Barcelona, Denmark, Italy, London, Munich, Paris

Ciao, semplicemente ciao

Well. This post is long overdue. And I can’t explain how many times I’ve opened up WordPress only to leave the tab open on my computer all day before quietly closing it. I didn’t want to write this post. Because how do you put into words an experience like I have had the past four months? It is impossible to explain how different I am and at the same time how unchanged after 108 days abroad. Even worse, I’m tired of trying to answer questions when I can’t even grasp what I’ve just been through. My favorite city? Favorite memory? Best thing I ate? What do I miss most? I’m sorry to those who have asked these things, but I have no concrete answer to any of those and I’d appreciate not hearing those questions for a while. I can tell you what I loved about Rome, Munich, Paris, Copenhagen, Naples, Venice, Barcelona, and even London (despite all the things I didn’t like about London). I can tell you about this amazing risotto I had or the best wine I tasted on such and such day. But I can’t tell you overall what was the best meal, because how do you rate these experiences? You can’t. If I simply said I liked London the least then no one would ask me to explain all the parts of London that I did enjoy. So for that reason I don’t like questions about “best” or “favorite” because every day I was abroad I experienced the worst and the best moments and I’m grateful for every single one of them.   Instead, I’d like to discuss what I have learned. I wanted to do a list (as much as listicles suck) of 108 things I learned, but I think that would be exhaustive to readers. In keeping with what I’ve already explained above, I am instead going to say what I learned from each place I visited. Because every city has it’s undiscovered lessons and I would like to think that I learned something, even if it’s as simple as how to cheat the pay for the bathroom system, in each one.   Enjoy. I couldn’t have learned and experienced all of these things without my supportive friends, family, boyfriend, and the values I’ve grown up with. So this is for everyone who has touched my life in so many ways. I hope that my experiences inspire you to explore the world around you. I went into this (as I’ve described) without friends, a plan, sufficient money, or any clue what I was doing in Italy as a Spanish minor. I left with assurance that this was the right decision, with many new friends, an empty bank account, and a new outlook on life and even an appreciation for American customs which I’d expected I’d despise upon my return. With that, here are the things I learned across Europe in each city. 1. Nemi, Italy One of the stops on our Orientation weekend. In Nemi, I learned that joy is rainy skies, the best strawberry gelato, messy hair, sleepless eyes, and new friends. At this point I was still very unsure about myself and how these four months were going to go. I put my all into that gelato because I was afraid of letting any of these experiences go to waste. Even in the rain, Nemi was a beautiful town and cultivated my interest in products of Italy. One of the best parts about Italy (and much of Europe) is that each region has particular food products which are the best. So, Nemi’s “best” was strawberries. And I learned quickly to try these bests, because they are labeled as such for a reason. Image 2. Salerno, Italy We went to Salerno for our Orientation trip the first weekend, before classes began. Our stay at Lloyd’s Baia Hotel was one of the weirdest because you had to go underground for every floor. The place was beautiful, and the view out the window was as well. I learned the danger of being alone as a woman in Italy. One of my friends and I walked back from downtown late at night and had men stop and try to convince us to get in their car, on a BUSY street. Back in Chicago this stuff happens, but at least I know the language and can use my assertive energy to say no. Italian men do not respond the same and this was a jarring but important realization. Image 3. Venice, Italy I travelled to Venice twice, actually. Once with friends and then later with another group of friends for Carnevale. What I have taken from these experiences is that the weather does matter and that Italians are willing to let a flood plan their day. I still remember how shocked I was when one woman told us to wait “a few hours” for the tide to go down so we could get to our hostel because we didn’t want to “ruin our shoes”. Only in Italy do your shoes’ health matter so much that its acceptable to stand stranded on a bridge for hours. The Italian way of life, often “lazy” upset me in many ways. However, I think we could learn a great deal from this as well. I was ready to take off my shoes and run through the dirty water because of my impatience. Americans focus so much on the value of time that they don’t see the consequences of actions, and its true that I would have been upset if my boots were ruined or I got some weird disease from the water. While this woman’s remarks seemed shallow at the time it did reveal insight which we often ignore because we think that we know better than others. This experience taught me the value of patience and evaluating the situation before acting. Image 4. Naples, Italy I loved Naples, simply put. Our hostel owner, Giovanni, was one of the sweetest and most hospitable people I’ve met. From this, I learned the value of taking care of others and showing appreciation for their company. He cooked us pasta the first day, made us espresso every morning, taught us about nighttime safety, and made me feel the most at home possible 4000 miles from my true home. I am so grateful to have met such an amazing man and to have seen the way of life characteristic of Southern Italy. What better weekend to experience this than Valentine’s Day. I was very upset, naturally, because of being away from my boyfriend, but Giovanni helped make me feel loved and appreciated in a paternal way which I desperately needed at the time. I hope to come back some day. Image 5. London, U.K. Well. I’ve already listed all the things that annoyed me about London, but I did learn compassion. My anger at the manners of the British helped me to appreciate some of the qualities of those back home. True, Americans are “rude”, but I’ve never felt so unwelcome as I did in London and I yearned for the Midwestern comfort I was used to. While in London, I was able to learn something about perspective and just how wrong it can be. I assumed that I would feel most at home in an English speaking country, but I was so wrong and I learned not to rely on my expectations. I also got to see the Harry Potter set, so that was dope. Image 6. Paris, France I arrived in Paris on my birthday and learned the value of love in this beautiful city. I’ve already discussed the couple we met, but the similarities to Luke and I’s own relationship solidified my belief in making it work. Regardless of age, distance, or other people’s opinions — let yourself love and be loved. I’ve also tried (honestly) to not be one of those people broadcasting my relationship on social media, but why shouldn’t I? Why shouldn’t anyone? If you have love in your life, from parents, siblings, a significant other, why should you ever keep that from the world. As cliche as it is (and this blog is filled with cliches), life is short and I plan on filling mine with as much love and happiness as possible. Their story made my time in Paris and what better time than when we went up in the Eiffel Tower? Image 7. Versailles, France I learned the value of fighting for what you deserve. Because we didn’t. Using our student visas should get us free entrance, but the woman behind the counter decided to be nasty and not let us. I was out 15 euro because of her decision, which put a bit of a damper on the experience. Again, what better time to realize the nastiness and stinginess of others than when you are visiting the home of the Queen of Stinginess herself. Whattup Marie Antoinette, I hope that cake was worth it. Image 8. Munich, Germany Finally over my stomach bug, I was able to enjoy beer and food in Munich. What stuck with me the most from this trip was the importance of meeting other people and letting your judgments fall by the wayside. It’s true, living in Chicago the past two years I’ve become accustomed to judging others for my own safety and in order to make my L rides a little less “crazy” filled. But it’s important to give others a chance, which further set in when we had a lovely afternoon with two men in their thirties. Typically, this would be seen as a bad idea. But in Germany, why not spend your afternoon in a beer garden with a married Chinese man and a Canadian bachelor? I enjoyed speaking with them and gaining perspective on two other countries in the world, while they also gained perspective on America – different from the media’s interpretations they relied on just as we do for others. Image 9. Copenhagen, Denmark Woo hoo was I excited to go to the Homeland. There were many lessons learned here, not including seeing someone smoke crack on our street in the middle of the day. But mostly, I gained appreciation for the hot dog. I lived on hot dogs for three days because of how expensive Scandinavia is, but damn were they good. I also appreciate how active people are in Denmark, but I’ll just stand by the marathon runners and eat my hotdog and drink my liter beer. I couldn’t find a picture of my hotdog, so enjoy NyHavn instead!Image 10. Tuscany (region), Italy Tuscany, obviously, taught me about wine and food. The beauty of this place is something that no photograph or account could ever reveal. What I learned here is to value simple experiences. I’m notorious for wanting my wifi at all times, which I don’t think is a bad thing. But going for three days without it taught me just how attached we all are to the Internet, always needing to know everything about everyone at every second. I learned so much at the pig farm because I didn’t tune out the farmer and Google things I wanted to know, but instead listened and allowed him to tell us the important things. There is value in active listening and learning through the senses, which is often neglected for quick answers via search engines nowadays. I’m glad I learned this bit and got to taste some amazing foods and products. Image 11. Barcelona, Spain In Spain I learned the value of standing up for yourself. When on the beach, some men left a drink for us and came back later trying to get us to pay for it. I argued with them for a few minutes saying in Spanish that we did not order it and would not be paying for it. I held my ground and we all stood up, shaking off our towels, and gracefully exited the situation. No harm done. I think as Americans we are hesitant to fight against others even when they are wrong for fear of confrontation. But I have learned the importance of speaking out and speaking up and knowing that we will be viewed as weak and manipulable because we are Americans. By the time I arrived in Spain, I knew this, and I knew how to challenge this stereotype and escape unscathed. Image 12. Rome, Italy It would be unfair to name only one thing I learned from my home for the past four months, but I recognize that I don’t want to weight the importance of what I learned here. Rome was my home, most importantly. I valued returning here after weekend trips, and I began to see how important it is to have a distinct physical home while you are abroad. There were nights where the bus wasn’t coming and I would have given anything to be in my small dorm back at JFRC. I never thought I would end up in Italy, especially as someone studying Spanish, but I am so thankful I did something outside of my comfort zone. I never wanted to learn Italian, either. I sat through class the first few days dreading it and thinking it was pointless information I would throw away when I returned to America. But now I find myself listening to Italian songs, remembering little phrases, and saying “Ciao” to my family. I’m sure I’ll always say Ciao now, as habit. For this, I am thankful for JFRC, for Loyola’s program and wonderful professors, and for choosing an option which wasn’t “ideal” for myself. Studying abroad is about learning and choosing any comfortable option cheats yourself from the experience. I have a new appreciation for the Italian culture, language, and cuisine. Thank you, JFRC, for everything you have exposed me to and for all that I have learned. You have taught me that every person, place, and experience holds value in my life and that I can learn from them. Image

I don’t know that I will ever recover from this experience. I am forever split into three between my home in Edina, in Chicago, and in Rome. (As well as all these other places which have touched and affected me.) I will return someday, I am sure of it. This experience has changed me in so many ways. But it has also taught me a greater appreciation and sureness of who I already was. I wouldn’t change these last four months in anyway. Spero che ci vediamo presto 🙂

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Paris

Let Them Eat Cake

We arrived in Paris before noon, determined to get to our hostel quickly so we would have time left to explore before nighttime.

Our first bump in the road proved to be figuring out public transportation. I am truly grateful for the CTA because the systems over here are dreadful. The machines only took coins, and finding a change machine took about 20 minutes. We also didn’t realize you need to buy a specific ticket simply to get to Paris (as we were outside). However, once we bought our tickets it was smooth sailing to our hostel.

We checked in and were immediately relieved to see how nice it was. Free breakfast, wifi, bathrooms in our rooms, and a nice location. I loved the environment especially coming from our previous experience, but we were promptly on our way to explore.

Our hostel was a 40 minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. Considering it was nice out, and we didn’t want to spend money on transportation after our experiences in London*, we walked.

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The first glimpse of the Tower!

On our walk we stopped for some crepes, but beware because not all crepes are the same. I was pretty disappointed. Apparently “sausage” means sticking a hotdog on a crepe…which seemed an insult to me, that all Americans seem to love shitty food.

I snapped a lot of photos of the Tower though, it was so pretty in the light of the sunset.

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We walked further along the Seine, getting a nice view from the other side of the Eiffel Tower.

Afterwards, tired from walking, we crossed a bridge back in the direction of our hostel for a light meal.

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We shared some pink wine and since I wasn’t feeling food  I ordered cake. Unfortunately, this didn’t sit well. But I can attest that the food and wine was delicious despite being sick.

I had an amazing birthday, despite all of this. I couldn’t ask for a better experience than spending it in two major European cities (London and Paris).

The next morning we had breakfast at our hostel, for a free breakfast I enjoyed it. The night before the line to the Eiffel Tower was too long, today we would test our luck again.

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Thankfully, the line moved quickly. Despite a woman and her grandchild trying to cut in line, we met a lovely English couple behind us and spent the time with them.

We later found out that the woman was an oil worker, she told us to Google her and I found her!

http://www.energyvoice.com/2014/01/30-years-offshore-great-grandmother-oil-industry/

She was a truly inspiring and beautiful soul and I was touched by her story (she was on her engagement with her partner–both of them in their 70s!). Travel has taught me so much about people and the ease of meeting new ones. There are many less-than-desirable people out there, but others who will make you hopeful in the decency of humanity number just as many. I left the Tower that morning feeling refreshed, happy, and in a better place than I had before meeting those two. I hope they have a lovely marriage and life together.

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Paris is such a beautiful city and I highly recommend going all the way up in the Eiffel Tower–it was a rich experience well worth the admission fee.

After grabbing a sandwich by the river, we trekked over to the Louvre (free to student visa carriers)

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Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t understand the obsession with this painting? It’s also tiny. But alas, I took my cliche photo as well. I’m stumped.

Next, we continued along the river to the famous Pont des Arts, the Lovelock Bridge! I promised Luke I would attach a lock for us, which we can “return” to later (though I’m not too confident it will be there, since most locks were new and I get the impression there may be some “trimming” done on occasion). Regardless, it was a fun experience and coupled with the accordion player and other couples and groups of friends partaking, I didn’t feel so crazy doing it alone.

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Props to Suzie for catching my key in mid-flight, and my multitude of chins. But so joy much happiness.

Next stop was the Notre Dame!

I’m honestly tired of churches (oops) but the stained glass was so beautiful I took my share of photos.

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Paris encapsulates a beauty that is entirely its own, unique from any I’ve seen before. This day showed me this.

We were also surprised by some street performers outside of the Notre Dame, I was truly impressed with their performance and haven’t seen true talent like that on the streets before.

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On our way to Pierre Herme for macaroons, we ran into Troian Bellisario from Pretty Little Liars. Casual…?

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Nothing lifts one’s spirits like meeting someone famous. It’s visible in the photo that I’m struggling with being sick (still), yet I’m proud of this picture nonetheless.

After this photo op, we finally got to our macaroons!

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A little tip, nobody needs or can consume 7 macaroons. I didn’t finish this box and I was nibbling for 2-3 days. Oops.

Flavors are: Rose, Praline, Chocolate (salted?), Passion Fruit Chocolate, Rose, Salted caramel, and sweet Chocolate.

My favorites were passion fruit an the salty chocolate. Yumm.

We wandered a bit more before heading to dinner close to our hostel and then crashing for the night. I’d had a long day and was glad for the low-key nights on our trip.

The next morning we were off to Versailles! (An honors kid’s dream)

I’m a bit peeved because we had to pay, even with our student visa, but I guess that’s the case with many “free” activities and our luck ran out with the Louvre.

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It was very nice that day and I enjoyed getting to see Versailles. I also spent some time souvenir shopping before we returned to our hostel to grab our bags and head for our two-leg overnight train to Munich (ugh).

I was sad to see Paris go, but I know I will return someday.

*The transportation prices in London are atrocious, even with an “Oyster card” I spent 30-40 pounds in the 36 hours we were there on transportation alone. That’s about 70 dollars for American readers. Yikes.