2018 was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best year of my entire life. Period. In 2018, I “graduated” from college and hopped on an airplane to start the best adventure of my lifetime (so far). I lived in Italy, a country I had been desperately hoping to see, and I spent every waking moment exploring EVERYTHING that it had to offer: alleys and bakeries and museums and markets and bridges and language and art and restaurants and people. I made friends that I still love dearly. On the weekends we traveled to different cities in Italy or different countries in Europe. Sometimes I would be brave and I would travel alone.
I spent the next 35 days backpacking the 7 different countries, completely alone; I took 13 hour bus rides between countries; I made friends in each new city I visited. I took walking tours in Spanish; I ate street food; I read EVERYTHING. I walked a million miles a day.
In those six months, I felt more like myself, more happy than I have ever felt in my entire life. I’m a writer, trained in transferring my thoughts into words, and, yet, I’m still not sure that any blog article or journal entry will ever capture the happiness that I felt while I was learning, exploring, and meeting new people every day.
The second half of the year was a little more challenging, and it’s hard to believe that I’ve already been home for six months. I’ve felt alone, dissatisfied, stressed, overwhelmed, underwhelmed, scared… quite a bit at different points in the last 6 months. But I’ve also felt happy, proud, and motivated to continue doing better. July to December can never live up to January through June, but I’ve been working on myself, my career, my friendships, and my life, and that, in itself, is a different kind of happiness.
This year has had its challenges, no doubt, but above all else, it has had its HAPPINESS. So, without any further ado, here are my Top 18 Moments of 2018 (In chronological order, except for my top 3!)
18. Leaving for the Adventure of a Lifetime
On January 8th, I strapped my backpack on my back, and I left North America for the first time in my life. Up until this moment I had worked 2 jobs all year to afford my experience. I had saved and planned and stressed and talked about it relentlessly, and, finally, my plans were all coming to fruition. I thought I would be scared, but I wasn’t in the slightest. Truthfully, I wasn’t even excited. I know that sounds weird, but I couldn’t be. This move felt too right to feel anything other than completely at peace.
17. Going to Church in the Notre Dame
My first international trip once I got to Europe was Paris. Boy oh boy, was that place AMAZING. I stand by my statement that France had the best food in all of Europe (yes, even better than my beloved Italy… blasphemy, I know!!). I went to France with a girl from my study abroad, and we saw the Notre Dame together. I was completely and totally in love with the church, but we left it fairly quickly.
At the end of the weekend, my travel partner went home a day earlier than I did (hurrah for no Monday classes!), so once she was gone, I went back to the Notre Dame again. At a 7:00 mass, in the purple light of the stained glass, surrounded by the swirling burn of incense, I prayed harder than I ever before. I thanked God for the opportunities he was blessing me with. When I think about this moment, all I can remember is the beauty that surrounded me, and the joy that was in my heart.
16. Taking a Gondola Ride in Venice
Surprisingly, I wasn’t really a huge fan of Venice when I visited, but that won’t keep this great moment off of my list.
When you think of Europe, what do you think of? Prior to going abroad, one of the first things that came to mind was being in a gondola in Venice, so obviously that experience was top of my list while living in Italia. Our gondolier sang to us as he paddled us through the beautiful canals. The sun peeked around the corners of the buildings, creating the most beautiful soft light on the water. And I was able to share the moment with some great friends. Oh darlings, if the romance of an adventurous life is what you seek, a gondola ride in Venice is waiting for you!
15. Stumbling Upon a Surprise Carnevale in Frascati
One of my unexpected favorite days in Italy was my visit to Frascati. My friends and I had just gotten back from Carnevale celebrations in Venice, but on one particular evening we decided to head to a neighboring town, Frascati, for dinner (we had heard it was a great foodie destination. We heard RIGHT).
When we got off of the train, we realized that we had stepped right into the little town’s own Carnevale celebration! There was great music, and huge, elaborate costumes. The parade was far better than anything we saw in Venice! By the end of the day, the ground, our coats, and our hair were filled with the paper confetti pieces that the kids had been throwing. After experiencing such a touristy side of Carnevale in Venice, it was incredibly refreshing to take part in a hometown tradition to celebrate the holiday.
And then I ate the best gnocchi of my life, so, ya know, best day ever.
14. Spending Easter at Nonna Claudia’s
I was a lucky gal in Italy and managed to avoid class on Fridays and Mondays. Most of my friends had Fridays off, but usually they had to be back to class on Monday. This meant that I spent a lot of Mondays by myself, finding different ways to entertain myself in Italy. At one point, I took a private cooking class with Claudia, the Greatest Woman in the World.
Claudia and I spent 5 hours together, and she taught me 4 of her favorite Italian dessert recipes. I didn’t know much Italian, and she didn’t know much English, but we pantomimed and Google translated and laughed a lot, and by the end of my lesson, we were great friends.
Claudia and I stayed in touch, and I went to her house for a few more lessons (and I brought my friends to meet her, too!). As Easter rolled around, I knew that my parents were coming to visit and I wanted to take them to do something special. Claudia invited us over to her house for an Easter feast. I was so excited!
We sat around the table with Claudia’s entire extended family, and we shared a meal together. We navigated language barriers, ate an incredible dinner (the most delicious meal that I ate during my entire trip abroad), and after we were stuffed, we sat around the piano and sang songs as a group– in both Italian and English!
All of my lessons with Claudia were top moments of my trip, but sharing such an authentic experience with my family and Claudia’s was really the icing on the cake.
13. Experimenting with Cheese Making and Beekeeping, Seeing the Opera, and Being an Archaeologist
Three in one… I know… I’m cheating, but whatever.
I signed up for a few experiences through my university in Italy that I was hoping would give me a more cultural experience of the country while I was there. I went to a farm in the mountains to make pecorino cheese and taste test Italian honey. I saw an Italian opera at a theatre in Rome. I didn’t understand a word of it, but the music was beautiful. I also went on an archaeological dig! I helped uncover an ancient Roman villa from 1 BC…. talk about cool and authentic, dudes.
12. Just… Everything about Living in Italy
This isn’t one particular moment, but there were too many tiny things to pick from! I needed one umbrella moment to cover it all. The food, the museums, the Trevi Fountain, the gelato, the friends, the language, the everything. UGH LIFE WAS SO GOOD.
11. Swimming in the Krka Waterfalls in Croatia
Croatia was one of the first places that I backpacked by myself once my semester was over. I was feeling a little lonely, so I was intent on making friends in each country that I visited!
I signed up for a day trip to the Krka waterfalls in Croatia, which are gorgeous and beautiful and a fantastic place to visit if you ever go to Split. Unfortunately, the day that I signed up for the tour happened to be a MAJOR rain day.
Normally visitors get to swim in the waterfalls when they visit Krka, but because of the rain, my tour group didn’t want to. I didn’t want to miss out on such a great experience just because of some rain, but I also wasn’t about to swim by myself…. So when one of the other solo girls in the group spoke up about wanting to swim, I told her I was in. One more girl joined us and, in the 50 degree weather and downpouring rain, we all sprinted to the water. It was freezing and our legs were numb, but it was such a great feeling to be all alone in a foreign country and still be able to laugh until my belly hurt with some very friendly strangers.
10. Dancing with Strangers in Poland
I did something a little dumb in Poland. A girl in my hostel had met someone online that had offered to show her around the city, and she asked me if I wanted to tag along. So I did!
We went to a bar with the girl she had met online, and had a few drinks. While we were there, we met a group of guys from a nearby college that were out for the night as well. We eventually all got to talking, and I mentioned that I would like to learn the Polish traditional dance.
The boys immediately jumped up from the table and dragged us to the closest dance club. Mind you– these clubs were for clubbing, NOT for Polish line dancing. And yet, in the middle of the crowds at 1:30 at night, we learned how to dance the Polish wedding dance… to hardcore Polish dubstep music.
DISCLAIMER: This is not me recommending that you go to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and meet up with strangers that you met online… But I guess it also didn’t turn out half bad. IDK man, use your best judgement. ANYWAYS.
9. Taking a Flamenco Lesson in Spain
My last stop in Europe was Sevilla, Spain, a city famous for being the birthplace of the flamenco style of dance. I danced throughout high school and some of college, so I was very eager to learn flamenco. On my last night in Spain, I took a private flamenco lesson with an instructor. I had been watching street dancers all week, and the opportunity to learn such a complex aspect of Spanish culture is an opportunity that I will cherish for a long time.
8. Watching the Sunset All Over Europe
I mean, this picture says it all.
7. Finishing a Round of Whole30
So here is where the experiences of 2018 get slightly less exciting… but fun nonetheless! When I got home from Europe, my little body was full of every European delicacy the continent had to offer. My heart was happy, but my pants could stand to fit a little better and my tummy was hurting all the time. I had heard of the Whole30 (a 30 day elimination diet to figure out what foods works well with your body), so my mom and I decided to do it together. 30 days of no dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, or processed food was tough, but we survived! The amount of willpower and strength that it took to complete the challenge left me feeling such pride that this experience made it into my top 18! And I’m headed for another round in January 🙂
6. Visiting My Best Friend in Colorado
It was sad to come home from such an incredible adventure abroad, I must tell ya. But coming home meant that I got to see people I had been missing like crazy, so there’s always a bright side. Right before I started my full time job, I hopped on a plane to Colorado for a ten day visit with my best friend. After visiting Denver, Colorado Springs, Crested Butte, Boulder, and more, I’m pretty sure that Colorado is one of the most beautiful states in the country. And more than a week of giggles with my friend was the icing on the cake!
5. Getting a Job
Phew, adulthood man. I’m not sure it’s all it’s cracked up to be. But accepting and starting a job was absolutely a pivotal point in my year. I came home without a job lined up, so I spent the months of June and July applying and interviewing for different positions. There was a lot of stress and anxiousness in those few months, and I finally accepted my first full time job—a job in sales with ADP. It’s been going well so far! My year started off with one great adventure, and is ending in the middle of my next big one.
4. Running the Detroit International Half Marathon
When I came home, I was ready to really get myself back into shape, so I signed up to run a half marathon with one of my best friends. We trained together all summer long (at 5:30 in the morning a lot of the time, might I add). Those runs were the highlight of my summer, and when we finally ran the race in October, I was so proud of myself. Prior to signing up for the race, I had never run more than 4 miles at a time. But crossing that finish line after 13.1 felt indescribable. I’m not sure I’ll ever do it again but…. I’m definitely glad that I did it.
TOP THREE MOMENTS OF THE YEAR:
3. Hiking with Mom and Dad in the Cinque Terre
When my mom and dad came to visit, I spent hours and hours and hours researching the best things in Europe to do. My parents had never left North America, so I wanted to make sure that their first trip to Europe was incredible.
I took us to the Cinque Terre, a group of five towns on the coast of Italy, connected by hiking paths. You can visit each town and then hike the paths from one to the next. My parents aren’t big hikers, but I thought this experience might be something fun for us to all try together.
This view… Ya’ll it was STUNNING. There are few things in life that are more beautiful than the views we saw on this day. I won’t lie to you, the hiking killed us. Seriously. But oh my gosh, it was so worth it. The multicolored buildings sitting on the coast are something that I hope everyone gets to see in their lifetime.
2. Starting The Foreign Fork
That’s right my friends. 6 months spent around the world, exploring, making friends, getting cultured. Six months away, but coming home and starting this little space on the internet is the second best moments of my entire year. I cannot even begin to tell you what this blog has already done for me. I love the cooking and the writing, and the learning, of course.
But what this blog has really done for me is more than that! It gives me something to work towards, something to strive for. It gives me little goals to keep me moving forward. I know it might sound dramatic, but this blog feels like it gives my life meaning—something to do outside of working my job and missing the life I had before. When you all make my recipes, it makes my LIFE. And when you tell me that you were reading my posts, I am filled with so much joy! So if you’ve stuck around, if you found this blog at one point and then you came back again, thank you so much. Truly, I don’t know what I would do without you.
1. Standing at the Top of the Swiss Alps in Switzerland
After my parents and I visited the Cinque Terre together, we headed off to Switzerland. I had been dreaming for YEARS of standing on top of the Swiss Alps, so I immediately booked a trip to the top. We took a chair lift and a gondola ride. In total, it probably took about 40 minutes to finally get to the peak of Mt. Pilatus.
As we stood at the top of one of the very highest peaks in Lucerne, we looked across the skyline at snow covered peaks sitting below us. The beauty of the world in that moment was indescribable. I’m not sure I can say much more about this without sounding cheesy, so I’m just gonna let my photos do the talking. God is good; God is good; God is good.