IJM International Trip - Montenegro

Much like Argostoli, we sailed into Montenegro with the most beautiful view. Our ship was moving slowly through the waters, with endless mountains lining both sides for hours. After breakfast, the girls and I went to the top deck of the ship and watched as the country went by- it was mesmerizing. Instead of docking along a land-port, the ship anchored in the middle of the water and little boats came and brought us ashore.

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Our mission for the day was to find the base of the mountain and climb it. Easy, right? The twisty, narrow, maze-like layout of the town at the foot of the mountain made our mission difficult to begin; but, after a good 20 minutes of what my mom likes to call “taking the scenic route”, we found the base of the mountain trail and began climbing. On the way up, we followed a rock path that conveniently had stairs along the side that made it easy for the little ones to climb. The view on the way up was stunning. The composition was perfect with the towering mountains, clear blue waters, and clay colored roofs scattered about the town. We hiked all the way up to this little church that marked the halfway point to the top of the mountain. There, we were able to see a large part of the city and it was breathtaking. 

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The world really felt so big, and seeing it from up so high was an experience the girls and I will never forget. From our vantage point, a lot of questions came to mind, and I was filled with a new perspective. How many of our own mountains must we climb in our lifetime and what color will the rooftops of our past be? When we get to the top, will our questions be answered? What must it be like to look at our world from a different set of eyes? How do others perceive our life and how much does it matter? This trip not only gave me a way to fall even more in love with my sister queens, but also presented me with an even fresher, broader, perspective on life, it’s value, and how everything in the world comes full circle. International Junior Miss is changing lives in ways I don’t think they ever thought they would, by allowing their queens to travel and face the world head on and giving them all the tools they need to question, challenge, and create their own destinies. Standing at the top of the mountain with my International Teen banner draped across my back, I had never felt stronger.

Once we made our way down the mountain, we shopped for a little and made a stop for lunch. Because Montenegro is right along the water, seafood was a big staple in their menus, so much so that little Khloe just had to try shark for lunch and couldn’t contain her excitement when she saw that it was on the menu. Trying exotic foods like that was definitely new for Khloe, so all of us watched her in awe as she made up her mind and was determined to get the plate in front of her. Fallon saw that the restaurant also served duck, if you read our Athen’s blog, you know that Fallon devoured her duck, so she was really excited to see it made in Montenegro as well. Apparently the one in Athens was better though. Mrs. Nikki and Mrs. Jess also stopped by and ate lunch with us before they continued on back to the ship. Once again, all of us eating together was so much fun. There’s something about all of us gathering for meals, telling stories, and making memories that is so special and will forever have it’s own place in my heart. 

“I really liked climbing the mountain in Kotor and trying shark! I didn’t really like it but it was fun trying something new with my sister queens!”
-Khloe Noelke, 2017 Internationa Jr. Princess

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After lunch, Khloe and Ava couldn’t stop talking about the beach, so, after much deliberation, we managed to get two taxi drivers that were willing to take us to the beach, wait for us, and drive us back to the ship. Our driver was so kind. He had such a cool accent that we got to hear as he was telling about his island and all the wonderful things about it. The way he was describing all the different activities you could do made me really want to come back. He reminded us that there is so much more to explore than the one mountain we climbed- a lesson that can be applied to everything. There is always so much more that you can do, there is always something that you will never be able to do, but despite both, you should appreciate what you can and will accomplish. When we got to the beach, the sun was already setting and we were left to admire how beautiful and still the water was. Khloe and Ava tried their hardest to get some swimming in. On our way back to the ship, our driver told us more stories about Kotor and we watched the sunset whiz by from the mountains of Montenegro.

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Lessons Of The Day: 
- If you are going to do a physical activity, make sure you are prepared! Travel with at least one pair of every shoe- heels, sandals/slippers, sneakers. You’ll be set. 
- Don’t be lazy with your traveling! Get out early despite how easy it is to sleep in and relax. Do as much as you can without sacrificing the meaning of what you’re doing. The girls kept wanting to give up on the hike before we got to our endpoint and I continued to push them because we would never get another chance to hike that mountain together. Go all the way, push yourself. You will be thankful in the end. 
- Engage in conversation with your taxi drivers; they are real people with real, often intriguing, stories that give insight as to what life is like there. You’ll never see these people again, learn what you can in the time you have. 
- Watch the sunset. Watch the sunset. Watch the sunset.

Kotor, Montenegro was our second to last stop on the cruise, and our shortening time was definitely dawning us quickly. Montenegro was the most physically demanding port out of this trip because of that mountain, but I can’t express how rewarding it was to finally reach our stopping point and see how far we came. “Is that another entendre, Ariah?” Yes, yes it is. 

Everywhere you go, in everything you do, “spread love and choose happiness”;
Ariah Alba
2017 International Teen
 

IJM International Trip - Argostoli

Waking up to picturesque mountains and the clearest blue skies along the waters of Greece was surreal. The air felt so clean, the view so crisp; the muddled feeling that succumbs one’s everyday life was instantly refreshed and far-removed. The island of Kefalonia, Greece was stunning in every aspect. The buildings, like many we’ve seen in Europe, were painted in the prettiest pastel colors which gave even more life to the blue water and characteristics of living along the coast.

“Argostoli was the prettiest place I’ve ever been. I learned that if you order “grilled cheese” in Argostoli, you actually get a slice of grilled cheese instead of a sandwich like in the U.S. Weird, right? I thought it was really funny. It’s definitely a memory we’ll never forget.”
-Fallon Farr, 2017 International Pre-Teen

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The girls and I spent a lot of time shopping and going into very unique stores by the port. We bought some very pretty, handmade dresses specific to Greece, with gold embroidery and handmade leather sandals! The young women helping us find our dresses were so kind and beautiful. I was in awe at how their kind, humble personalities added on to their natural beauty. I found that to be a common theme with the people in Greece. 

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Haley went on an excursion that took her around a majority of the island and through a cave that held a large part of Argostoli’s history. The waters were ice-blue, and the little boat that she rode really gave her this antique, adventurous feel that you can’t get anywhere else. Mrs. Jess took a photo of the water and could have sworn she captured a photo of one of the friendly spirits inhabiting the lake. So far we can say that the allegations of Greece being magical aren’t far from the truth. 

“One of my favorite memories was driving along breathtaking cliffs on the edge of the Greek Island, Kefalonia. I specifically remember being amazed by the deep blue of the Ionian Sea and counting wild, mountain goats on the cliffs as we passed by.” 
- Haley Pontius, 2017 International Miss

Khloe, Ava, Fallon, and Sullivan went to this beautiful beach on the island and spent the day swimming and playing in the sand. Those girls had been longing for some beach time the entire trip and they were ecstatic that they got the chance to swim in Greek waters. 

“My favorite port was definitely Argostoli because I went swimming in a beautiful beach and the water was clear as bath water. I had so much fun!!” 
-Ava Colindres, 2017 International Princess

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I had the unique opportunity to ride a paddle boat in one of the lakes later that afternoon, and it was beyond peaceful. While on the paddle boat, I was surrounded on almost all sides by Argostoli’s mountains, and with my favorite music, I spent some time pondering life and taking in the breathtaking view. It really is incredible you know, how in this little corner of the world, so far from where the craziness of life resides, I could feel a sense of rejuvenation and appreciation for how incredible our Earth is. Man needs Earth, Earth doesn’t need Man. We should care for it as it cares for us.

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Back on the boat later that night, we had dinner at one of the ship’s fancy restaurants. Dinner was probably one of our favorite parts about the ship because of how great the service and food was. Our waiters new our names instantly from the first time we told them, they were engaging and funny, and the food was fine-dining delicious. On this night, the wait-staff did a little parade where they played music and sang a song as they gathered on the stairs of the restaurant. It was such a fun display of appreciation for the hard work the staff of the restaurants did for us. Our servers from this trip have a special place in my heart for how kind they always were and how they ensured that we had the best experience possible. Here are a series of pictures from some of our nights at dinner. On the second night of the cruise, Mrs. Nikki surprised me with a cake from the restaurant to celebrate my birthday that passed right before we left for Europe. It was such a wonderful surprise, and I was extremely happy to share that moment with my sisters.

Lessons of The Day:
- Travel!! I cannot stress enough how important and impactful it is to travel. You will see so many beautiful, breathtaking places. You’ll never regret your decision. 
- Spend time putting together a playlist of peaceful, relaxing music for those moments of solitude. Traveling by yourself and being surrounded by nature can help you think through life and possibly lead you to solutions to your current obstacles. 
- Take things in. Breathe. Engrave the moment in your memory. Stop and look at the world’s beauty
- People are so kind- the cruise really reminded us of that. 

Thank you for reading about our day in Argostoli! This little island is definitely on my list of places I have to revisit. If you ask any of the queens, they’ll all say that Argostoli was their favorite. Something about those waters mystified us. If you’re ever looking for rejuvenation, visit Greece. To read more about the International Queen’s cruise this fall, check out the other editions of the 2017 Travel Series written by yours truly xx. 

“Spread Love, Choose Happiness”,
Ariah Alba
2017 International Teen
 

IJM International Trip - Athens

After a full day at sea, we made it to our first port, Athens! We started out super early and went together on a bus as a group to the Acropolis. On the way there, we rode on high cliffs overlooking the water to the right, and traditional Greek buildings to the left. As always, it was really interesting seeing the different building and architecture styles; but the highlight was definitely watching the coast go by with its stunning blue waters and crisp, clean air. When we got to the ruins, our tour guide began to give us a very in-depth telling of the history of the buildings and the land. The structures were MASSIVE! It was absolutely mind-blowing how they were built centuries ago and withstood all of the things that occurred throughout the different empires. Did you know that all of the Greek temples and structures had been completely destroyed by enemy empires and they completely remade in half the time it originally took to build them? That’s crazy!! Right now, Greece is working to reconstruct and restore the ruins for historical and educational purposes. You could see the brighter sections of marble on some of the pillars, but it was still so beautiful. Athens is breathtaking. It was crazy trying to imagine how amazing it must have been to actually live there. Will people look back on our own ruins and wonder the same thing? What legacy are we leaving behind?

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Back on the tour bus, we drove from the ruins and headed to the city's center. We walked around for a bit in search of food and found a very cute restaurant with extremely delicious Greek food. Miss Lovie, Khloe’s mom, and I ate the restaurant’s famous “Dooky” (I know, funny name!) which was a sandwich- it was so good, I really wish we made them here. I’m talking the softest bread, with perfectly seasoned chicken, fresh vegetables… mmm, I’m getting hungry. Sorry if you are too. Fallon tried the restaurant’s duck, and she devoured it! Fallon did not talk at all once her food came to the table because of how good it was. Fun fact: they really like cream cheese in Athens. It’s in everything! I always really enjoy when our big group eats together because it’s so much fun. When you have all the queens, their moms, Mrs. Nikki, and Mrs. Jess together, we usually never stop laughing or telling funny stories. I’ve loved every second I’ve spent with these incredible women.

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After lunch, we walked further into the city and did some shopping. Just like Milan, the busy city center of Athens reminded me of NYC- tall buildings, lots of cars, and people walking on the streets. We all split up later that afternoon- Ava and Khloe went back to the ship so they could go swimming, Fallon and Sullivan went shopping, Haley was on an excursion with her mom, and my mom and I kept exploring the city. The cool thing about walking away from a city without really any place to go is that you stumble upon a lot of unique places you would have otherwise never gone to if you had a plan. My mom and I went into this Christian shop in search of gifts for my grandma where the owner spoke absolutely no English and we spoke no Greek. Our communication was solely reliant on gestures and expressions. It was a really interesting display of human communication and it was proof that we can all connect through something universal. We aren’t all that different; a lesson I feel that we need to be reminded of.

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Lessons of The Day:
- Pay attention in history class so you can have insight on places you travel to! History is cool, especially when you get to see it in real life.
- Get out of the city centers and big touristy areas. Sometimes it’s okay to not have a plan or a map. You might stumble upon something unique and impactful!
- No matter our skin color, our race or ethnicity, or language, or our beliefs, we’re all human. Instead of seeing someone’s differences upon the first encounter, try thinking about how cool it would be if you looked past it all.

Athens was incredible, and getting to stand at the center of such monumental history was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Our first stop on our cruise was so much better than expected and it set the tone for the rest of the trip. Check out the other additions to the 2017 Travel Series to read more about the International Queens’ trip to Europe!

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"Spread Love, Choose Happiness”
Ariah Alba
2017 International Teen
 

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