What started out as a course to learn how to teach English, later turned into 33 shared countries and a friendship of a lifetime. Rewind to January 2014, Alli and I met in our International TEFL Academy class in Barcelona, and became instant friends. We had both left behind successful careers in the U.S., sold all of our belongings, and ventured out alone and excited to experience a different part of the world. First stop was Barcelona.
After completing our ITA Barcelona TEFL course, we both got various jobs teaching English in and around Barcelona and, with our hard-earned cash, decided that we really wanted to explore another country. My birthday was approaching in March so we found the cheapest flight from Barcelona and it was to Casablanca, Morocco. We loved the mint tea, tasty food and unique culture.
Since we were teachers of English and had spring break off, we had to figure out where to travel next. So, we decided to rent a car and spent nine days driving up the coast of Spain into France and through the French Riviera to Nice and Monte Carlo, Monaco. That drive along the curvy roads next to the sea was gorgeous! We had the most surreal moment when crossing the border from Spain into France when we pulled over to take a photo next to the sign welcoming us into France. Picture this: we were standing on the side of the road, posing next to the sign along a windy road overlooking the Mediterranean Sea with the wind blowing in our hair when a group of bikers (peddling, not motor) from Poland decided to stop and take photos with us. We were laughing, talking about where we were from and about their long journey along the coast. Such a cool moment!
We spent the next six months or so hiking and exploring in Spain, France and even Andorra…a tiny country between Spain and France. Alli’s birthday was approaching in November and of course she wanted to see another country. So, where did we go? Budapest, Hungary! Oh and since it was her 30th birthday, she had 30 different tasks which she had to do 30 times. A couple examples: spin in circles 30 times, salute in front of a guard for 30 seconds, dance for 30 seconds (after giving 30 cents to the man playing an instrument).
My birthday came again in March, so I had to (yes, had to) pick a new country. We had heard great things about Porto, Portugal, so that is where we went with a group of six friends. Porto is known for the bright, colorful tiles that decorate the outsides of buildings. Oh and to not forget the main thing Porto is known for: the port wines. Which are WAY stronger than your average wine so when we said we wanted to do tastings at a couple different places, we only made it to one before we were giggling and falling over each other next to the river bank trying to pose for pictures.
The next country was to Holland in April to see the tulip fields in bloom. Imagine rows and rows of various bright colors of tulips. Another gorgeous site! We frolicked in the tulip fields and also went up inside a 400-year-old Dutch windmill that was made of all wood – including the nails. The two older Dutch men were so proud to explain to us how the windmill operated and even let us turn it on/off by pulling a rope to move the giant lever.
One of my friends had visited from the states and I wanted to surprise her with weekend trip to Italy. Alli and I both had been to Italy before but since Florence is one of our favorite European cities and I had raved on and on about Cinque Terre, five little fisherman villages along the coast, Alli wanted to join too! So we made the trip and our highlight was hiking along the coast of Cinque Terre, taking the boat back to the first village and drinking wine while watching the sunset into the Mediterranean Sea.
That summer, Alli had decided to do a work-away on an organic farm in the Czech Republic so I had to stop by and see it as well. Keep in mind that a work-away means you stay for free, but you have to work in exchange of your lodging. At first, I thought the organic farm was really cool because I helped the farmer pick our salad from the garden for our dinner my first night. Thought maybe I wanted my own organic garden too until the next day when I was shoveling horse shit into a wheel barrel, rolling it up a hill and putting it into the planters where the next day I helped plant strawberry bushes. Um…no thanks and I no longer wanted my own garden. On that visit, we also went to the spot on the map where Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic all meet. A large stone was at the spot and we were able to be in three countries at one time! For different reasons after the summer, Alli and I both returned back to the states. This, however, did not stop our travels. Since becoming best friends and travel buddies, we have been to 33 total countries together. To date, Alli has been to 49 total counties and Jen to 43.