December is coming to an end and that means that it’s time for all of the recaps of the year to begin. 2016 has been a very controversial year and some people are dubbing it the worst year of all time. No, I think 1665 was probably worse when everybody got the Bubonic Plague and died but to each their own. Nevertheless, 2016 has had its ups and downs, just like every other year in the history of mankind (seriously, it’s not breaking news). My year had its fair share of good and bad moments, but they were all just another experience in the game of life.

I was pretty busy this year. Moving to another continent and attempting to pursue higher education while still maintaining my sanity wasn’t a simple transition. It may have helped if I didn’t get a sinus infection and (think) I was going to die while I was in Mexico. Thank God for the miracles of modern medicine and Mexico’s leniency with over-the-counter medicine.

If nothing else, I managed to survive the year and end it strong. So, I present to you my top 16 adventures of the year 2016.

16. Celebrating New Years in Barcelona

I rang in 2016 standing in a crowded square with nearly 100,000 other people. My best friend and our parents were in Europe for a few weeks and we were fortunate enough to get to spend the New Year together. The Spanish tradition is to wear all black and eat 12 grapes at midnight. So we did exactly that. It was cold standing there for hours on end fighting to not be swallowed up by the crowd (think Times Square packed). Once the clock struck midnight and we gobbled down our 12 grapes (it was harder than one would think), we were all treated to the best fireworks show I had ever seen. It went on for over 20 minutes and was absolutely insane. Some of the fireworks were intricate and created shapes out of the lights and others were just massive. Once the show was over, we then had to fight through all 100,000 people who were getting on the metro system at the same time. As a result, it was a late night, but a fun night.

There were so many people crammed in front of Montjuic for the New Year’s celebration – Barcelona, Spain
People were even selling grapes in bundles of 12 to be eaten at midnight – Barcelona, Spain
Fireworks over Montjuic – Barcelona, Spain

15. Embarking On My First Solo Trip

After the fiasco in Hungary where I had my backpack stolen and then had to go on a weeklong trip with people I didn’t want to, I was tired of humanity. Like reeeeaaallllyyyyy done with humanity. To remedy that, I took my very first solo trip to Liechtenstein. Of course I was cocky and only told one person. My parents had no idea and I told them after the fact. Whoops. Even though my trip to Liechtenstein was only a day trip, I was able to see lots of the country. That’s because it’s the 6th smallest country in the world. I paid 3 euros for a stamp in my passport and 15 euros on food at the train station because my trains home were cancelled and I ended up stranded in Switzerland. At least I eventually made it home, even though it wasn’t until the next morning.

Vaduz Castle – Vaduz, Liechtenstein
This passport stamp cost me 3 Euros but it was so worth it – Vaduz, Liechtenstein
I discovered how well the wonderful invention of the self-timer is on the camera! – Vaduz, Liechtenstein
Vaduz – Liechtenstein

14. Visited My Best Friend in the Bay Area

In my opinion, long-distance friendships are just as difficult as long-distance relationships. This October, I was finally able to visit my best friend in Northern California for the first time in two years. Thankfully I had seen her at New Years (Barcelona) but I had been dying to see her again. We had a blast together, even though I was only there for a weekend. The two of us explored the ritzy side of San Jose, went to a college football tailgate game, explored the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, and ate tubs of ice cream while watching How I Met Your Mother. The best part is that now she’s coming to see ME in a few weeks!!

Fish and Chips are a million times better when eaten on the go in front of the ocean – Santa Cruz, California

Santa Cruz – California
Sunset in Santa Cruz, California
My best friend and I found a cute little glass pumpkin patch while exploring San Jose – California

13. Seeing the Tallest Building in the World

Trading the small, medieval town of Heidelberg for the towering, modern skyscrapers of Dubai was a big change and I loved every minute. It was really difficult for me to return to Germany after visiting Dubai. There was something just so incredible about Dubai and the U.A.E. that I wanted to stay there forever. My favorite part was getting to see the Burj Khalifa. I had always wanted to see the PETRONAS Towers when they were the tallest buildings in the world so I was thrilled when I learned I would get to see the Burj. Pictures can’t even begin to do it justice. It was everything I had hoped for, plus more. I couldn’t justify spending almost $50 to take an elevator to the top, so I just admired it from the outside. Which is really the best way to admire a skyscraper, right?

The Dubai Mall is home to the beautiful water show in front of the Burj Khalifa – Dubai, U.A.E.
The Burj is much more difficult to photograph than one would think – Dubai, U.A.E.
Showing off my new camera and headscarf – Dubai, U.A.E.
There was even a whole wall of flowers that looked like the Emirati flag – Dubai, U.A.E.
At night, the Burj lights up in different patters for the water show – Dubai, U.A.E.

12. Climbing to the Top of Teotihuacan

Anybody who knows me knows that my favorite movie is El Dorado, the DreamWorks animation. It takes place in an ancient Aztec city and I’ve always wanted to visit. Even though I still haven’t found the city of gold (how I’m planning on paying my college tuition), I was able to visit the next closest thing this summer. The pyramids of Teotihuacan are just a short distance outside of Mexico City and are some of the tallest pyramids in the world. It looks like a shot straight out of the movie, sans piles of gold and human sacrifice. I had fun climbing the pyramids and realizing how out-of-shape I was. I had arrived early enough in the day that there were very few tourists and only dogs, so you could say that I was actually the god of Teotihuacan.

Valley of the Gods – Teotihuacan, Mexico
The ruins from above look so small – Teotihuacan, Mexico
Looking down the Valley of the Gods is eerie to imagine it full of people – Teotihuacan, Mexico

11. Hiking to the Hollywood Sign

This was another one of my impromptu solo “I’m-going-to-go-explore-even-though-I-have-no-reason-to” day trips. It literally started because I had the day off from everything and nothing to do. What started off as a coffee run turned into a hike to the Hollywood Sign. I only made one wrong turn and only stepped in a little bit of horse poop so it wasn’t all bad. If only I had found a clear view of DTLA… thanks smog…

Thanks to my selfie stick and GoPro, I was able to get this shot of me AND the entire sign – Hollywood, USA
The first good shot of the sign you’ll have on your hike – Hollywood, USA
I’m very thankful for the tourists who brought the American flag up here, it adds a patriotic emphasis to the view – Hollywood, USA

10. Seeing Drake at My School

It was a calm Friday the week before finals. I hadn’t put real people clothes on in two days because I was busy studying and lounging around my apartment. One of the girls I lived with burst into my room screaming that Drake was going to be at the Pepperdine basketball game in five minutes. We got dressed quicker than we ever had in our lives and raced to the gym to see him. Sure enough, there was Champagnepapi himself, hanging out in the seats like it was no big deal. Only in Malibu… I was fortunate enough to stand near (ish) to him and his car as he decided to zip off in his convertible Maybach. No big deal.

Look everyone, it’s Drake! – Malibu, California

9. Taking a Sorority Little

In October, I finally had my first child… MY LITTLE!! Her name is Lauren and she’s perfect and I basically had a breakdown when I was told she was my little because I WAS THAT EXCITED. Even though she’s taller than me, she’s still my little child and I love her to pieces. Plus we had the coolest big-little reveal of all time.

Dressed up for formal! – Malibu, California
Isn’t she the cutest? – Malibu, California
Our big-little reveal was the best of all time
My little slays me

8. Stood Behind the Planes on St. Maarten

I checked off another huge bucket list item this year when I went to the airport at St. Maarten. I was determined to hang on to the fence as jets took off right in front of me. Well, I did just that and even videotaped the whole thing for everyone’s entertainment. From early in the morning until the afternoon, I stood on the beach and watched airplanes take off and lane. Was the experience incredible? You bet? Would I actually wear sunscreen next time? You betcha. Stay tuned for my article of how to survive the jet blast on St. Maarten coming soon to a computer near you.

The planes fly so closely over the heads of the observers – Maho Beach, St. Maarten
I can swim with the planes! – Maho Beach, St. Maarten
Maho Beach – St. Maarten

7. Partied in Venice During Carnival

Since New Orleans and Rio de Janiero were a little far for me to travel for this year’s Carnival, I went to Venice! Two of my close friends and I rented a beautiful AirBNB overlooking a quaint canal. Everything about our stay in Venice was picturesque and incredible. It was incredible to see the people who had dressed in full costume for Carnival and ogle at everything we saw. I could’ve done with fewer tourists there but it was still a blast!

The view from my room in the AirBNB was spectacular! – Venice, Italy
We bought masks in Venice just to dress up for Carnival. Too bad we don’t look as good as the professionals! – Venice, Italy
Some people really go to the extreme with their costumes – Venice, Italy
There were so many people gathered in St. Mark’s Square for Carnival – Venice, Italy

6. Saw the Pope

My dad is still bitter with me for this one, but I accidentally saw the pope during my stay in Rome. I had traveled with my friend to see the city and we didn’t realize that our trip coincided with a celebration honoring a saint. We spent the whole morning inside the Vatican Museum and didn’t realize there was a huge crowd congregating in St. Peter’s Square. When our shortcut through the Sistine Chapel didn’t work, we knew something was up. Sure enough, the Pope was giving a speech to thousands of people who had gathered in the square. We squeezed our way in and were able to see Pope Francis himself as he blessed the crowd. God knows I needed all the extra blessings I could get. There were so many little old Italian ladies and they were so excited to see the pope that they practically trampled us. It was more dangerous than standing behind a plane during takeoff (see above point) but hey, at least I was able to see the Pope.

Look, it’s the Pope on the JumboTron! – Rome, Italy
And it’s the Pope again! – Rome, Italy
And again! – Rome, Italy

5. Walked Underneath the Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate has been a huge issue at my household. Back in 1985 my mom visited Berlin while it was still split into West and East Berlin. She wanted to walk underneath the Brandenburg Gate but alas, it was under Soviet control and she could not do so. I had heard her complain about it my whole life. When my family traveled to Berlin in 2014 I just knew we would finally be able to walk underneath the Gate. WRONG. The World Cup was going on in Brazil and Berlin had erected a huge screen in front of the Brandenburg Gate for people to watch the game life. So the gate was closed off. Perfect. I traveled to Berlin in 2015 confident that this would be the time I could walk underneath it. Nope, it was Reunification Day in Germany and once again it was closed. By this point I was just becoming irritated. It wasn’t until March of this year that I was FINALLY able to go to Berlin and walk underneath the Brandenburg Gate. It was about time.

Brandenburg Gate – Berlin, Germany

4. Reported Live on the U.S. Election

I don’t care what your political views are. You have the right to be wrong, but this November’s election was one of the most insane elections that the U.S. has ever had. I was fortunate enough to be able to report and anchor a television show the night of the election and watch as the numbers came in and called Donald Trump the next president of the United States. That entire day, I had been working tirelessly obtaining footage and writing scripts for our show. But when it was time for me to go live on the air, there were no more scripts available. So I ad-libbed three hours of election night coverage and had an absolutely wonderful time doing it. Some people may consider it their worst nightmare, but for a broadcast journalist I was living the dream.

Marisa Martin, anchoring the news! – Malibu, California

3. Visited the Tulip Fields in the Dutch Keukenhof

The Netherlands is known for three things. Windmills, cheese, and tulips. I had always heard of the mythical tulip fields and the grand Keukenhof but in April I embarked on my second solo travel adventure to see them. The Keukenhof takes place every spring and has thousands of beautiful flowers. The gardens are meticulously cared for and it’s a beautiful place to go to and one can spend hours there eating the delicious Dutch food and admiring the flowers. Here, it really pays to take time to stop and smell the roses.

Keukenhof Gardens – Netherlands
Keukenhof Gardens – Netherlands
Keukenhof Gardens – Netherlands
Keukenhof Gardens – Netherlands
Keukenhof Gardens – Netherlands

2. Lived in Heidelberg, Germany

A list of my year wouldn’t be complete without an ode to Heidelberg. That small town captured a piece of my heart and I will forever treasure the time when I lived there. Some of my best memories happened in Heidelberg and I still call it home. It was so hard moving to California from Germany but hopefully one day (very soon) I will return.

Watching over my kingdom – Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg from the Castle – Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg, Germany
Overlooking the Hauptstrasse – Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg, Germany

1. Traveled to London with My Boyfriend

I’m kind of cheating with my number one adventure of 2016 because it encompasses two whole weeks of travel and adventures. After being long-distance for six months, my boyfriend came to visit in London. His brother and girlfriend also came on the trip and the two of them were even engaged in front of Big Ben on the River Thames! We all did lots of touristy things and even traveled to Ireland and Scotland on day trips. One of the best parts about this was I skipped a week of classes to go but hey, it was well worth it. I was even lucky enough to spend my birthday there with some of my favorite people and start a whole new decade in my life in the Eternal City.

Popping champagne hundreds of feet in the air in the London Eye – London, England
Big Ben and Parliament – London, England
Me with my handsome – London, England
All four of us from the trip – London, England

So there you have it, my top 16 adventures for 2016. I had a crazy year and that’s not even the half of what I did. Looking back, I would have done a few things differently (like not getting my backpack stolen) but it was a solid year overall.

What are my plans for 2017? First lf all, I don’t want to be robbed again (can you tell I’m still bitter??). Right now I’ve been to 38 countries and really want to get to 40 countries by the end of 2017 but my bank account tells me to stop dreaming and start working harder.

Who knows, maybe 2017 is the year I finally win the lottery and can afford a trip around the world.

Happy New Year!

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