Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada.
I zigzag my way through the airport crowd, in between the hundreds of walks of life who came from all over the country and probably even the world to be here. Some traveling for business, others for pleasure -- maybe for a little of both. A wild getaway of finer living with a touch of risky behavior and revealing outfits. It is good to be back -- and to be of legal drinking and gambling age.
I reach the exit doors and haul my over-packed bags to my designated Lyft driver's car. The quick ride offered a tease of the strip, which flared my excitement. Destination: Wynn Las Vegas.
The high-pitched rings and dings of the machines pull me into the casino. A faint smell of alcohol and unwelcome cigarette smoke swirls in the breathing air around me. A picturesque merry-go-round is placed among plants and flowers.
Other than some quality pool time, my trek to this side of Earth is a concert at a popular Vegas nightclub. Music performed by a couple of average-looking guys that quite a few millennials are fond of, including myself -- The Chainsmokers.
I consider myself a professional concert attendee. I choose pricey tickets for a better seat and a few minutes of face time with the artists. I own the merchandise that I can guarantee I will not wear again. I am willing to stand in a line for hours just to make my experience in front of the stage more enjoyable.
I have been to a countless number of shows at distinctive venues in unique cities. General admission. Standing room only. Arenas. I go to soundcheck. I wait for tour buses, hoping to catch a glimpse of someone special. I went to a date in Atlantic City, making it my second concert of that particular tour. To Detroit and back in one night. I stood in the pouring rain on one of the hottest days of the year in Cleveland. I clapped when I was told during the Good Morning America summer concert series in New York City. I took a picture in front of a Christmas tree with Nick Jonas in Charlotte. This was my first Las Vegas show and to say the least, it was different from all of the rest.
"Concert" is not the right word choice to describe live music at a Las Vegas nightclub. Do not get me wrong, The Chainsmokers are the best DJ I have heard. Aside from locations in Europe, the coolest club I have visited. The experience is much less about the music and more about the party atmosphere.
The planner in me suggested to go downstairs (this event was conveniently located in the hotel where I was staying) between 9:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. There is going to be a long line, right? Yes, there is a line, followed by strict security. My I.D. is almost bent to a breaking point -- apparently, it looks fake. I am going on 24 years old.
Searched and stamped, the night begins a little past 10:00 p.m. I hold up my gold iPhone, capturing the calmness of the outdoor pool before the scene turns rowdy. As I take in the oddly serene view, I spot one of the bars. I expected for drinks in Vegas to put a dent in my bank account, but I figured it is vacation. This is an opportunity to splurge a little, even though I do not work a salary job.
After the pool starts to fill up with bodies and groups start forming, I take notice of people holding souvenir cups. They are much bigger than the two, tiny cups of vodka and tonic I just downed for 20 bucks each. This is how they get you, I thought. Doors open at 10:00 p.m., but who knows when the show actually starts.
I ask the bartender about the larger volume cups and he informs me that they simply contain more alcohol. $55 for a regular, old liquor drink, nothing fancy. Or $65 to include Red Bull in a regular liquor drink. I am pretty sure I almost laughed in response to this remark.
I head back to my previously claimed spot near the edge of the pool, no drink in hand, and find that The Chainsmokers are not going to start their set until at least 1:00 a.m. (aka 4:00 a.m. North Carolina time). 4:00 a.m. -- also the time I woke up to get ready to leave for the airport the previous morning.
There is no way I am going to last if I am at all close to sober. Time to splurge. "What happens in Vegas...". For a split second I have a "who cares" attitude and I purchase the now infamous vodka tonic with a splash of grenadine. I wish I could say that I won a jackpot to make up for it.
I proudly take a sip and out of nowhere I feel nauseous. I am most likely hungry and dehydrated. The jet lag is hitting me like a slap in the face. Hard liquor fuels guests throughout the scorching Nevada days and keeps them running into the night. But the last thing I want right now is alcohol.
Adjusting to a time difference is no joke, even if it is just a few hours. My body attempts to fight off the right coast time zone, but lose the battle more than once. I am embarrassed to say that I fell asleep before 10:00 p.m. in full makeup, completely ready for a night out on the town, on the second night out of three.
But not nearly as embarrassed as I am for buying a not-even-close-to-top-shelf-drink for $55, taking one sip, and dumping it down the sink.
Sifting through faces is easy. Sifting through emotions is not.
I am in control as I pass by the unfamiliar, some more recognizable than others. Expectations are low because I am naive enough to believe I once had the best. I have never been more wrong. At this time my fiery heart of hope and romance has faded to a glimmer and I wonder if I will ever get it back.
My fingers are fixed in a repetitive motion, that is until I find the view appealing. Your kind eyes and undeniable smile draws me in, allowing my right hand to stray from the monotonous swipe. Your response comes with a bittersweet prick on my finger that sends a shockwave through my body. A "hello" different from all of the others.
Jokes about jetting off to far away countries and indulging on delectable carbs and fine wine. Following the first compliment you send my way, I fire back because I am unsure of your intentions. Conversation flows and my expectations skyrocket, despite our wants being different. I see your name light up my phone and I am sparked with excitement.
Butterflies swarm my stomach when I am in your presence -- the only anxiousness I take pleasure in. The most caring and genuine. A cherished lip lock, sweeter than honey. My thoughts are ferociously wrapped around you. A knock at the edge of my brain that is impossible to ignore -- despite our wants being different. I give in effortlessly.
Conversation turns sluggish and all I can hear is a steady buzz. I look down and trace the scar on my knee with the same finger that was stung, while my pinky feels your promise -- hoping I can still be the one to bring you luck. Soon I am forced along a winding path of memories that leaves me cemented. An ache that I live with every day, not knowing if I will ever have the privilege of seeing you again. You ask me if I am held back yet I am unsure.
Darkness slowly fades into morning as I toss and turn the night away. The temperature outside these walls is sweltering, but I get an icy chill whenever the thought of you stops by. Why are you back so soon? You greet me with the sunrise and toy with my happiness during daylight. A type of persistence that could only come from myself.
Nostalgia attempts to hold my smile together, but as soon as I close my eyes, I can see yours -- and mine begin to water. Tension builds and it feels as though there is a firework show exploding in my head. The stinger pierces deeper into my hand until I am numb, but all I want to do is thank you.
Except for no longer being in control.
The month of January unexpectedly splashes me in the face, drenching my dress of choice.
I prepare myself for the inevitable by pulling my thick, dirty blonde hair up into a ponytail. More cautious than I have ever been, I take a step forward. The jagged rocks below are recently soaked, my bare feet kept dry. I am apprehensive, but ready. This is my favorite feeling to jump into.
I tell myself to relax, wait, and hold back just enough. I don't want to submerge myself because I know the excruciating pain of drowning far too well. I attempt to fight any urges, but ultimately choose to take the plunge. The tide feels shockingly different this time -- warm, calming, and much more promising. I am perplexed as the sweetness of this particular sea rushes up my ankles. The confusion sends an undeniable chill down my spine.
The saltiest of bodies are usually the type to find me. All different in their own ways, but similar in how each one pulls me under -- immaturely and indefensible. I am dragged across the eroded stones and broken shells -- my tanned legs turn a frightening shade of red. Doused and disturbed while those who play dirty are unconditionally clean. The icy waves smack across my fading smile as I contemplate how I am here again. Through all of my travels thus far, I am unfamiliar with interactions unlike these.
I know I have not been here before. The most cautious and caring pool to dive into. A guide who like myself, and ironically enough, lacks directional skills. A special, bright blue spot in an abundance of black and white that I never knew existed. Absorbed in a rink of sleet -- I am not playing games.
As days pass by and the weather turns hot, sweet droplets continue to touch my skin and I am flooded with excitement. I ignore any concerning waves because the bliss washing over me is irresistible. I reach my most vulnerable point, saltiness flows from my eyes because I realize I am in too deep. Soaked in emotion, "I'm sorry" is repeatedly spit out of my mouth. However, I am unapologetic for being invested. If or when this body completely dries up, I am a fish out of water.
Buoyed to something that was not nearly mine yet hurts to lose. I tip a liquor glass to my lips and swallow one gulp after another, stinging my throat -- drowning myself. Breathing heavy and vision blurry, I reach out to the shore. My thirst cannot be quenched.
At this moment I am distanced against my will, left drifting alone without a boat in sight to rescue me. I swim against the current refusing to let go, frantically searching for anything left to hold on to. Beads of sweat drip from my forehead as I am sinking, gasping for air. I cannot help but stay hopeful that one day I will tread comfortably again.
Now I search for an island -- a piece of paradise I have not yet been.
The power to choose is a right. As a 23 year-old woman living in America raised by a traditional family, I am given this privilege. I say what I feel and do as I please. I lose track of how many choices I make in a day; of course some are heavier than others. The choice of what outfit to wear, the choice to send an alcohol-induced text message or not make my bed. These decisions are up to me. I can decide all on my own, without unwanted feedback from anyone – some of the time.
But what I never seem to have a say in is who retreats from his designated pedestal in my reality. A comfortable seat with no permanent ties while the rope does not dare to leave my back pocket. An arrangement with benefits that never leave me fully satisfied. I sit back and say everything is okay when it is not. I hand out apologies like they are a “two for one” special to those who do not deserve them. I continue this effort until my rope disintegrates and I have no way to transform our non-commitment into something lasting, something more meaningful – and more importantly, something I deserve.
Separation ensues. People choose to walk out of my life and most of the time they do not come back. I guess if they leave then they were not meant to be there long-term anyway. If someone leaves, there is an open space for another that may actually have the desire to stick around. But that’s the thing; they get to choose – not my mind or my heart. They make the first move while my brain screams at my feet to stay firmly planted. The words he will come around are stuck on repeat in my head. They get the last word, the “checkmate” maneuver on the game board. Not because I am scared or unsure, but simply because I enjoy the view. As my index finger reaches for the fast forward button, I am intercepted once again. He hits pause. I am led blindly, my vision clouded by giddiness, seemingly on a path to where I want to be. Boys like to tease that way. Life likes to tease that way.
I am not the volunteer. I do not carry the weight of choosing to walk away. I am the one engulfed in confusion as to why people want to leave when I would give everything I am capable of offering on a silver platter crafted specifically for the character I admire. My prerogative is regularly snatched out from under me. I never want to believe what is about to happen next. I feel weight of the departure coming from miles away. A “goodbye” that I crave to mean “see you later”.
Decisions are not my strong suit. I question whether what I do is right, if what I think is normal. I attempt to compare my situations to those of others but it is quite a wasted effort because I am not like everyone else. My anxious mind and passionate heart are constantly at war. Weapons are drawn on the daily. The two come to an inevitable face off and blood is shed as the heart takes what some would call yet another victory. This horrific scene does not faze me as my wounded heart desperately clings to my sleeve. Nearly flatlined.
I do not battle on the outside. I am not a fighter – my fists are tightly clenched but never raised. My heart is on guard – ready to stop them, ready to change their minds. They just never seem to care, or at least not enough. Why would I want to force someone to stay? It is the burning question that flashes in front of my face and haunts me as I take every shot to reel them back in. If they want to be here, they would not leave. The concept is not overly complicated, but I am accustomed to my defense during this repetitive procedure. I am addicted to the high of having the seat next to me filled.
My hand grasps the doorknob, holding the stubborn piece of wood wide open, as if it does not have the capability to slam shut. Intensity flowing from my chest keeps it from closing. I watch them exit without flaw, while I am left behind emotionally banged up and bruised.
So here I stand, wishing and deeply dreaming that some day, just maybe a familiar face that chose to leave will choose to turn around, full of regret. A face begging to return to the reserved seat he once had. I would be a fool to think that type of pleading would be necessary to re-enter such an embarrassingly susceptible door.
I close my eyes and I can picture them coming back to what they once knew. My twisted mind takes me on a first class flight of imagination that I cannot escape. At first, a string of hopeful, light-hearted scenarios about our future. Soon enough I am soaring through a world of darkness and fog, dissecting our last spoken words on the operating table in my head. Each syllable is ripped apart attempting to find the complication. Infinitely perplexed if I should have done anything differently. As I walk over to the entryway, my most cherished and injured organ effortlessly falls off the sleeve of my black, cotton dress --
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned to a few of my family members that I wanted to start drinking coffee. I don't think this is something that is spoken often. Its not like "I want to eat healthier". Either you're a coffee drinker or you're not. You like it or you don't. Even with all of the addicts I've come across, only drinks consisting of mostly chocolate or caramel have passed through my lips. I remember walking into Starbucks with my grandma when I was younger and hating the strong stench that met me at the door. I lived in Italy for months and only bought one cappuccino (just to say I tasted this supposedly heavenly, authentic Italian liquid). I was not impressed, probably even disgusted. I've been told by my friends that a cup will help get my day started and will almost magically make me a happier person in the morning. Going on a coffee date or hanging out at a coffee shop always seemed like such a cute idea, but the actual partaking in consuming the bitter substance was never appealing. I'm actually surprised I didn't repeat to myself that Lorelai Gilmore is a coffee lover so I should be one too. I was determined to keep the child-on-a-snow-day in me alive by ordering hot chocolate and no one could convince me otherwise -- until recently.
I work at a college library so I am surrounded by these addicts. Some are students and some are faculty. I could not give you much information about the lives of these people other than that their hands must be permanently cramped in a position perfectly fitting to their favorite cups of coffee. A delicious jolt to help them survive the tiresome and stressful obstacle course of life.
The other day I was talking to one of my coworkers about my lack of coffee beans and this is how she responded, "OMG. I'm going to buy you a coffee! We're going right now!" So, I didn't have much of a choice...but everyone could use a little push sometimes. Also, being that every swipe or insert of my debit card makes my stomach flip, I was thankful someone offered to pay. To my surprise I emptied the cup with ease and was already looking forward to my next.
At this point in time I can now say I've successfully savored 3 cups of coffee. Don't get me wrong, I am nowhere near ready to fully express my feelings for coffee to the world. We're only just getting to know each other. I don't know if or how much cream and/or sugar I should use, what my favorite flavor is, or even how to make it myself. Our relationship is not even close to love-at-first-sight.
But coffee, I'm having a good time flirting with you.
I settle into a chair at a round table occupied with unfamiliar faces, other than my best friend from school who had joined me on this wild ride of a semester. Everyone makes polite small talk, all in awe of where we are. As I sit in the dining room of The Grand Hotel Baglioni my first morning in Florence, eating my flavorless cereal and oddly enough, an assortment of cheeses, hundreds of thoughts roll around in my head.
The room is filled with enthusiastic eyes and warm smiles of those I have never met before. Large glass windows cover the back wall, making me feel as though I could reach out and grab the red-orange Florentine rooftops. I hold up my phone, attempting to capture my first monumental moment abroad, unsure of what the next few months will bring.
As I stand on the edge of a cliff in Positano, Italy, I am more than a little nervous about the fall. I never put myself in situations like this. Every slight breeze that passes feels as though it could knock me off the staggering rocks beneath my bare feet. The beating sun is seemingly at eye-level and my whole body is trembling. All I need in this moment is to drown out the screaming voices of my friends in the boat below and gain a burst of courage that people do so effortlessly in the movies. The fear I feel has completely taken over, but I know this is something I want to be able to say I did.
My left hand turns white because of the tight grip I have on my GoPro. After much hesitation, I take a leap forward on the count of three. I smack against the overpowering, salty water, which quickly flows through my mouth and up my nose, despite all efforts to avoid it. As I tread through the ocean, attempting to catch my breath, I feel accomplished. I am proud of how far I have come.
I only have two more nights left in my apartment in Florence. I repeat that to myself and I cannot believe that it is true. I look back on these past few months and realize that time has never flown by faster. It has been said that traveling changes people. The experiences I have had, the places I have seen, and the people I have met along the way have changed me. I can see the slight differences in myself and the others in my position. The foreign has quickly become the familiar and Florence is now another home. It is because of this that I am inordinately sad about leaving the life I have created here.
Yes, I am looking forward to seeing my friends and family. I am excited about being able to use my iPhone wherever I choose to do so. And I cannot wait to have access to my closet full of clothes I left behind. Although these things hold a fair amount of relevance in my life, I have learned to live quite comfortably without them. But there is not going to be anything to fill the void Europe is going to leave me with. This experience will forever be unmatched.
This semester I was enrolled in Travel Writing. It was probably my favorite college class I have ever taken. The course consisted of writing about my own adventures as well as reading about the travels of others. Many of the short stories were exceptionally relatable, considering being in a new country almost every weekend was my normal at the time.
There was one story by author Charles Finch with a particular quote that stood out to me. It simply says, "I guess the lesson is you can't go everywhere. You should still go everywhere you can."
See the Eiffel Tower at night. Ride a donkey in Greece. Take a picture in a telephone booth in London. Smoke weed for the first time in Amsterdam. Lay on the beach in Barcelona. Gamble at Monte Carlo. Ride a gondola in Venice. Study abroad in Florence. These are all things I want to be able to say I did.
And now I can.
For as long as I can remember, I have talked about visiting Paris. I actually surprised myself by venturing to other European cities first.
I had an indescribable love for this place I had never been to, inspiring the choice to take French in high school. I was going to be fluent in the language and go to Paris - that was the plan. But I have learned many a time, things do not always go as planned. And although it was a little later than I had originally planned, I made it.
I was surprisingly comfortable making my way around. The metro system is not complicated, leaving my directionally challenged self extremely satisfied each time we reached a new destination without much trouble. It was also nice to catch a break from walking everywhere in a hurry while still having a chance to see what we wanted to.
As the brisk Parisian air swirled around me, I strolled up to the Eiffel Tower. It was so much more massive than I had expected and lit up ever so perfectly. After only seeing photographs for so long, this glowing piece of history was finally in my presence. I peered through my lens, hoping to capture it all so I would never forget this feeling. I am not one to get emotional in such circumstances, but I found myself tearing up at the sheer sight of this golden, sparkling masterpiece. My green eyes attempted to focus through the saltiness, not wanting to miss a minute of its unique beauty. The combination of the darkness and the twinkling lights was one of my most magical moments.
I am a lover of the touristy things in life, so I also visited the Love Lock Bridges (yes, apparently there are two). Although I currently do not have the name of someone special to write next to mine, I chose to participate anyway. I am also a lover of the cheesy things in life, obviously. My love lock reads - "Love is worth the wait". And once I do find that deserving someone, I am going to give him one of the keys.
The City of Love lives up to its name with the charming streets and picturesque views around every corner. Everything in Paris is simply more lavish and elegant than anywhere else I have been, making me feel a little extra romantic than usual.
Although I cannot form sentences in the language, I recognized a fair amount of words on buildings, menus, and overheard in conversations - more than I thought I would have. One of my roommates and I were out to dinner and I kindly asked the waiter for cheese. He acted as if he understood, walked away from our table, and held up Tabasco sauce. I shook my head in disapproval, but then it came to me. Fromage.
I guess French class paid off after all.
Some people were born to travel.
The people who crave some type of adventure, who don't mind living out of a suitcase, and are not overcome with fatigue if departure is before the sun is up.
The people who feel content on a bus or plane or train. The people who have an overwhelming desire to cross things off their bucket lists. The people who have the word wanderlust carved into their brains.
I believe I am one of these people. I am diseased in the best possible way. Somewhat sickly. I caught the travel bug.
I'm pretty sure I've always had it, but living in Europe has ignited a spark inside me. I look forward to every weekend more than ever before because a break from school means I have an opportunity to explore a new city.
I've made my way around this continent a fair amount already, but I sometimes find myself feeling slightly disappointed. Only because there is simply not enough time to go everywhere before my time abroad comes to a close.
Maybe saying this makes me seemingly spoiled and ungrateful. Well, I know that I'm spoiled. But I can also say I'm not ungrateful. I realize that I'm seeing and experiencing things most people will only ever dream about. I wish my friends and family could see through my eyes because it is all so indescribable.
It's difficult to process what I'm actually doing here. I don't think it will ever feel real. I look back on the pictures I've collected from my travels thus far and almost don't believe I was the photographer.
For quite a while, I was apprehensive about leaving my comfort zone in Charlotte. And I wasn't sure if leaving for a semester was something I wanted. I had always wondered what it'd be like to visit Europe. But I continued to feel doubtful. I love my life at school and never wanted to miss out on anything there. What if I had traveled over 4,000 miles and regretted ever setting foot on the plane?
Whether I'm strolling past The Duomo of Florence on my walk to class, riding on a bus through the night to reach Prague, or catching a flight to Paris - there's not a doubt in my mind, I don't regret it for a second.
Choose to wander because knowing is always better than wondering.
Never in my life have I been somewhere so magical.
The city untouched by world wars, known for its charming architecture, and home of the most delicious hot chocolate I have ever tasted.
My new favorite place. Prague.
Before coming to Italy, traveling to the Czech Republic hadn't even crossed my mind. It was just not one of the places I felt like I needed to see. I couldn't have been more wrong.
We departed from Florence on Thursday night with tour operator, Bus2Alps. The bus ride was around 11 1/2 hours. I'm not sure how many hours of sleep I got in, but I was strangely awake when we arrived the next morning. We had a little over an hour to get settled at the hostel and eat breakfast before meeting in the lobby for a 3-hour walking tour. The hostel was extremely nice and clean. They served hot dogs at breakfast.
I have a love/hate relationship with walking tours. It is a great way to get to know a city, especially being there for such a short period of time, but it's just a lot of walking. The tour guide can also make or break the experience. Unlike the guy who we followed around on bikes in Amsterdam, this tour guide was from Los Angeles and hilarious. Also, passing a Starbucks and TGI Friday's was the first taste of home I had gotten in a month, which was comforting.
Everything in Prague looks somewhat fake, like every building and street was pulled straight out of a children's fairytale storybook. It's weird in the best way. I think that's why I liked it so much. Escaping from reality and being an idealist may just be the cure for everything.
On Saturday night I participated in my first ever pub crawl. In Prague, beer is often cheaper than water. I should really learn to enjoy it. Although I opted for other drinks, the night was a great time. It was cool to meet people from all over who were in the same situation - 20-somethings studying abroad, just visiting Prague for the weekend.
Charles Bridge - I'd say it's comparable to the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Big Ben in London. People don't visit and not see it. A cobblestone bridge with impeccably crafted towering statues and a spectacular view of the largest ancient castle in the world. What could be better than that?
The John Lennon Wall - Whether you're a Lennon fan or not, just go for the pictures.
The Petřín Lookout Tower - This was not a stop on either of our walking tours, but my roommates and I had some free time in the afternoon and decided this would be a great way to fill it. It is quite a hike to the top, but completely worth it. With each step I took I questioned where I was and what I was doing. Is this really my life right now?
This was the first trip thus far in which the exhaustion hadn't utterly taken over. I was actually sad to be leaving. It's a strange feeling being sad about having to go back to Italy. I know, life is rough. But I will be back. I know this because I chose to touch the right plaque on a Charles Bridge statue rather than the left, granting me good luck and another visit to Prague. Let's hope the legend is true. Because I could always use some luck.
But mostly because I want to see that dreamworld covered in snow.
As you walk, icy droplets hit your face. The water stings as it rolls down the contours of your concentrated expression. In this moment, you want home more than anything. Red is longing. You stop moving forward and extend your right arm. You feel Mother Nature. She pricks you with her sharpened thorns and your hand starts to drip. You’re bleeding now.
Red is pain, physical and emotional. Your mind then forces you to go back to a time and place when you were truly hurt. Your rapid flow of thoughts intensifies as you hear a deep voice. It was your last kiss. You start to sweat. The recent saltiness on your forehead mixes with the freshness of the rain.
A memory of your crimson lips pressed against his makes your heart pound quickly in your chest, as if an explosion could happen within seconds. Red is lust. On your first date, he gave you a rose. You feel your cheeks flush with slight embarrassment at the sheer recollection of this. Red is romance.
No matter how impossible something may seem, you always go after what you want. Red is passion. It is the sensation of butterflies in your stomach, the feeling of caring about someone so much – and wanting to tell him. Red is love.
You have fierce motivation and you never quit. So you keep walking. Once you reach the house, you hesitate somewhat. After giving yourself a few minutes to build up the much-needed courage and confidence, you twist the cumbersome doorknob and make your way inside. You smell smoke. The greeting from him consists of a peaceful hello, a glass of wine, and a crackling heat wave.
Red is fire.