions from every end of the spectrum: my Florence friends said to do it, my mom said no way, my dad said no but he probably would do it, and many people reiterated how dangerous it was. It was not until the train-ride into Switzerland and seeing the breathtaking scenery when I decided for myself that if I was ever going to skydive in my life, it would be over the Swiss Alps.

Upon checking into our unique hostel, the Funny Farm, the clerk pointed us in the direction of the adventures booking desk. Hearing that the rest of the weekend had a chance of rain, Bill, Tim, Liz, Molly, Megan and I immediately checked out what excursions were available for that day. To our luck, there was a skydiving slot open in 30 minutes, giving us only enough time to throw our bags in our room and catch the bus to the Skydive Interlaken site.

Immediately after getting off of the bus, we had to go through certain precautions before the real fun could start. This involved learning the proper skydiving positions (back arched, arms out), filling out paperwork signing away our lives, pairing up into groups of two (to which I was with Liz, my partner in crime) and suiting up into a bright orange jumpsuit that made me look like a convict. After a little more time waiting around and taking numerous pre-death pictures, it was time for Liz and I embark on the greatest thrill of our lives.

Standing outside the helicopter, we were boiling over with excitement and nerves to the point where we were jumping around like two children on a sugar high. The two of us chest bumped and then climbed into the helicopter next to our respective divers who strapped themselves to our backs to assist us in our free-fall.

I was attached to a New Zealander named Andrew who undoubtedly thrived on the sport based on the permanent grin attached to his face. As the helicopter slowly rose off of the ground he asked me if I remembered his name. To this I responded, “yes, Andrew, I am not going to forget the name of the person solely in charge of my life.” To this, he chuckled and before I knew it we were way above ground.

Looking down at the view, my excitement endured a drastic change. A nervous excitement had no longer energized me. The experience had finally hit me, and the beauty that surrounded me shot chills throughout my body. One of my pant legs had been slightly pulled up to where cool wind was uncomfortably hitting my bare skin, but no distraction could take my attention away from the scenery.

The Alps were magnificent chiseled gray rocks with white peaks surrounded by white fluffy clouds. The rolling mountains of forest green presented a contrast to the vibrant, kelly green pastures. Also visible were the crystal clear waters of the two lakes that encompass Interlaken. Never before had I seen so many vivid colors of nature all put together in one single scene.

Before I knew it, Andrew informed me that it was time to jump. All the anticipation had built up to this moment and I could not wait to be immersed into this scene without the restrictions of the helicopter walls. I quickly scooted over to the ledge and we dropped so suddenly that I barely had time to catch my breath.

My heart immediately dropped while adrenaline along with a cool wind chill overtook my body. I blanked and completely forgotten everything the instructors’ had told us before diving. Luckily, my body automatically flailed to an arch and we were soaring through the sky. After the initial shock of falling, my fear was gone. Due to the fact that the atmosphere looked so surreal, it didn’t seem as if I were plummeting to my death. Before I knew it, the parachute opened slightly whipping us up and I was suddenly calmed with relief.

On the way down to land, I was able to relax and enjoy the scene even more while feeling the Switzerland breeze against my face. We hit the ground in a surprisingly smooth fashion and it felt good to be back on land.

After detaching myself from Andrew, I ran to embrace Liz. We both had the same “jumpy” excitement as before, only this time we were on a high knowing that we had just shared the same amazing experience.

Skydiving in the first hour of being there was the best welcome that Interlaken could have possibly given me.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Upon arriving to Rome, I knew that the one thing I wanted to see was the Vatican. I heard from several sources that getting in required waiting in an endless line of tourists. Prepared for hours of waiting, Liz Caskey and I woke up earlier than college students ever should, and made our way to Vatican City. We soon realized that this so called “long line” was just and myth and really only took twenty minutes. Now having the whole day ahead of us, Liz and I ended up getting more out of Rome in one day than we had anticipated.

The columns aligning St. Peter’s Square left the two of us in awe. Saint Peter’s Basilica stood at the front of the square as the clear focal point of the structure.

Liz and I had to capture our excitement in front of a fountain of the square before entering the Basilica.

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica, light shining through gave the church a majestic feel. The large interior filled with colors and detail gave us a lot to look at.

We then made our way around the corner to the Museum for some more Vatican fun.

The Vatican Museum displayed all different types of art, ranging from tapestries to maps. The building contained long thin hallways with radiant, beautiful ceilings.

The Spanish Steps are a great place to sit down and enjoy the scenery. However, Liz and I decided to walk up the entire structure and burn off our lunch.

Finally we made it to a significant symbol of the Roman Empire, The Colosseum.

The age of the Colosseum was even more apparent from the inside. Learning about all of the gruesome stories of gladiator fights, it was hard to believe we were where they actually took place.

Shops and lights follow the Tiber River, making Rome just as beautiful at night.

After meeting some friends for an Italian dinner, gelato was only a necessity for Ann, Liz, and I.

We ended the night at the Trevi Fountain to enjoy its beauty and converse with other tourists. While throwing a coin into the water, I could only wish that the remainder of my time in Rome would live up to this day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Taking a tractor ride up a mountain to a barbecue is not a usual occurrence in America. This, along with other new endeavors has reiterated how truly different cultures are. This past weekend we were in the countryside of Zagreb, Croatia and it was the first time we got to experience the locals in a social setting. Not only were we invited to eat dinner with them, they also accompanied us to Split for the next two days.

Even though I was trying my best to immerse myself into Croatia’s environment, I couldn’t help but feel slightly out of my element. I found the locals intimidating due to their obvious comfort with the setting and lifestyle. It was not until the very end of the weekend that I realized how similar we actually are.

After bonding over our frustration of a late bus, I got into conversation with a Croatian girl named Kristina Baticeli. She possessed European features: dark hair, a petite frame, and big brown eyes. Even though she had a youthful round face, she inhibited an apparent maturity. I was surprised to discover that she was actually one year younger than I am and a student herself. She told me about her college experience at The Journalism Faculty in Zagreb. Being in Mass Communication, the two of compared our career aspirations of working in the media. Even though she is in a five-year program and still has a couple years left, she expressed her fear of finding a job after school (to which I can relate). We discussed life at a university from dining halls to classes in which I concluded that we had extremely similar college experiences.

It was great to be able to connect with different cultures. I have decided to make a vow for the rest of my travels: to not hold back from striking up a conversation because we are not that different after all.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nick Verreos

The second Nick Verreos walked into the Gould dinning hall during our Wednesday night dinner, his immediate enthusiasm perked everyone up after being exhausted from a long day of classes. His intense energy prepared me for the next day to be upbeat and fun. Little did I know how much I would learn about the fashion industry.

Being an avid Project Runway fan, I had recognized his name from when he appeared on the reality show back in 2005. Even though I was well aware that he was a fashionable individual, it was clear to everyone in the room that he was well dressed. He was casual yet classy, wearing a white button up shirt, designer jeans with a black belt, a striped multi-colored tie, and a pair of stylish, silver sneakers. He appeared very clean cut and professional yet hip at the same time.

Nick had come to visit our Florence program to spend the day with us at the Polimoda International Institute of Fashion Design and Marketing, and also to give us a presentation later that night. It was here that we learned about the school itself, and the marketing behind the enormous industry. I had no idea how important Florence was to fashion! We were presented with pictures of various "buzz products" including a Gucci branded eraser to which we found humorous, feeling as though it was a little bit extreme. Nick was very attentive and participative during the presentations at the institute, asking questions and adding a lot of input. It was interesting hearing what he had to say considering that he had attended and even taught at another fashion school, FIDM. Fashion is something that interests me, yet something that I am not too educated on. Our time at the Polimoda taught me a lot, but Nick’s presentation was even more influential to my understanding of the industry.

Nick’s presentation was very professional. He included a power point and acted as a natural born public speaker. He had made a few alterations to his outfit that day to appear slightly more professional. He spoke with such enthusiasm using numerous hand gestures and voice inflections. Even though he had a set agenda of what to discuss, he used an extemporaneous style with additional comments and mannerisms to his speech. He was very humorous while speaking which the audience really seemed to connect with. The room had been filled with laughter a significant amount of times throughout the course of his presentation. I had remembered him being very personal and funny while on the show, so I was happy to know that his personality was the same while dealing with a group of college students.

As entertaining as his story was, it was also very informative. We got a lot of his background story ranging from his childhood to how he got started in the fashion industry. He had struggled in his career, which I had never even questioned in my mind while watching him on Project Runway. Now that his career is currently in a good place, his experience let him offer advice to us, not only about fashion but in business in general. He discussed the different markets of clothing and where certain brands really come from (which made me question some of my past purchases). Being a communication major, I found it interesting that his partner, David, handles all of Nick’s public relations. I could not even fathom the amount of work the two of them have put into their careers! It was extremely evident that their success comes with a lot of hard work and responsibility. Being a sucker for celebrity gossip, I enjoyed his stories of different celebrities he knows and has dressed. For living such a fast-paced, successful, luxurious life, he was extremely down to earth.

The most important thing that Nick Verreos taught the student in of our Journalism class was the all important message of following your dreams and never giving up on them. He had applied for Project Runway on a whim, which ended up being the main factor to his success. Nicks visit was extremely entertaining as well as beneficial. Not only did he teach me more about clothing and the industry but also the importance of following my dreams.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


On the boat going into Venice, we were told that it is an extremely complex place to understand. This scared me considering that my navigation skills are lacking in general. I eventually got the hang of it, but that did not come without getting lost at least three or four times. The second night there, three other students and myself were on our way to Campo Santa Margherita. We had been there the night before and thought we would be able to find it again, but we were not that lucky. We were apprehensive to ask directions due to the language barrier and the fear of being perceived as ignorant Americans. However, we got over our fear and asked an older, local woman. We had described the location saying it was filled with outdoor restaurants and bars, to which she instantly knew where we were heading. However, she only gave us partial directions and told us to ask another person after we had reached a certain point. We found this interesting that she did not trust that we could make it based solely on her directions. Fortunately, we found our spot within a couple of minutes and in the end it turned out to be a really great night.

One of my favorite activities in Venice was spending the Fourth of July on Lido, a beach that our group grew to love very quickly. Due to my passion for laying out, this day was idyllic. The sky was perfectly clear and the sun was intense. The beach was extremely large and crowded with people of all ages and nationalities. Even though the water was murky to the point where we could not even see the bottom, the site was beautiful. We set up our towels and beach bags a little bit past the clear sands of the private beach to an area that was a little tougher on the feet, but we did not mind. Laying out gave me a chance to people watch and even overhear other conversations of the tourists around me. I heard a group of teenagers discussing travel plans for the rest of their summer, saying that their next destination was Rome, somewhere that I am looking foward to visiting. My eavesdropping made me realize the amount of tourists who are in the same boat as me.

I am absorbing many rituals here that are different from the United States. For example, a nice Italian woman explained to me that if I want a glass of tap water opposed to bottled I simply use the phrase "I'll have a water on the mayor!" I am learning their customs slowly but surely. By the end of my trip I will hopefully be able say I am more cultured (and maybe even a little better with directions!)