Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Final Blog Post

Well, here it is. The last one. It's probably going to be more sad than funny but whatever I hope you enjoy anyway.

So last night we went to the beach at night to hang out and say goodbye to the friends we've made this semester. It was really upsetting to not only say goodbye to my friends but also the city. It was really hard to bring myself to leave but I had to continue packing for the next morning. I went to bed around 5 and then woke up at 7 to get ready for my day of traveling. It was hard to see our room and bathroom empty again, it just made it more real. We took a taxi to the airport and I ended up checking 3 bags (1 was free) so I only had to carry around my backpack which was nice.

My first flight was to London and it was way longer than it was supposed to be so that was unfortunate. I arrived to London and got to my next gate with no problems which was surprising since this was my first time catching flights alone. Nothing remarkable happened on either flights. I finished Wolf of Wall Street so that was successful. It was on the plane when it really hit me that I was going home.

I wasn't flying back to Barcelona after a crazy weekend in Berlin or Prague or Madrid. I was flying back to Chicago with no plans to return to the city that I have been living in for four months. I was going back to living in the Chicago Suburbs, using US Dollars, not having the metro to take everywhere. I wasn't ready to leave. I was extremely homesick in late March and early April to the point where I was counting down the days until I was going home. Back to my parents, siblings, friends, boyfriend, dog. It all sounded so perfect at that point. But now that I am actually doing it, I have very different feelings. It's not that I'm not excited to see any of the above people. I don't think it has hit me that I'm not taking the metro to class tomorrow and then going to get coffee and a sandwich for lunch. I have nothing to do in Arlington Heights. It didn't hit me until dinner tonight that I was never going to see my host mom again. Yeah, I knew I wasn't going to but it didn't seem as sad until it just felt weird not sitting at her table eating dinner. Those things I did everyday where the ones I took for granted.

While I'm really upset about leaving, I'm also extremely proud of myself. The day before I left for Barcelona, I was crying to mom saying that I don't think I can do this and why did I decide to go for a whole semester instead of just a summer. I wanted to puke the entire way to the airport, not to mention the flights. I didn't know how I was going to be away for so long because I tend to be a homebody. Even at school I see my parents (and usually dog) every month. My first night in Barcelona I was alone because my roommate's flight got delayed and I was crying because I was so overwhelmed and scared by what was ahead of me. Picturing that girl, who cried through security back in January and then who sat in the wrong gate for an hour, I can see how much I changed for the better having had this experience. I have gained more independence and confidence. I have become more outgoing in making friends, seeing as most of my friends are just in my sorority at home. My Spanish itself has improved a ton. The other day I was reading my early blog posts about how much trouble I was having with getting adjusted and I could not believe how far I have come. I never imagined that I would reach the point of being entirely comfortable in a foreign city but I accomplished that over time. Overall, I have only benefited from this experience and I am so incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity.

That brings me to my next point. I wanted to publicly say thank you to my mom and dad (even though we all know Fernando won't read this) for giving me this opportunity and supporting me in everything I wanted to do. There were times when a trip seemed like it was going to be too much money but they would encourage me to do it and help me out so much. They even took time out of work to come visit me for a week and half, which honestly was one of my favorite weeks of the semester. My dad wrote me a letter every week even though I just responded via email because I didn't know how to mail things. My mom would talk to me whenever she could while she was at work since the time change threw a wrench in things. I am so grateful to them and I don't think I could ever repay them for quite literally giving me the world.

I also want to thank everyone who read my blogs. Thanks for caring about my life and what I'm doing. I know it sounds dumb, but it means a lot when people tell me that they read it and they comment on things and ask me questions about whatever stupid story I was telling. I don't think I would have been able to keep up with the blogs if no one was reading them, so thank you guys so much and I hope you miss reading them as much as I will miss writing them!

I feel like I have left a piece of my heart in Barcelona and I know I will always be able to call that city home. Even after visiting Madrid and Granada (two other places I wanted to study in) I cannot imagine being in any other city. I can only hope that I go back someday. I wish I was able to make a list of everything that I will miss about the city but I'm pretty sure that would take up like 10 pages and no one would read that so I'll spare you. I'm going to miss it a lot and it's definitely going to be different living in Arlington Heights this summer and then Champaign again this fall. I just hope that I can top this experience at some point in my life...I don't want to peak too early. This whole experience honestly just feels like a dream. It feels like I left home 2 weeks ago. It was such a surreal experience and I'm sad that it already feels like it actually didn't happen. I'm definitely going to be upset these next few weeks but at least I will be seeing my home friends and I'm sure they will want to know all about my trip (hopefully).

Is it fate that a commercial starring Shakira just came on TV? I already want to go back.

So, without further adieu, adios. Again, thank you so much for reading and I hope you liked it. I really did live la vida loca this semester.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Final Weekend in Barcelona

How the heck did the semester fly by so fast? I board my plane tomorrow at 11:45 am and I head back to the United States. My main question is how am I going to survive without my blog?? I'm just kidding. Kind of.

This last weekend was my last weekend here in Barcelona so we tried to make it as perfect as possible. Let me do a recap of the past week/my last week:

First day back from spring break and last day before finals start, so that was awesome. Nothing interesting happened on this day.

Wednesday was a big holiday in Catalunya. It's called Sant Jordi (George) Day. Sant Jordi is the patron saint of Catalunya and apparently there is some legend about him slaying a dragon to save a princess or something of that sort so this is the day that the Catalans celebrate him. Think about Valentine's Day but way less commercialized. It is tradition for men to buy women a rose and women to buy men a book. The city was gorgeous and full of people selling books and roses. I was really happy that I got to experience a holiday that was so special to the Catalans. Also, Bo bought Angie and I roses and we bought him a book so we could all take part in the holiday:

It was a great day to be in Barcelona!

I had my first final on Thursday so I woke up early to study for that. The final went ok, but no one reads this blog to hear about school is going. After the final, my program took us to a nice restaurant for a farewell dinner. There was unlimited wine so everyone had a GREAT time except for me of course because I had a final at 9am Friday and I had a paper that was worth 30% of my grade due at 12pm Friday. So I drank a little wine and then headed back to do some homework. I'm just so responsible.

I had my final early in the morning on Friday and it went well. Then I stayed at school after and worked on a final project that was due Tuesday (time management, y'all). Then a group of us went to Bo de B, aka the best sandwiches in Barcelona. We walked around for a bit after and then we returned to school to do more homework. After we finished homework, Natalie and I walked back to our home stay. It was a long walk but I couldn't complain about walking around Barcelona for one of the last times. That night a large group of us went out together and it was really fun! I don't like writing about going out though, not the right crowd here. However, something hilarious ensued. I actually got into a fight with a British girl over the use of toilet paper vs. drip drying (don't pretend you haven't done it, ladies) and it was heinous. Here goes the story:

Once upon a time I was in line for the bathrooms at a nightclub. I may have had a few drinks and I may have had to pee really badly. Once a stall opened up, the Brit in front of me walked to the stall and then commented that there was no toilet paper (as if this isn't normal for a club). Once the next stall opened up, I walked towards it and she cut in front of me to get toilet paper...there obviously was none. So I kinda push her out of the stall since I really have to pee. Once I leave the stall, she is still outside the stall. She is not moving while her friend leaves and goes to find her toilet paper. This wouldn't have been a problem if she let other girls who didn't mind drip drying go to the bathroom. She was standing in the door way of the stall openly saying how disgusting drip drying is. When I was washing my hands, the fight began.

Me: (under my breath) Get over yourself.

Brit: What did you say?

Me: I said get over yourself either get in or get out and let someone else go.

Brit: Drip drying is disgusting I will not do that you guys only do it because you're Americans.

Me: (very loudly) Oh princess over here is too good to drip dry! She is just so much better than all of us.

Brit: Do not call me a princess you do not know what I have been through.

Me: I don't care what you've been through either pee or get the f*** out of the stall. (the ladies in line are agreement)

Then someone gave the Brit some damn toilet paper. Needless to say, this made my night more interesting and also goes down in the books as my second bathroom fight in a nightclub so there's that. The night was good.

BEACH DAY! I met up with my friends Kat and Kyra and we headed to Bo de B to get some sandwiches before the beach. I think anyone who studied abroad in Barcelona knows that Bo de B on the beach is the perfect lunch. When we left the weather was not prime so I only wore a bathing suit top and not bottoms. The weather got nicer and I was wishing I had my bottoms on when I was ambushed and thrown into the Mediterranean with my jorts on. Also I somehow forgot that it was salt water. Being a swimmer, I allowed water into my eyes, nose, and mouth because that's what I'm used to. Not what I was expecting. It was also really cold. Regardless, it was cool to go into the Mediterranean! I did have to walk home in wet jean shorts so that was unfortunate. Oh well. At night a big group of students went to a bar together and then out to the biggest nightclub in Barcelona. Let's just say I ended the nightlife aspect of Barcelona on a very, very good note. 

On Sunday Bo, Angie, Brian, and I went to a really popular brunch place called Brunch and Cake. They serve brunch and they serve cake. I ordered eggs benedict on a waffle which may sound weird but it was seriously so delicious:

Seriously so delicious. After brunch, we got cake. It was amazing. I was really happy to be spending my last Sunday with friends just hanging out and spending time together in the city. That night, a lot of my friends went out but I stayed in to finish up my project that was due Tuesday. During dinner, Natalie and I got to hear a lot of stories about Mercedes's life. She had an incredible life and she honestly needs to write a book. I was a little sad that I was hearing these awesome stories a few days before I was leaving but I guess better late than never right? Also here's a treat for my consistent readers...a picture of Mercedes! 

Oh and Natalie. And the view from our apartment. I'm gonna miss my host mom!

I didn't have any finals on Monday but I needed to finish up that project and then go shopping for gifts for some friends and family. Talk about last minute shopping. Angie and I shopped around for awhile looking for gifts and eventually got everything that we needed. It was a stressful experience. At night, we went out to a bar for Brian's birthday. Angie and I didn't go to the clubs with everyone because we had a final at 10:45 on Tuesday and I wanted to make sure my final project was perfect. I was able to walk home alone from the bar (don't tell my dad I walked home alone) and I made it just fine without getting lost. As dumb as this sounds, I'm pretty proud of myself.

The last final. Angie and I then went shopping a little bit more for somethings I forgot to pick up. We were a little hungry so we stopped for a snack. Shocker that I wanted gelato but we decided to go with what we call a "ham cone". It's literally a cone full of pieces of ham. These Spaniards are weird sometimes. Then we went to one of the main sites of Barcelona that I hadn't seen all semester. It was a busy semester, ok? Park Ciutadella is a cool area kind of like Central Park in NYC. There is a beautiful fountain there which I took a ton of pictures of:

Kind of wish I had seen it earlier but what can I do. Afterwards we headed back to school to meet up with some friends to go to lunch for Brian's birthday. I said goodbye to one of my favorite teachers which was sad. Let the tearful goodbyes commence. At lunch, I said goodbye to Kyra and it was pretty said because she was one of my first friends here. Tonight a bunch of us are going to the beach and I will be saying goodbye to quite a few people, and I probably won't see a lot of them ever again which is so sad. Now I am at home packing my things. I cannot believe how quickly this semester has gone and while I am excited to be home with my friends and family, I cannot imagine leaving this city. It's been good, Barcelona.

Now just because I'm leaving tomorrow doesn't mean you're rid of me yet. I'm going to blog for the last time tomorrow after I arrive home safely and talk about my flight and some reflections and such. I can't believe this is happening.

Gotta go pack more. It's a joke how much stuff I have accumulated over the course of this semester.


Friday, April 25, 2014

SB 2k14: Naples/Sorrento

THE LAST ONE before I can blog about my final days in Barcelona. Seriously...only 5 more days here. I can't even think about it.

So we took a train from Rome to Naples because there aren't trains that go into Sorrento directly. It's a small town. Brian and Cody had tickets for the earlier train so they were going to meet us there. This train was definitely the most awkward of them all. It was set up Hogwarts Express style with little cubbies of 6 seats, 3 seats facing 3 seats. After I found my assigned seat in a cubby full of Italian women (who were actually very kind), I promptly fell asleep. Our departure time was 11:26 am and our arrival time was 1:30 pm. I woke up at 12:30 and I think I was confused because I immediately freaked out that the stop we were at was my stop or that I slept through it and none of my friends would know that I was sleeping. For the first time on the trip, our stop was not the final stop of the train so the chance of me sleeping through my stop was plausible. I began making a plan of attack of how to get back to Naples from whatever town I was in until I frantically asked my new friends if the stop was Naples and they said no so I was able to calm down. I decided I definitely was not going to fall asleep again. I fell asleep again. This time I woke up at 1:30 AKA the time we were supposed to arrive and I was sure I missed it. I walked over to my friend's cubby and luckily they were still there and told me our stop was next. I made it off the train with my friends so all is well that ends well but it was probably the most eventful train ride I've had, you would know if you read my previous blog about how I got to the train station to catch the train. Moving on.

We got to the Naples train station with the intention of going out and finding a good restaurant for some pizza before catching our metro-type train to Sorrento. When we met up with Brian and Cody they told us that we are not going outside of this train station because "it is bad out there." When you think of Naples, do you picture bad?? I don't. But we trusted them and we just ate lunch inside of the train station. I got an amazing sandwich, amazing muffin, and amazing cappuccino so I was not upset. Once we got on our train to Sorrento, we could see what Brian and Cody were talking about. First, the people on the train. Second, what we saw out the windows. Honestly, the part of Naples we were in can probably be compared to the West Side of Chicago, East St. Louis, or Detroit. It was just not a nice area at all and I have been to the 3 places I just listed so it's definitely a fair comparison. Taylor Molln, I don't know if it's as bad as Rockford. I don't know if anything is as bad as Rockford. Look at the huge shout out you just got.

We finally get to Sorrento and it is definitely nicer than Naples to that was an immediate plus. The woman who we were renting from met us at the train station and walked us to the villa were renting. There was A LOT of uphill walking. Honestly, I take the Midwest for granted. I do miss the flatness. The work was definitely worth the beautiful view we got from the villa though:

It was awesome. We also discovered the greatest place in Europe while we were there. It's a little shop where this man who is super nice refills your wine bottles. You bring in a wine bottle and he will refill it with any of the wine in his huge containers for 1-3 euro, depending on the wine. The other option was getting a 3 liter or a 5 liter plastic jug that he will fill at the price of 2 euro a liter. This was obviously the best choice, so Angie and I found the wine we liked the best and got 5 liters of it for 11 euro (the jug cost 1 euro). What a steal.

Photo Cred: Naamah

This trip was looking to be the best one yet. We went grocery shopping for dinner and then went home. That's when we went domestic (by "we" I mean the girls and Brian). Angie, Naamah, and Brian cooked dinner while I did everyone's laundry. Let me tell you, figuring out a washing machine in Italian is not easy. All is well that ends well though, the laundry got done and the dinner (chicken marsala) was absolutely delicious. After that, it was time to play some Spoons. I would like to take a minute to thank Noreen for raising me to never, ever lose Spoons which inadvertently makes everyone I'm playing with hate me. There was an instance where Angie may have been physically hurt in order for me to win the spoon. It was a blur of events but afterwards my fingernails hurt like I had put some sort of pressure on them and I had a spoon in my hand. Thanks, Mom. I almost lost friendships over my refusal to lose this damn game.

That night was pretty uneventful otherwise. We tried to watch The Departed but everyone fell asleep before it ended. The next day, Friday, we slept in and didn't make any plans so we could finally have one day that wasn't full of things to do. After we all woke up, we realized we didn't have much for breakfast. Brian made us all eggs and pasta. I had two eggs sunny side up over noodles with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Honestly, it was awesome. When in Italy, right? So once we were all showered and ready to go around 2, we headed down to the town to walk around and get some sights of the water. Unfortunately, it was too cold to go to the beach but it was still super pretty:

After we took plenty of pictures over here, we walked into town (our villa was just outside of Sorrento). Bo and Saleh were considering renting mopeds/scooters for the day but I was not about to do that. I'm a terrible enough driver as it is. Ask Erin, she'll be the first to tell you. No one else wanted to go and I may have given a few mother-type lectures to Bo and Saleh about why this is not a safe idea. I may have even used the line, "I trust you, I just don't trust other drivers." Oh god, when did I age 30 years and raise children? It was not enough to keep them from going though, so they went. They also made it back alive, thankfully. Such a mom.

While they were gone, the rest of us walked around. We find this adorable little lemon and orange orchard that made lemonchello, a really popular alcohol in Italy. Picture Lemonhead flavored vodka, but actually good. So we got free samples of that and we also bought some souvenirs like jams and stuff and then headed to other part of the orchard where the gelato was. I really need to not eat so much gelato. We were excited about this gelato because it was really fresh and made at the orchard. I was impressed, but I'm not sure if I would say it was my favorite gelato. After gelato, we headed back to our villa and stopped at a grocery store on the way for groceries for that night's dinner. Literally, I am a mom. We decided that we were going to make shrimp fettuccine alfredo that night. So delicious.

We got back and obviously started drinking wine. The Costco shopper in me was happy that I bought the biggest container because while everyone else had to stop to get more wine, Angie and I were set. Before they started to make dinner, Bo and Saleh returned and offered me a ride on the scooter. I was hesitant, but I caved. I went with Bo on the scooter down into town to return it. He let me test drive it first and let's just say thank God I didn't rent one with them. I would not be here alive today. I'm terrible.

After we returned it, we walked back up the hill to the villa and saw the parade/processional that was going on in town below us. It's really a processional, but it's a big deal so I called it a parade. It is supposed to imitate Jesus walking with the cross before his crucifixion seeing as it was Good Friday. It's kind of creepy but kind of cool at the same time. They all wear these black KKK looking hoods and carry candles. Some of them carry whips and things like they carried when this was all actually happening. It was really interesting to see how they celebrated Good Friday...very different from how we do it.

We got back in time for dinner and it was once again, delicious. Then the wine drinking commenced and we attempted to watch The Departed again. Again, we all fell asleep. That movie was not meant to be finished. Saturday, the weather was bad so we planned to stay in and drink wine all day. When we woke up we walked down to the wine place and got more. I refilled the 5 liter for the last day. When were down in town it started raining. Naturally, I had not one but TWO umbrellas in my bag. Mom status again. When we got back we just hung out all day on the deck and listened to music and chatted. It was a really relaxing day and probably the best way to end the trip. At night, instead of dealing with cleaning up, we got some pizza. When in Italy. It was delicious pizza, obviously. At night we tried watching The Wolf of Wall Street. I did not fall asleep but we all only watched half of it. I still need to finish it!

Sunday we woke up early and caught our metro-type train back to Naples. Then a train from Naples to Rome, because flying out of Rome was cheaper than flying out of Naples. Then another train from Rome to the airport. Then the flight. Then a train from the Barcelona airport back to where we live. Then I was finally home.

Overall, I really enjoyed the trip. I thought it was perfect way to spend my time off from school and I'm so happy I got to see different parts of Italy because I would have never been able to choose just one city to visit. The end of the trip was perfect and relaxing, and there was plenty of wine. As always, I was happy to return to Barcelona but it was bittersweet knowing that this is the last time I would be returning to Barcelona from one of my crazy trips to some European city. Enough of this sap now, you'll get plenty of that in the blogs to come.

Gonna go enjoy my last weekend in Barcelona...brb crying. 


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

SB 2k14: Roma

Ciao, y'all.

Second to last spring break post...

So on Tuesday we got on our train to Rome and it was similar to the train to Venice with the 4 seat table style. Luckily, the train was not full and I was able to sit next to Cody and Brian so it wasn't another awkward train ride. As we traveled through Italy we saw the clouds and they looked awful. Apparently it was supposed to rain but I was hoping I would bring the Gardiner luck (I mostly have Rodriguez luck but I was hoping the recessive gene would prevail) and the sun would shine through. Seeing as about 30 minutes after our arrival in Rome it started hailing, I would say I definitely do not have Gardiner luck. Fortunately, it hailed once we were safely inside a restaurant eating full pizzas each. Can't complain about that.

After lunch half of the group went to meet up for a walking tour while the other half of the group stayed at the restaurant in order to use the wifi to buy our tickets to go into the Vatican the next day. The group that stayed was Angie, Saleh, Bo, and myself. So for some reason the payment wasn't going though and it turns out the wifi was shut off so we had to go to an internet cafe to buy them. Wifi is definitely taken for granted by this generation. While Angie and I waited for Bo and Saleh to buy the tickets in the internet cafe we went to get gelato because what else were we supposed to do. Turned out to be the worst gelato I had in Italy so that was disappointing. Once we finally bought the tickets, we started walking to try to meet up with the rest of the group. Keep in mind that none of us have phones that work in Italy and none of us have internet so basically it would just be lucky running into them. We started to head towards the Colosseum because that's where they were supposed to be. Then the rain started.

Rome is a gorgeous city. That did not keep us from hating it while we were in the rain. We (meaning me and Angie) were miserable walking through the city in the rain. Maybe it was a combination of being exhausted and sore from walking so much but we were not happy campers. At least good pics resulted from it:

Photo Cred: Bo

On our way to the Colosseum, we found a church and it's doors were open so we meandered inside. They were having a concert of some sort and it was insanely beautiful. Little did I know what was awaiting me in the St. Peter's Basilica tomorrow but in the meantime, I loved this church. It definitely put me in a better mood.

Through the rain, we made it to the Pantheon. Which I honestly thought was the Colosseum until I walked inside and said, "This isn't how I imagined the Colosseum" and everyone was like wait are you serious so obviously I said I wasn't serious I was just kidding. I wasn't kidding. So that was embarrassing. The Pantheon was pretty cool and old. That's all I have to say about that.

So we continued walking and casually came across the Colosseum. It was incredible. Also it was partially covered in scaffolding. The Ancient Romans invented scaffolding, you know. It was authentic. We walked around the Colosseum and discovered that we were there too late to buy tickets to enter so we were going to have to squeeze that in after the Vatican on Wednesday. We did get some good pics of the outside though:

That scaffolding...just amazing. I also like this picture because I look tall which never happens. Anyways, we sat down for a bit outside of the Colosseum to form a plan of attack for locating the rest of our group and then deciding what we want to do for dinner. While discussing this, the other half of the group just so happens to walk up and run into us. Coincidences. Gotta love 'em. So after we reconvened we walked for a bit to find some food because people didn't feel like cooking again. So we ended up at a doner kebab place. Doner kebab is a Turkish dish that's kind of like a gyro and they are all over the place in Europe. They are delicious. Unfortunately, this was not one of the best kebab's I've had but whatever. That night we just got some vino and hung out in the apartment because we were too tired to do anything else and we had a full day in front of us on Wednesday.

We woke up Wednesday and immediately went to the Vatican. The Vatican is such a cool place. All of it is just really important so it makes way more entertaining to look at it. Obviously, my first order of business was to see the Sistine Chapel. It was like a sick maze through museum after museum to get to the actual Sistine Chapel. Imagine herding cattle through a hallway. That was how it was getting there. There were also signs saying it was coming up and then it was never coming up. It was a sick joke. I just wanted to see the ceiling! Finally, we made it. The fact that it was absolutely packed with people really ruins the whole chapel effect but that didn't make Michelangelo's masterpiece any less amazing. The security guards were incredibly strict with the no pictures rule. I saw one guard catch a woman taking a photo and then insist to watch her delete it on her camera. I'm so sneaky though:

YOU SEE THAT??? That's some famous art right there above my head. Didn't even get caught in the process. I'm kind of a big deal. So after this we just hung out in the gardens for a bit and decided to make our way to the St. Peter's Basilica, the place where the Pope gives mass. It's important. So we get there and the line is super long but I was not about to leave Rome as a Roman Catholic who did not go into this basilica so we waited in line. Turns out that the line moves extremely fast. The second we walked in, we realized every second of waiting was 5785% worth it. Honestly cannot put into words the effect this basilica has and pictures cannot even do it justice but I'll try:

I'll post more on Facebook later. It was absolutely incredible and I HIGHLY suggest everyone to go there. In the basement there are the tombs where all of the popes are buried. It was just cool to see the capital of the religion I have been learning about my entire life. There was also a choir performing in the back and that just made it so much cooler. Ok I'm done raving about this place after this picture of me in front of what was probably my favorite thing in Italy:

So anyway, after this we headed to the Colosseum to actually go inside this time. We had to take a taxi there because we had to be inside by 4:30 and we were running out of time. We made it inside and walked around for a bit. Lizzie McGuire fans, this is where she performed "What Dreams Are Made Of" so obviously I was on a historic monument. I probably should have gone on a guided tour of this place because I was totally clueless as to what everything was. It's incredible to see how advanced the Ancient Romans were. They had entrance gates and stadium seating and everything it's so crazy. They were pretty smart I guess. Since I already included a picture of the Colosseum I'll spare you another one.

After the Colosseum we headed to the Trevi Fountain. For you Lizzie fans, this is where she met Paolo. Pretty big deal. This fountain was incredibly gorgeous and not one bit overrated in my opinion. I think I took 100 pictures of this fountain alone:

It's also really pretty at night:

So what, I went back again at night because I liked it so much. I went back after we ate dinner at a nicer restaurant. The food was good and that's really all I have to say about that meal. After my trip back to the Trevi we got gelato. It was definitely some of the better gelato that I consumed over break. We stayed in and hung out that night because we had yet another train to catch in the morning. The morning turned out to be interesting though...

We packed up everything and we were ready to go for our 11:26 departure time. We had to wait for the woman who was leasing the apartment to come meet us so she can return the security deposit though so we called her and she said around 10:45 she would be there. So we decide that everyone except Bo and Saleh will get on the metro and head toward the train station. It was fate that at the moment I started walking to the metro and I went to twirl my rings, a nervous habit I have. My rings weren't there. I had taken them off to braid Angie's hair before we left. Let's keep in mind for a hot second that these aren't bullshit rings (ok one is bullshit but the other one really isn't). My claddagh ring is from Ireland and it was my 16th birthday present so I was not about to lose that. The keys were locked in the apartment so my only hope was to wait for the woman to return with the security deposit and let me in. She ends up getting there at 11 and we run in, get the rings, explain to her that we do not have time for her to examine the apartment, run out, and look for a taxi. We get into the taxi around 11:10. There is so much traffic. So half of the group is on the train already and half of the group will likely miss it. Alas, our cabbie was not about to let us down. We asked him if there was any way he could go faster and at that moment an ambulance came zooming by. He gets right behind the ambulance and follows it all the way to the train station (total Noreen movie? I think so). It was like a movie scene. We get to the train station at 11:23 and absolutely sprint to our train. It was a very high adrenaline experience but definitely a good story (at least in my opinion). We were then on our train to Naples.

Overall, I LOVED Rome. I think it's because I was raised Catholic and I also really like history so there was a lot for me to do and see in the city. I highly, highly recommend it to everyone, especially Catholics and history buffs. I'm for sure going back someday, it's been decided.

Next stop: Naples/Sorrento. Stay tuned.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

SB 2k14: Firenze


Continuing with the spring break blogs...

So we took a train from Venice to Florence on Sunday and this one was much less awkward than the train to Venice. There were normal seats and I sat next to one of the guys traveling with us, Brian. I slept the entire time so I guess I missed out on the views of the countryside BUT at one of the train stops I did spot something that you absolutely cannot find in America anymore:

Do you see it?? It's a Blockbuster! Chances are it was out of business but I'm just going to pretend that it wasn't and that I found something really rare. So once we got to Florence we only had about a 5 minute walk to the apartment we were renting. This apartment turned out to be adorable and it had a terrace with one heck of a view:

Casual. That's the Duomo, a huge cathedral that we will talk about more in a bit. We were starving when we got there so we went looking around for some food. We stumbled upon one of the most popular places for students studying abroad in Florence. It was a bar that had a happy hour special: you pay for a glass of wine or a beer (price depends on what you pick, mine was 3 euro) and then you get free food. I would describe it as Italian tapas. So much bruschetta! We were probably really embarrassing Americans because we literally ate so much free food. It might have been one of the coolest places I have been in Europe (I'm easily influenced by free food, so what?).

After our free food happy hour, we walked around Florence for a bit. Florence is pretty small so we got to see a lot of it in a small amount of time. We got closer views of the Duomo and also went to a courtyard that was basically full of statues of naked men:

So much nudity. I guess this is a replica of the famous David statue and unfortunately we did not have enough time to go inside the museum and see the real thing. Maybe next time, Florence. Since the sun was setting, we made our way over to the river to get some nice views:

Unfortunately my camera did not catch the colors of the sky. Way to go, camera. But it was a really pretty sight! After we walked around for a bit I made it back and got pictures when it was just a little bit darker and even prettier:

Such a pretty city! For dinner that night we went to a restaurant that provides unlimited wine for students. It really wasn't unlimited but it was free so we were all happy campers. This meal was decent, the best part was our adorable waitress who gave us more wine than she was supposed to and also snuck us shots of some alcohol that I've never had before. She was a gem. After dinner we headed back to the apartment and hung out for a bit. Apparently in Florence there is this thing called "secret pastries" which is basically for drunk Americans who want to eat pastries. You have to find the bakeries that participate and you walk up and knock on the door and they will sell you the pastries that are just making fresh for the next morning. It's all on the down-low though and they pocket all of the money they get from the drunkies. We decided to go out and look for this magical place but we got a bit lost. Bo, Angie, and I got tired and decided to head back while the rest of the group continued looking. Just our luck, they ended up finding them. Classic.

Monday morning we got ready and headed to the Duomo. We bought tickets to climb the stairs to the top of the tower, which was pretty high, but definitely worth the view:

How quaint. After we climbed to the top we were pretty hungry so we ventured out for food. We ended up finding a place that is basically a panini bar and it was downright magical. Focaccia bread, artichoke spread, turkey, tomatoes, olive oil...ugh I'm drooling. It was so good. Then naturally we got gelato. Unfortunately, I did not get gelato Sunday and I destroyed the chances at achieving my goal. I don't want to talk about it. This time I chose lemon gelato and it tasted just like Italian ice so it was perfect. Then we headed to the Duomo again to actually go inside of the cathedral. It's a pretty fancy looking cathedral:

To be honest, the outside is the most impressive part of the cathedral. The inside was not notable. It was quite upsetting because after seeing this exterior I was expecting an insane interior but you can't win them all so oh well. After the Duomo we went shopping because apparently Florence has great shopping. I ended up buying a wallet because I wanted something Italian leather and it was pretty nice so now I can brag about my Italian leather wallet. We also went into the stores like Gucci, Prada, Fendi, etc just for fun but really it just made me sad that I have no money. Such pretty things.

After we went shopping we headed up a hill to get a different view of the sunset. I guess it's kind of popular because there were a bunch of people up there to see the sunset. Can't complain:

Gorgeous. Monday night we decided to go domestic and make dinner ourselves. We bought all of the ingredients and split up jobs and made a family dinner. My job was cutting things. Let me tell you, I'm a good cutter. I cut onions and garlic for Angie and Saleh who were making real things (the pasta sauces) but let's not forget the little people who really make these things happen, ok?! My other job was making the caprese salad...which is basically only cutting tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. I'm a pro at cutting up things, let me tell you. The meal turned out really good and everyone was content. Proud of us. This was just the beginning of the home-cooked meals though, they just got better. After dinner I passed out. It was a long day.

Tuesday we checked out of our apartment and headed back to the train station to catch our train to Rome. Overall, I loved Florence. It was a great size and it was beautiful but I don't think I could study abroad there because it was just too small. For a less well-known city, I was really impressed by it. Also the name is pretty bad ass...Firenze (all Harry Potter fans should love this name). 

I should probably return to studying seeing as I have a final tomorrow and a bunch of papers due. School is really getting in the way of my study abroad experience...ugh.

Next stop: Roma. Stay tuned.


Monday, April 21, 2014

SB 2k14: Venezia

Ciao, betches.

So they spring break blogs.

So we left for Venice on April 11 (HB Erin). We flew into Bologna and then took a train to Venice because it was cheaper so we got to see another Italian city which was cool. We only got to stay in Bologna for a couple of hours so naturally my first order of business was to find gelato. I set a goal to eat gelato every single day of spring break. Judge me, I dare you. I enjoyed my favorite combination of gelato (strawberry and chocolate...can't beat it) and realized I am never going to consume gelato of this caliber ever again. It was a very sobering experience. Then we got on our train and headed to Venice. The train ride was kind of awkward because the seats were set up like tables of 4 and we had assigned seats so you had to sit facing some random person the whole way. My random man just so happened to keep his legs extended all the way to my seat resulting in me sitting with my legs tucked up on my seat the whole time. He also kept staring at me. Every time I would nod off and wake up he was looking at me. It was weird. Other than that, the train was fine. One of the guys traveling with us, Cody, lost his passport and jacket at the Bologna train station so our trip was starting off on a high note. When we exited the train station, this was the view immediately awaiting us:

That's the Grand Canal, so basically the main road of the city. I didn't realize that there wouldn't be any roads in Venice...maybe that was dumb of me but it was so cool to see the water buses and taxis instead of normal cars. Definitely nothing like I have ever seen before. Since we were a group of 7, we decided it would be easier to rent apartments instead of hostels for the week. That means you have to contact the person renting out the apartment to meet you there. Which means you need wifi. Which we don't have all the time. We walked around Venice carrying our massive bags for awhile before we were able to reach the apartment but it was fine because we got to see the small canals and such. The main problem with this is that there are bridges crossing the canals and there are stairs going up to the bridge and then stairs going down. This was challenging while I was carrying my ~30 lb backpack (which will now be known as "the body bag" from here on out because it looks like I'm carrying a dead person) but at least we made it.

That night we went out to our first Italian meal which was unfortunately quite disappointing. Our first plate was some penne which was pretty decent and a lot of us ordered chicken as our second plate. When they brought the chicken out it was literally a chicken patty. It was awkward. Like...we needed ketchup to eat it. Italy, yo. Luckily, the food on the rest of the trip was just dandy. After dinner we just hung out in the apartment and sang happy birthday to Bo because he officially turned 21 at midnight so yay! Happy birthday! Then we went to sleep.

On Saturday we got kind of a late start because we were pretty tired. Once we finally got up, we started walking around the city. Venice isn't too big and there aren't many main attractions so all of the fun is in walking around and discovering the different little alleys and canals of the city. The stairs were much easier without the body bag. We found St. Mark's Square where there was a graduation going on so that was interesting. Makes me kind of jealous that I go to school in boring old Champaign rather than one of the coolest cities in the world. There was a really pretty church in the square but unfortunately the line was too long for us to go in. There was a cool harbor type thing right by the square and it was pretty fun just to hang out there for a bit:

Unfortunately the weather was not exactly in our favor but it was still pretty to look at. There was kind of a boardwalk area which was fun to shop around in. After that we found a place to get some coffee because we were all pretty exhausted. We are always exhausting. We were debating a lot about gondola rides because there are so expensive and we didn't know if it would be worth it so in the meantime we walked back the the apartment and regrouped. I got some neat pics on the way back:

Seriously such a cool city. We decided to do the gondola ride and haggle the price down a little bit so it would be somewhat more reasonable. Turns out, it's allowed to drink vino (wine, you Americans) so obviously we needed to get a bottle. Also, contrary to popular belief, the gondolers (it's my made up word for the people driving the gondola) don't sing to you. Oh well. The ride turned out to be worth every penny and definitely a once in a life time experience. Of course I got about a million pics during the ride:

Then there were some drinking wine on a gondola selfies and I'm not sorry:

Casual, I know. Sometimes I think I'm cool so bear with me here.

It started raining just as we pulled in so it was pretty good timing. So glad I went on the ride and I wish I could post every picture from the ride in the blog but that would be obnoxious so stay tuned Facebook friends because I'll hopefully post these relatively soon.

That night we went out to a dinner and hoped that it would be a lot better than Friday's dinner. We got lucky because it was much more impressive. So. Much. Pasta. Obviously I followed that pasta dinner with gelato because how could I not. I was not ready to give up on my goal of getting gelato everyday. The gelato was delicious, very well worth it. After that we headed home and just hung out because there wasn't much to do at night in Venice. We still found ways to have fun.

On Sunday we had to check out of our apartment early. That meant from the time we checked out until the time our train came, I had to carry around the body bag. I was not a happy camper on Sunday. We got some really good sandwiches so that eased the blow. I was also not happy to discover that there actually are roads in Venice near the train station. Lame. Oh well, it was time to move on to the next city.

Overall, I loved Venice mostly because it was so different from any city I have ever been in. It was not what I expected it to was so much better. I'm also glad I got to see the city before it sinks because I hear that is going to happen everyone go visit there now! Also, just so you know, anyone who says Paris is the most romantic city in the world is just wrong. It is for sure Venice. I've been to both and I can attest to this. I highly recommend going there.

Also, on an unrelated note, I've been thinking of some gift ideas for Mercedes as a thank you (she also mentioned she's getting us gifts so shit now I have to) so here's what I got so far:

1. Taking every framed picture in her living room and replacing them with pictures of me doing the exact same pose as the original subject of the picture.
2. Killing Gato. Then getting her taxidermized. Then giving her back to Mercedes so she can keep her FOREVER. 

Let me know what you think.

Next stop: Firenze (Florence). Stay tuned.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Blog Until I Die about not blogging for like 3 weeks. Also sorry for acting like any of you people noticed that I haven't blogged in 3 weeks. I like to pretend that there are more people than just my mom who care about my escapades.

So this past week I did not have class because of Semana Santa, basically Easter week. But before I go into the blog posts about that, I need to blog about what I did the weekend before that. I was in Granada, Spain on April 4-6th but then I had 3 different 8 page papers to turn in that week and blogging was the last thing I wanted to do so here is the Granada blog and I will post blogs about Italy over the course of this week.

So the main reason I wanted to visit Granada was because that was the other city I considered studying abroad in. I was curious to see how different it would be from Barcelona, for the better or the worse. Luckily, my program offers a trip to Granada so I had to sign up. We got to Granada early Friday morning and immediately went on a walking tour of the city. Walking tours might be the bane of my existence. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing new cities and a lot of the coolest sites are unreachable by car but they are just so tiring. I feel like half of the tour I'm just thinking, "Oh my god my legs hurt and my back hurts and I can't stop yawning can we please sit down on this bench while you tell me the history of some building I will never remember" so that always makes walking tours hard. One good thing about this walking tour is the view that was waiting for us on top of the hill that we climbed:

That's the Alhambra, a huge mosque that was built a long time ago (too lazy to look up the year, sorry). The weather was so gorgeous to that I wouldn't have minded ditching the rest of the walking tour just so sit up there and look around.

After the walking tour and lunch, we had free time. We were so exhausted from waking up early from the flight and walking around so we went home and napped before heading out to discover Granada on our own. We went to a shopping area that was similar to Las Ramblas in Barcelona so that was when I made the first comparison. The shopping is great in both cities though so I can't complain. After we walked around the city on our own we went back to the hotel for dinner. We were still pretty exhausted from the day so mostly everyone on the trip hung out in the hotel and went to bed pretty early.

We spent the better part of Saturday walking around the Alhambra, and we definitely needed that much time because it is massive. It was really interesting because over the course of my semester in Europe I have seen so many grand churches but never a grand mosque. They are so different. There is so much detail it is incredible. This is what the walls look like:

All. Over. The. Walls. It's all words, but unfortunately I forgot to brush up on my Arabic and I couldn't read any of it. Overall, it was a very different feel from a church and it kind of makes me feel like the Catholic Church was just a bunch of show offs with their massive, beautiful churches (just wait until I take about the St. Peter's Basilica in my Rome blog...oh my god). I love all of the churches I have seen but it was cool to see something different.

We also got some cool views of Granada from the top of the Alhambra:

Very, very different from Barcelona! We then got to go into the gardens of the King's summer home in Granada, the Generalife (I'm pretty sure that's right). That was gorgeous and I was excited to see the gardens because I have seen so many people who studied abroad in Granada post pictures of it:

Nevermind how awkward I look. After the gardens we got some free time and then we went to a tea and cookie tasting. I love tea and I love cookies. It was perfect. We tried Moroccan tea and Pakistani tea. Moroccan tea is like a mix of mint and green tea which is really good. Since I had it when I went to Morocco, I stuck with the Pakistani tea this time which was more similar to chai tea. It was basically warm milk and cinnamon. I'm not complaining.

After the tea and cookie tasting we went shopping around in the areas that reminded me a lot of Morocco. AKA more haggling so yay for me because I am so bad at it. Either way, I walked away with a second tapestry for my apartment next year AND placemats! That double as pillow cases! What a steal! Bye money. I also made friends with one of the shop owners while I was waiting for my friend to shop. It's always a nice reminder that I can somewhat speak Spanish and people know what I'm saying because sometimes I forget about that.

After shopping we went back for dinner. Then we went out that night with other children in the program. Needless to say, it was a great time. Also needless to say, the night life is WAY different than the night life in Barcelona...let's just leave it at that. 

On Sunday we did something called Arab baths. It was basically a bunch of pools that were varying temperatures. There was a cold pool (which still wasn't colder that IUPUI's's to hoping some swimmers are reading this), a warm pool (my personal favorite), and a hot tub that was a pool. We just got to hang out and supposedly it's supposed to be a silent, spiritual experience but come on it was like 20 college kids in there...I'm not sure what they expected but they did not get that.

After that, we headed back to Barcelona. Overall, Granada was gorgeous. I could definitely see myself studying abroad there but I would not give up the Barcelona experience for the world (even with all of the Catalan). I'm glad I had to opportunity to see the city I almost studied in and it definitely made me think twice about my decisions but in the end, I'm so happy I chose Barcelona and it's going to be hard to leave in...get ready for this...10 days. Gotta go have as much fun as I can!

Stay on the look out for my Spring Break Part 1: Venice blog coming soon to a computer near you (that sounded funny in my head).