Friday, June 10, 2011

So hard to say goodbye

Well I've managed to wrestle shut my overstuffed, overweight suitcase. I had my last serving of fish and chips at my favorite pub and I said goodbye to all of my friends as they have filtered away one by one over the past three weeks. All signs point to the bittersweet fact that it is time to go home.

To label my time here as "incredible" would be an understatement. It was extraordinary, life changing even. I have learned so much here that I could never have read in books or watched in films. Take these pictures for instance:

The people in these two pictures represent 10 different countries. That is 10 different worldly views, 10 different sets of politics, 10 different upbringings, and 10 different experiences that I have had the great fortune of being apart of. The people I have met here have given me so much and have taught me even more. I cannot thank them enough for everything they have shared with me and I am eternally grateful that our paths have crossed and I am able to call them my friends.

There is no better experience than traveling. I look back at myself five months ago before leaving for this adventure, I was terrified, I couldn't stop crying, and I couldn't believe I was leaving home for 5 WHOLE MONTHS! Geeze, now here I am on the other side of this journey, a somewhat changed person, and I think to myself "Where the hell did the last 5 months go?" Time truly does fly. Its so funny to think that this place I was so scared to come to has become my home. I will truly miss every aspect of my day-to-day life here, from public transportation to the homeless man with new shoes who has become a permanent fixture in my landscape. Recycling, composting, using a clothesline instead of a dryer, farmers markets, museums every weekend, fine art everywhere, no high fructose corn syrup, all of these seemingly small details have made my time here such a pleasure, they are small differences that make up the larger picture of my life in London.
This has been a growing experience for me as well. I have learned so much about myself that I don't think I would have ever realized otherwise. For instance, I prefer trains to any other form of travel. I can read maps. I am able to navigate major cities, and fairly well! If I never have to drive again I would be happy. I know that I want to ultimately settle down in a place outside of a city with public transportation. I know that life is what you make it, and I am capable of being happy anywhere. I love rhubarb. I love my family and friends, and I never realized how much they meant to me until I left. Overall, I've come out of this with a stronger sense of self. I am so much more confident in myself, more than ever before.
As happy as I am to go home to my life in New York, I am just as sad that my time here has ended. However, I cannot be sad, I can only be thankful for this experience and opportunity. I know this isn't my last adventure, how could it be? I've been infected with the travel bug. Changing your life even just for a short amount of time can teach you so much and give you opportunities you never knew existed. Please friends, go travel, go see the world, go meet other people, don't be afraid, just go. Thank you for following my journey.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

My sense of home has become skewed,

I'm excited to find out where I belong.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fish & chips has made me fat.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Euro trip-out part 3-Italy and the Great Train Adventure of 2011

Gosh too much time has passed since I have returned from my European adventure, in fact I'm already embarking on my second tour next week when my lovely family arrives! Anywho I suppose I should write about Italy a bit.

So I believe I left off on a flight to Bologna! Upon arriving in Bologna Morgan, Rachel, and I hopped on a bus to our hostel. However we quickly realized that our directions were just slightly insufficient as they only took us to the bus stop with the description of the hostel being "right around the corner" So, after searching around a bit Morgan finally conjured the courage to ask someone for directions, and boy, were we lucky she did. She went into a small pizza place and pointed to the address on a piece of paper, no one spoke English but an old man smelling of wine gestured for us to follow him, now this isn't something I would normally do (i.e. follow drunk old men down alley ways in a foreign land) but hey, desperate times call for desperate measures. The old man took us around the corner from the bus stop and pointed to a green sign and indeed, there was our hostel. We celebrated and thanked him and made our way to the door. Now, this small and seemingly meaningless experience speaks volumes about the Italians, they were truly some of the nicest people I have ever met. This sort of warmth and kindness reoccurred many times throughout our trip.

When we reached our hostel we were very pleasantly surprised as it turned out to be a bed and breakfast and was truly one of the prettiest places I have ever stayed. It was called B&B Romina, and the innkeeper's name was of course, Romina, a very sweet Italian woman who didn't speak much English, but with my little knowledge of Italian we communicated quite well and I think she was very pleased to have us.
Inside the B&B Romina

That evening we walked just a few blocks away from our hostel and found a small wine bar and decided to have dinner. Very timidly, Morgan approached the waitress and in Italian that she had learned from a guidebook asked "Una tavola per cena?" The waitress looked at us endearingly and said "Okay, ask in English," we let out a sigh of relief to the fact that she spoke English and asked if we may sit down for dinner, she then instructed us on how to say it properly in Italian and sat us at a lovely table. By the way, if you're ever in Italy the correct way to ask for a table for dinner is "Hai un posto per la cena?" We ordered the best bottle of wine I have ever had, it was a red wine from the Tuscan region and I had eggplant parm to eat, it was molto delicioso! here are some pics:

The restaurant/bar

The best eggplant I've ever consumed.

The next day, since we had no direction and no expectations we spent the day wandering around Bologna. Now, Bologna is a very small city with very few tourist attraction sites, in fact it is more known for its food that its atmosphere. This of course did not bother me because I love food dearly, so we decided to visit the Medieval marketplace and try some fresh goods.
Fresh bread, tomatoes, cheese, and strawberries oh my!

After our wonderful lunch Rachel and I did some more exploring and happened upon some of the many ancient churches that Bologna harbors. They were all lovely but one stood out in particularly. Rachel and I found la Basilica di St. Stephen and decided to enter. The church was very old, from the Medieval era I believe. The church had within it a mausoleum, which you could walk up and look into, as well as the tombs of many long deceased people. It was creepy to say the least. Also within its walls was a cloister of monks who made a number of different products including limoncello and chocolate! In the gift shop (yes they have a gift shop) I was searching for a homeopathic elixir to bring home to my mom as a souvenir. When I finally chose one the monk working at the register made sure that I knew exactly how to take it and what it was to be used for. This conversation went on for over half an hour, but was actually one of my favorite moments of this entire trip. He was really one of the kindest people I have ever met, he was a French monk who spoke English fairly well and was trying to learn Italian. He took great care in making sure that I had very detailed instructions to bring home to my mother on how to use this elixir. I walked away from the conversation feeling somewhat surreal as I had never imagined that I would ever meet and have a long conversation with a cloistered monk. Here's a picture of the Basilica from the outers and innards:


these were the cloisters I think. They had a gigantic dog that roamed the upper hallway.

That night we got some pizza from a place called Nicola's (or something like that) and here is what it looked like:

Thus began the pizza portion of my tour.

The next day we packed up our things and made our way to the train station to head for Florence. The train ride was absolutely beautiful and filled with Tuscan countryside. here's a shot from the train:

When we arrived in Florence we easily found our hostel, however we quickly learned that the hostel we booked was not where were would be staying as the innkeeper told us in broken English "You no stay here, a short man will come for you." Sure enough a few minutes later a short guy smelling of body odor told us to follow him to where we would be staying, now again this is not something I would suggest doing (following strange men to places you don't know, in a country you've never been to) but I figured I was with my girls, and the three of us together are pretty tough cookies , and Morgan has been known to take women's self defense classes so I would NOT mess with her. Shadiness aside, the place we stayed was actually quite nice and very close to the Duomo, a beautiful church adorned in jade and marble. Here's some pictures of our hostel and the Duomo:

The Duomo

view from our hostel window

window and bathroom, word.

Seriously, this girl could kill you.

To our surprise and delight we were just around the corner from the Academia, the museum that holds the infamous David statue by Michelangelo. So this is what we did on our first day and man oh man was it spectacular. I was truly awe-stricken by the detail and beauty that statue holds, Michelangelo really knew what he was doing. We spent the rest of the day wandering and on a carousel, oh and of course getting gelato and pizza.

this isn't the actual David, but this is the one in the town center

happy as two clams

thus began the gelato portion of our tour.

The next day we went to the Uffizzi gallery and saw the famous Botticelli paintings "Spring" and "Venus" both were beautiful and it felt incredible to be among such beautiful works of art.

We spent the rest of the day doing some more exploring and found our way to the Ponte Vecchio, where we met a lovely older couple from Canada who took a picture of us. Here's a picture of the Ponte Vecchio:
it's a bridge!

Align Center
The day after we decided to take a small trip into the countryside and see the city of Siena. It was really beautiful and it felt a lot like the "old country" here are some highlights:

awesome chalk artist


Church on Palm Sunday

That night we decided to get pizza (what a surprise) at a place called Gusta's Pizza. Now this place was an absolute tourist trap for American students, in fact I think half the student body of NYU was present that night, but man-oh-man if that wasn't the best pizza I have ever had I don't know what is. We took our pizzas to go and sat on a bridge that overlooked the Ponte Vecchio. It was one of those moments that you look back on and think "wow that was truly a perfect moment" the pizza was perfect, the friends were great, the weather was warm, and the view was magnificent. It was really a perfect moment that can never be recreated or captured, but here's some pictures anyway:
the pizza

the Ponte Vecchio

The next morning we gathered our things and hit the road to Rome. The train ride to Rome through the Tuscan countryside was inspiring, I've never felt luckier or happier to be alive and where I am. I had to remind myself every hour of our journey that I must be one of the luckiest people in the world to be able to have such an experience.

When we arrived in the grand city of Roma we checked into our hostel and realized that we had some very friendly neighbors, three Austrian girls named Fabi, Vroni, and Kati. They hung a sign on their door with their names on it and in an attempt to be friendly we did the same, here was the result:

That night we were awfully tired so we decided to go to the "travelers" bar across the street where we met some friendly fellow traveling folk like ourselves. The next day we met up with my cello-playing friend Mr. James Mitchell who had just been in three countries and two different continents in a matter of just two days, and we made our way to the sites of Rome. Here's some memories:

I thought this statue bore a striking resemblance to somebody I know.


Our gang at the Colosseum after we slaughtered some lions.

Trevi Fountain, legend has it if you throw a coin in this fountain it means that someday you will return to Rome. So far it has held true for 3 people I know.

The Spanish Steps, surprisingly out of all the awesome sites in Rome this is the most photographed.

When we returned to our hostel that night we were delighted to find that we had 2 new Danish roommates Karen and Kat. These were two of the funniest girls I have ever met, the theme to their trip was bubble blowing, so everywhere they went they got people to blow bubbles, this included nuns at the Vatican as well as street performers and...
Rachel! and...


Anyway that night we were joined by our Austrian friends as well as our Danish roommates and we drank wine and got to know each other. The whole night was full of laughs and I learned a Danish drinking game called "Buffalo" it was great fun. I hope to stay in touch with these people for a very long time!

The next day we decided to be responsible and book our train in advance (i.e. for the next day) to get to Paris from Rome. To our shock and horror we learned that doing so on Easter weekend is simply impossible and that every train to Paris was booked for the next month. Scared and confused we got tickets to any French city that would bring us closer to Paris, and thus began our great train adventure of 2011, 26 hours of pure train joy with a quick six hour stop over in Marseilles to sleep. Our journey began in Rome and brought us to Ventimiglia (Italy), where we hopped on a train to Genoa which took us to Nice (France), from there we took a train to Marseilles where we stayed for the night because the trains has stopped running. The next morning we got the first train to Lyon and from there we got on a train to Dijon (the mustard capital of the world) where we FINALLY got a train to Paris! Now the journey was long and grueling and there were times where I didn't think we would make it but when I look back on it I am so thankful it happened. I got to see the Amalfi Coast, the French Riviera, the Tuscan countryside, and the French countryside. It was completely lovely and I accompanied it with the tunes of Sir Cat Stevens, which made it feel like a scene from a movie. Let us relive for a moment my great train journey through pictures:
our first train, spirits are high and not yet broken

losing stamina, but excited about the coastal line outside the window

spirits are broken, hope is lost, we will never make it to Paris.

Alas! this train is Paris bound, we are really going to make it huzzah!

So my friends I hope you tune in next week to read about my experience in France, here's a preview: it was spectacular. Have a wonderful week everyone!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Euro-trippin part 2-Spain

After a very short and pleasant plane ride from Amsterdam I found myself in the city of Barcelona. At first I felt a bit overwhelmed as I had no idea where I was going and absolutely no knowledge of the Spanish language, but I hopped in a taxi, pointed to the address of my hostel and made my way there. I later learned that taking a taxi was an expensive mistake as the metro system in Barcelona is extremely easy to use and there was a metro stop just outside my hostel, this should be a lesson to you all, don't be afraid to take public transportation. Anyway, after the taxi driver stopped and gestured to a small and shady alleyway Rachel and I jumped out and walked down it to find the building of our hostel. The hostel was called Arco Youth Hostel and was actually quite nice. I didn't really know what to expect as this was the first hostel I ever stayed in but I was really happy with the experience. We stayed in a 16 person dorm that was mostly filled with sweaty snoring men, and just two other girls besides ourselves. At first this seemed a bit intimidating but I grew to see the humor in it as time went on. Here's some pictures of the hostel:
The kitchen

The beds

The shady alleyway

Our hostel was located in a touristy part of the Gothic District of Barcelona. We were right on the famous Las Ramblas, a tourist trap of a street where shady people try to sell you junk and pick-pocketers thrive. I actually liked being there, it was lively and interesting to watch and be apart of. The day after our arrival Rachel and I decided to take advantage of a free walking tour around the city. This was a very good decision as I learned a lot about Barcelona and the area is which I was staying, here's some pics:
A beautiful church that has taken 600 years to complete and is still under construction.

The images on this building are a style of art typical to Barcelona called sanscritti. Artists use sand to make images, you will find this throughout Barcelona.

Before discovering America Christopher Columbus was important to Spain so they constructed many monuments to him, here is the largest.

Barcelona for me was characterized by its small alleyways and close proximity of its buildings. It felt to me like living in the past, or how the "old world" might be depicted in movies. I loved how the sun shone between small gaps between buildings, it was something I wasn't completely able to capture on film but I sure did try.

The highlight of Barcelona was definitely Parc Guell. It was only a short 15 minute metro ride to an incredible, beautiful park designed by Gaudi. Rachel and I decided to hit up the famous St. Joseph market to buy some bread and cheese (in our usual fashion) and headed out to picnic in the park. The beauty of this place in indescribable, so I will have to say it with pictures as per usual.
The Market

The park was set atop a mountain which meant that in order to get up it, you had to take an escalator which was at nearly a 90 degree angle.

View of Barcelona from the top

Somebody carved my name into a cactus :I

The famous Gaudi building which has taken 300 years to complete.

So yes, as you can see the park was pretty darn amazing and quite whimsical indeed. This was definitely my favorite part of Barcelona.

After a lovely train ride through the Spanish countryside Rachel and I landed in Madrid where we were greeted by my friend Morgan, and this weird statue:
Creepy, no?

Madrid was absolutely beautiful and differed from Barcelona a huge amount. It felt a lot more modern than Barcelona, but a lot more livable. As Rachel, or maybe Morgan put it, Barcelona is somewhere you visit and Madrid is somewhere you live. Morgan was an excellent tour guide and took us to some wonderful places including the main park of Madrid, which again was beautiful.

ruins of some sort

The lovely lake

After a nice day in the park, Morgan brought Rachel and I to her favorite haunt, El Tigre. This is a bar that serves traditional Spanish tapas, but the twist is that you don't order your food, you order your drink and food, not of your choice, comes with it. So you order your drink and a free plate of food comes with. Awesome? I think yes.
Tapas, tapas, tapas.

me, a mojito, and a croquette (a fried ball of bechemel sauce)

Madrid was characterized for me by its absolutely awesome street art. It may have just been the area in which Morgan lived, but the street art was some of the best I've ever seen. Morgan informed me that it is a growing trend there and that some shop keepers encourage it.

Outside and ATM

Outside an optometrist

On our last day in Madrid Rachel and I visited the Prado Museum where we saw a really really cool exhibit of Goya's Dark Ages. The paintings were totally eerie but also completely awesome here is one of my favorites:

So after a wonderful stint in Spain Rachel, Morgan, and I loaded into a plane and left for Bologna, a story to be told next time. Speak to y'all soon, enjoy the Royal Wedding.