Overdue On Lauren, Mountains, and The Search for Time

SO Lauren and I had a perfect week. Now I don’t mean perfect by societal standards, I mean perfect in the way that everything we did and saw, the incidents we got ourselves into and laughs we shared all added up to a weekend of epic proportions. I picked Lauren up at the airport and in typical space case fashion missed her coming out of the arrivals gate because I had ran half way across Florence to catch the bus to the airport which started moving the second I boarded and then waited for her for 20 minutes and with all that excitement built up, I had to pee. So in the 2.5 minutes it took me to rush to the bathroom and out again I saw Lauren standing alone waving sheepishly at me through the sea of loved ones and taxi drivers. So I ran to her tackled her in a hug and continued to hug her all the way back to my apartment. Her being here felt normal, felt right and I was so happy. So that night we went to one of my favorite, family owned restaurants, drank wine and dined and caught each other up on our lives. After dinner we made her what we would refer to as a “dog bed” for the rest of her stay (the compilation of all the couch cushions laid out on the floor, comfortable surprisingly) on which she slept.

 

The next morning we woke up and caught our train (after much confusion) at 8 am for Milan. After we arrived in Milan we went to print our tickets for our next train to Colico, but mine wouldn’t print… so we went and found the office of my ticket’s provider, I took a number, 325 just as they called to serve number 309. Lauren went to get food, we hadn’t eaten and I waited impatiently. We had 20 minutes. So I went over to the electronic ticketing machine (which is what wasn’t working for me) and after several more attempts to figure this out for myself, I turned on my “confused/concerned foreigner face” not 15 seconds later a nice woman who worked for the company came to try and help. I explained my problem and she helped me budge the line, which still hadn’t moved, I had 10 minutes until the train departed. The woman and man working the desk conversed in Italian for a moment and she laughed, looked at me and said “he will only help you if you smile.” I bared my teeth ear to ear, the man behind the desk laughed and printed me a ticket. “Grazie a mille!!!!” I said and dashed for the door, seeing Lauren at the top of the escalator with a huge McDonalds bag. We caught our train and breath, laughed and ate. Lauren’s family is Italian and much of her dad’s side still lives here, so one of her cousins and fiancé was going to meet us at the train station and spend the weekend with us. We arrived at Colico station about an hour later and as we were debarking the train I asked Lauren how much English her cousin spoke, “none” she said, “but Laura (his fiancé) speaks it decently!”

 

She was right, Francesco spoke zero English and Laura’s English was decent at best. But it made the trip a little more exciting as we got in their car and took off for Gravedona, a small city on Lake Como. The conversation was lacking, but attempted and it is safe to say that much of that conversation and, our whole weekend in general, was lost in translation, but in the most wonderful way. We got settled in our studio apartment, just Lauren and I, and then met up for a walk with her cousins. Our view from our apartment was amazing (see pictures below) and all of Gravedona, though tiny, was perfect. I love little towns with the quaint feel of a slower pace and where everything has meaning. That evening we drove to another town over from Gravedona for dinner and explored the city’s government building and quiet streets. We finally settled on a restaurant and sat down. The owners of the restaurant were brother and sister and I estimate around 78 years old. They were very sweet, but also so very strange. They would pop up at random points while we were eating to converse with us and the brother touched Lauren’s face and patted her head with his other hand on my shoulder. A customary friendliness that I found endearing although slightly odd. After attempting to explain that Australia was not in United States, we settled on the idea that I was from Chicago. Once we returned back to our apartment we fell right asleep.

 

The next day, determined to further bond with us, Lauren’s cousins wanted to take us on a hike. Lauren and I has told them before that we wanted to go hiking, but that they didn’t need to come, to no avail. We were happy to have their company as they drove us to the next town over and we spent the next half hour on a road that snaked up a mountain that we really should have been hiking. Once we parked we found snow and a path with a family of hikers. We were very ill equipped compared to the family with hiking boots, poles and packs, but it didn’t phase us and we began our trek up the mountain, which was actually the Southern Alps. I love hiking, the feeling of fresh air and your heart beating quicker with each step you take on nature’s body. With each step we saw a new, clearer view of what lay ahead. We ultimately determined our goal was a refuge, lodge for hikers, we could see it from our trail. The last challenge before we reached it was a piece of the trail that has been covered by an avalanche. There were some semi formed snow steps for us so we kept marching and even though our Nike tennis shoes slipped and slid, we made it to our goal.

 

We had an incredible view of Lake Como and the mountain range around was. It was so great to see the tiny dots that were the houses we had driven past earlier. Another reason I love hiking, the sense of accomplishment and pride once you are literally standing on top of the mountain. We ate polenta and beef, drank some wine and headed back down the mountain, quicker and a little more slippery than the path up. After getting turned around only once, we reached our car and started the drive back to Gravedona. Lauren’s cousins dropped us off and hugged up goodbye. We showered and wandered down to the town for dinner, finding ourselves at a small bar with good pizza and perfect company. On our walk home from dinner, the town was silent. We bought a carton of gelato and followed the dark cobblestone road back up the hill to our apartment. I felt peaceful and so happy walking those steps with gelato in one hand and my friend.

 

Our return to Florence was less eventful with only one train mixup and our wonderful new (elderly) friend Claudio driving us to our train station. The next few day we spent exploring Florence. I brought Lauren to dinner with my friends, we went to an overlook of Florence called Piazza Michelangelo to watch the sunset, we went to Boboli Gardens (Lauren believes it to be the most romantic place on earth, so if that is any hint to how beautiful it was there). We also climbed the Duomo to observe all of Florence and get our exercise in, 468 steps in a spiral rotation is tiring, no matter how many monuments ive climbed by this point the climb always gets me. Lauren really loved being a part of The Last Judgment, the mural pained on the inside of the cathedral which at one point in our ascent we came upon to look down over the people, or should I say ants below us. Many more laughs, meals, wine and some shopping later it was time for Lauren to go back to the land of corn. I miss her all the time, but it was an incredible thing to have someone so close to me be able to share in these experiences with me so that when I return to school I can reminisce about memories that I not only had alone but created with someone who will be in my life forever.

PS I am so sorry about my delay and lack of updates. My time here has been speeding up while simultaneously winding down. It is so strange to think I only have 1 month left in this foreign place I have come to call my temporary home. I think part of me doesn’t want to think about how its all ending, pushing off writing my blogs because “oh I have all the time in the world” when really I have barely time at all. It will be sad to leave, but I am ecstatic to be with my family again and see my friends and creatures (the ones with 4 legs and my brothers). I am trying to soak up every detail that I can in these last 30 days. I will update as much as possible!

I will post about the amazing and love filled week of having my parents here and the beautiful place of Venice as soon as I can.

 

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View from our apartment in Gravedona

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Our apartment

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Hiking

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Our final destination for lunch

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Lake Como

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The Duomo

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Climbing the Duomo

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View from the top

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Boboli Gardens

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Wildflowers in Boboli Gardens 

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View from San Minento al Monte 

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Sunset at Piazza Michelangleo 

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Boboli Gardens

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Boboli Garrdens

Ciao for now,

Lil

 

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Hungary for Austria and some culture

 

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SO I know it’s been awhile since I’ve updated my blog, but the past 2 weekends I was just in Florence, relaxing and exploring. It has been very rainy, but I went shopping (for food what else?) and made a lot of lists of places I’ve been and want to go. I walked all over town, listened to a lot of music and podcasts and ate way too much. It is pretty incredible to actually just live in this city. Without traveling, just living and trying to blend in. However, this past weekend I made the trek to Budapest, Vienna and Salzburg! 3 cities, 1 weekend. It was a once in a lifetime experience but also extremely draining.

I arrived in Budapest at 9 am on Friday and headed out on a walking tour. We walked past a Synagogue that sheltered 10,000 Jewish people during World War II and then to the Budapest Opera house which houses the 3rd best acoustics in the world. We wandered to the Parliament building, which is so detailed and massive that Freddy Mercury (from Queen) wanted to buy it… didn’t work out in his favor though. I saw the changing of the guards and marveled at its sheer size before finding my way down to the river that runs between the old cities of Buda and Pest, which are now combined to be one city via the Chain bridge. Along the river there is a tribute to the men, women and children who lost their lives to war crimes during WWII. Bronze shoes line the riverbank to commemorate the atrocious commands by Nazis forcing the Jewish prisoners to remove their shoes and stand on the edge of the river where they were then shot, allowing the river to sweep their bodies away from their homes forever.

After a long while of reflection, we climbed to the castle grounds, a grueling, vertical hike, reaching the top with sweaty faces. I stripped off my coat and marveled at the cathedral, with its beautifully tiled roof and a wondrous panorama of the whole city. After walking back to our hostel, we ate delicious falafel at a hummus bar and then put on our swim suits and hopped the metro to the baths. The baths in Budapest are pretty much thermal pools, outside, with magic healing powers (okay not sure about the magic, but that’s how they came to be anyway). It was so nice to soak in hot water after a long day of walking. Later that evening I went to an all I could eat and drink dinner (let me tell you I can eat and drink a lot) then we checked out a traditional Ruin bar. The Ruin bars stem from when students in Budapest would find old, abandoned building and throw random couches, decorations together and open a bar/party for the night. The bar was crazy cool.

7 am wake up call for Vienna. I woke up as our bus pulled up to our hostel at 11 am, we departed and checked into our rooms. Across the street from our hostel was a flea market and some tasty sausages. We walked past the beautiful Opera house, inside another spectacular cathedral and I got to see the Spanish Riding School and its fantastic Lipizzaner’s! I ate Sacher torte (the famous chocolate cake of Vienna), walk past an ince skating village outside the parliament house, ate wiener schnitzel and went to popular DJ groups concert called the Chainsmokers! The concert was in a club inside an abandoned amusement park. As my friends and I entered the park we were immediately aware of clown statues, covered roller coasters and empty buildings with dim carnival lights glowing. Once we got into the club, the creepy atmosphere changed into fun and dance. After a short nights sleep, we woke up and boarded our bus to Salzburg.

Salzburg is a quaint city with such pretty views. I loved exploring it for the short time I had. It isn’t very touristy, which I liked. I found a shop that sold hand drained and then painted eggshells. The store stretched back impressively far and was stacked with tables of dainty eggshells sitting in cartons. It was amazing. I ate lunch at Café Mozart, right next to where Mozart was born. I wandered into a cathedral and found a crypt that had been recently rediscovered in the 1980s and turned into an art piece, with shadows cast by tiny iron skeletons and a recorded voice of the time being said every 10 seconds, a very uneasy, yet exquisite way to commemorate the original purpose of the crypt, hearing time said and visually represented. I didn’t see the Von Trapp family, but I’m sure they sent their warm regards (au dieu, au dieu to you and you and you). I breathed in the snow kissed air of Salzburg and re-boarded my bus back to Florence.

Also I took a cooking class and made lasagna, stuffed zucchini and pana cotta. I know, I know none of you believe me because I usually put tablespoons of vanilla into cookies instead of teaspoons and almost always gag while looking at raw meat, but I swear I did it and it was so good!! Im bringing home the recipe, although I don’t know if ill be able to make the fresh pasta… mom? 😉

The past 2 weeks have been special. Learning, seeing, doing, feeling I cant explain how wonderful it has been to have such a new world in my eyes at my finger tips. This week a very special human of mine is coming to stay with me in Florence for a week! Lauren will be arriving on Friday and I cannot wait to show one of my best friends and person I love so dearly this magical place and country that has been shaping my life for the better, forever! My heart is SO full and to excited for her to come GET HERE ALREADY SBF!!!

With alllllll that being said… I will update with mine and Lauren’s sweet adventures and the week after… MY GIVERS OF LIFE AKA MOM AND DAD WILL BE HERE!!!!! I walk by the hotel they will be staying in everyday on my way to school and keep thinking about when they arrive and how fast ill be able to book it to their hotel to squeeze them, although there are some comfy chairs in the lobby it looks like, so maybe ill just wait all day…

Until we talk again,

Ciao for now,

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Budapest baths

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Sacher Torte Vienna

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Budapest bath house

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My hostel inBudapest, pretty nice

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Budapest

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Budapest, beautiful tiled roof

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Budapest

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Budapest baths

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Budapest sausage (Kasencraner  or something like that)

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Shoe memorial

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Budapest view from top of cathedral

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Budapest parliament

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Budapest cathedral

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Chain bridge

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eggshell store in Salzburg!

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Alex and I, Budapest

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Salzburg

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Vienna cathedral also with a tiled roof like in Budapest

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Vienna

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Vienna

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Cafe Sacher Vienna

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Salzburg

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Mozart’s birthplace

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Salzburg

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Cathedral in Vienna

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Salzburg cathedral

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Crypt art work in Salzburg

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Spanish Riding School Vienna

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Vienna Opera house

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I spy the Lipizzaners

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Budapest opera house

Lil

Prague blog, accompanied by a plethora of wine

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My friends and I at the Chianti vineyard in Tuscany

SO my last week (plus a few days) have been crazy great. First of all I traveled to Prague. It is a land straight out of a fairy tale, with brightly colored buildings, a flowing river, a castle on top of a hill and some wonderful sweet treats. Through the drizzle and chill of the Czech weather I managed to navigate the city and see/taste my way through its heart. 1 crown (Czech currency) is about $25… so I was pretty satisfied with the prices of my pretzels and beer. Seeing the John Lennon wall was awesome. It felt great to be in the presence of an emblem of such peace and freedom. Prague is brimming with history and charisma. From the technicolor stained glass in its castle’s cathedral to the old Jewish quarter that has a mass grave site from World War Two. The quarter wasn’t destroyed during the war because Hitler wanted to make it into a museum dedicated to an “extinct race” (the Jewish population). A sick and twisted reason that has provided us with a phenomenal commemoration to the people that lost their lives based upon their own spiritual inclinations, a liberty that I so often take for granted.

After some more beer and goulash I hopped back on the bus to take me back to Florence. For lunch we stopped at a truck stop in Austria and as I ate my cheese and arugula sandwich on the side of the highway while looking up into the eyes of the beautiful alps, I closed my eyes, feeling the sunshine on my face and thought about my desire to live life to the fullest and how happy I am that I am on the right track!

After getting back to Florence my week was slammed with rain (lots of rain) and school work. On Wednesday I went to a wine tasting in town, where we also tasted 35 year old balsamic (AMAZING), extra virgin olive oil, 2 red wines and a white wine. Not to mention the salami, prosciutto and cheese. It was a pretty great night. I also learned how to correctly hold white wine verses red wine and how to properly drink them (don’t worry, mom and dad i’ll show you how;) Then on Friday I got to go to another wine tasting, this one was in Tuscany (about 40 minutes away from Florence) on the Chianti vineyard at a castle. Chianti is a red wine that is very famous in Tuscany, because that’s where it comes from, and let me tell you it is amazing. Chianti Classico is the best and main wine of the region. We got a tour of the cellar, a giant lunch and fantastic views.

The sun is out and I am embracing it. So much for Italy being the land of sun, it rains constantly here. I am preparing for my midterms and working on research papers, but also not forgetting to live la dolce vita.

Ciao for now!

Lil

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At the vineyard

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Store room, where they hang the grapes (the long poles on the right)

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One view of the land

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The vineyard

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A few of the barrels where Chianti Classico is being made. These barrels are all French oak and just for the empty barrel cost upwards of $12,000

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Prague

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Astronomical clock in Prague’s old town square

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Prague castle in the background

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Prague cathedral 

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The old ancestors of Prague

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Stained glass within the cathedral in Prague

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A delicious, circular pastry, famous in Prague with a rose from my waiter

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The room where I did wine tasting in Florence 

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

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SO I spent 7 years of my life learning French. During this time I received gifts from family members with the Eiffel Tower in various forms. Clothes, notebooks, necklaces which all showcased the glorified radio antenna. These gifts were wonderful and thoughtful, but in retrospect held no significant meaning for me. Until now. As I entered the city of love on a foggy Friday I saw the tower standing in the distance and I felt my eyes well with tears. A completely unnecessary and dramatic response that made me feel silly, but satisfied. The next 2 days were chalked full of touristy, bucket list items. I walked to Notre Dame, Quasimodo did not make an appearance, through the Louvre (Mona Lisa’s smirk is intriguing and also somewhat disappointing) although the other artwork in this immense maze of a museum was breathtaking. I was overwhelmed and couldn’t get to everything, I would have needed at least 3 more days, a tent and some snack to accomplish that. After the Louvre I walked past the ferris wheel, which rests at the end of the Champs-Élysées (the major street in Paris, with crazy shopping and beautiful monuments). I wound up at Moulin Rouge and a few pictures and exhausted feet later, I caught the metro back to our apartment. Dinner consisted of cheeseburgers and French fries, it was scrumptious, really though sitting outside and eating a Parisian-American meal felt great. After squeezing 9 people into a tiny apartment that semi comfortably would fit 5 people, we woke up on Saturday and caught a train to Versailles. However, we did not get very far before the conductor came on over the loud speaker and in quick tongued French rattled off a statement, opened the doors and shut off the lights. As we exited the metro into 45 degree, numbing wind weather, I read the posting at the station which in French explained that someone had been hit by a train and the metro was shut down until 10:30 am, it was 8:30 am. So we wandered into this Duldrum looking corporate outskirt of Paris and found a café where we small talked for 2 hours before finally making our way back to the metro station and arriving in Versailles half an hour later.

Versailles was massive and very intricate. From the floors to the ceilings not a spot of the walls was left untouched by decoration. The gardens were expansive and wonderful, probably more so in the warmer months, but I could see the flowers blooming in the near future and distant past. After leaving the Chateau we found a sweet spot for lunch, giving you a main course and then 3 smaller sides all placed in glass containers. Very French, very delicious. Catching the metro back to Paris was less stressful and we met up with our other friends and walked the Champs-Élysées. Arriving at the Arc de Triomphe, which after discovering how to reach it on its mysterious concrete island, we climbed to the top. Wow. The view and at sunset too, was amazing. I was taken a back by the sheer mass of the city and yet its perfect organization. From up high I was able to see the city in little pockets, with all the gears turning like the inner workings of a clock. So many lives were stirring and actions were happening that I could see, but not single out. It was wonderful. After viewing the Eiffel Tower from afar we ventured closer. Arriving just as it lit up for the first time in the evening. With my crepe in hand I smiled ear to ear. The tower twinkled and winked at me and all the lovebirds beneath it. After staring at the tower’s beauty for a while we wandered back to the metro and found our way to a French diner where I ordered a croque monsieur (grilled cheese with ham, French cuisine, however, it didn’t top my mom’s). On Sunday we rose with the sun again and wandered the old Jewish quarter, which was so quaint, I loved it and its falafel and baklava which are now definitely on my list of the top 5 best foods I’ve ever eaten. It was a day of food because after our falafel we ate macaroons and drank hot chocolate that was just that, melted chocolate, I mean really it tasted like a liquefied chocolate bar, it was amazing. We visited the exquisite opera house that reminded me of Versailles in some regards (my photos will demonstrate how). The ceiling was so beautiful, with artwork that was so different and much more ethereal than the rest of the structure’s theme. Lastly, we wandered past the Pompidou (modern art museum, that looks like a bunch of pipes on the exterior). All around that museum is the art district which is full of street art and funky shops. I loved it. Finally, it was time to return back to Italy. After (eventually) boarding the right train, we arrived at the airport and sat down on the plane that carried us back to the land of pasta.

Paris was an astonishingly powerful experience for me. My first trip, sort of solo, seeing a place that I have only dreamt about for a good majority of my life. After I got home, I called my parents to tell them all about how I felt there and what I saw. My dad led with this question: “why do you like Paris so much?”

It was a question that I could have easily answered with something like, “the monuments were so cool!” but instead I answered with a semi non-answer and shifted the conversation. Because in reality I have no idea why I loved it so much. It was a feeling I had when I saw those “cool” monuments and it was a feeling that I have been struggling to explain and identify. A feeling that I have experienced quite frequently since being abroad. I’ve already been asked quite a bit what my favorite experience has been or if I’ve done anything “awesome”, well all I can think to say is “I mean im in Italy haha…” this non-answer seems to get the general response of “oh yeah true!” Really though my answer is: everything I see is new, everything is exciting, it is hard to pinpoint one experience because I am blown away by all I see. I would have to say that little moments stand out to me only because of how I felt, that weird, happy feeling that I can’t describe to people. Maybe you’re reading this and know exactly what I’m talking about and maybe you’re reading this and are confused. I hope that you all get to have this feeling. It reminds me of a quote from Le Petit Prince, a French story fittingly, that I read in high school that is the title of this blog post.

Merci Paris for everything.

Now I’m off to Prague on Thursday!

Ciao for now!

Lil

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My liquified chocolate bar

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Opera House

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Opera house ceiling

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My macaroons: passionfruit-chocolate, lemon, earl grey, Mont Blanc

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Heaven in my mouth (falafel and baklava)

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Pompidou

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Mona Lisa, a fitting photo of today’s generation

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Me outside the Louvre

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Versailles

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Just one room within Versailles

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Versailles

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Versailles… again

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My favorite postcard EVER (yes I bought it)

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Eiffel Tower twinkling

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Arc de Triomphe, I climbed to the top of it

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This was the climb…

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Versailles gardens

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View from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

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Lock bridge

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To the people that birthed me, raised me & made me who I am WARNING: only continue reading if you’re in for genuine sappiness and an outpouring of affection

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Yes I took this picture and yes it was breathtaking in person (not because of the altitude though;)

SO as I was walking to school the other day, I couldn’t stop smiling. The sun was shining, for once. There were people sitting on top of the river’s walls reading and I was navigating my way through the city seamlessly. I had my headphones in listening to Feist and I kept picturing an entourage of people singing and dancing behind me like you see in the movies. Maybe some song birds, more likely seagulls because there is an abundance of them here, would perch on my shoulders and braid my hair. And I had this crazy feeling that if I looked over my seagull perch of a shoulder, that peering out from behind the rows of vespas would be my mom and dad. Smiling at me, beaming with pride. My dad would wink at me and nod and my mom would laugh and happy tears would be streaming down her face. But when I glanced to my right all I saw was a single man taking a selfie and a dog crossing the cobblestone street with her elderly human parent.

I turned my foolish head quickly, back to reality. The seagulls vanished and Feist slowed her tempo. This fantasy of my parents being able to see my genuine happiness and comfort was all too telling of my journey thus far.

I have experienced a lot in my (almost) 3 weeks abroad, but none of it would have been possible without my humans back home, my constant givers of support, love and encouragement. Over these past few weeks I have been thinking about all this love and missing the people who provided it without condition. This post may not be about the incredible view I had of Florence the other day (see picture) or the ultimate sense of pride I had when I was mistaken for a native Italian in the grocery line and was spoken to and responded in a language I have only attempted to speak for the past week. No, this post is a thank you. The recognition of all of you reading this. I feel this is appropriate to post now before I have been changed forever by this marvelous place, just so I can say at the end of all of it that I was thankful from the beginning. So that I stay humble. So that I remember where I came from and how I got here. Because all of that will shape this entire adventure for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

With that, I want to say I am keeping my head up and although I am thinking of you always, I will be looking in front of me to search for your loving faces and no longer behind me.

Thank you to all the people (and animals) that have given me all that I just said, you know who you are and if you don’t think that you have ever done anything for me, just know that you are wrong, and your humbleness is exactly how you have influenced me.

NOW, I’m off to Paris! Stayed tuned! I will return on Monday with a new post about crossing off one of my bucket list cities!

Je t’aime mes amis!

Florence: an evil place that steals your heart and enriches your soul

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SO I have successfully navigated an Italian supermarket, with the word “scusi” (excuse me) under my breath the entire time, had gelato twice a day, multiple days in row while justifying it with the fact that I walk 3 miles to school and back, plus walking for food and getting lost, averaging about 12 miles a day. I have washed some clothes and hung them on the towel warmer to dry. Attended and loved class, my Italian professor is fantastic. Paired paprika Pringles with a 4-euro pinot noir (they go wonderfully together p.s.). Indulged in real pizza, fresh pasta, and warm Panini (panino is singular and the plural form is Panini, sorry America we are saying it wrong). Let me tell you, I am being spoiled for the rest of my life. The cappuccinos are 1.5 euro and they are incredible and beautiful and it will be a battle with Caribou to hand over $5 for my decent at best coffee when I am home.

It has been 5 days since I stepped foot in Florence (Firenze in Italian). I have crossed many bridges. Literally. The river Arno runs through Florence and to get to school I have to walk down my street and then past two bridges until I reach the third bridge, the one I cross over, as it is the most direct route to school. My school is in a palace. No joke. However, it is not quite like the one you have drawn up in your head. It’s a palace by historical standard, not based upon how many princesses have lived there. The classrooms are huge and slightly dusty, but the material I am learning is wonderful.

My days are rich and filled with delicious food, long walks, laughs with friends, beautiful sights and a cozy apartment to come home to at night. The apartment is not very big, but I think it is perfect. After climbing 8 flights of stairs, I open the door to a sweet kitchen with a couch (my living and dining room). The ceilings are so cool! They are made of exposed wood and make me feel as though I am living in an Italian cottage. The light fixtures are pretty neat too. My kitchen has a chandelier and my bedroom has lights with red shades, giving my room a pinky glow. My apartment has 2 bathrooms and 2 showers! Yay! Everything is new and works wonderfully. Also in my room I have a window into the staircase of my building. I have exchanged several glances and prolonged eye contact with the lawyer who lives across from me. Note: he always wears sunglasses…the anonymity is somewhat intriguing.

The 25 minute walk to school is pretty tolerable when I’m surrounded by a culture of absolute charisma.

May I never keep my eyes down and become too familiar with the awe that encircles me.

I will update weekly now. With stories and adventures and pictures. Until then, know that I am doing well. That I am happy and that I am always hungry, for pasta, gelato, new ventures, a different vantage point, feelings of warmth, home and the desire to carve my own path.

May my appetite never be satisfied.

Ciao for now! I love you all and your support and kind words.

Thinking of you always.

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The Dumo which lives about 3 blocks away from me

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My breakfast. JEALOUS? you should be.

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Every street looks this quaint. It is remarkable. 

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The entrance to my school!

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My school’s courtyard and one of the classrooms which is straight ahead in this pictureQ

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The staircase leading to the rest of my classes

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Gustopizza is life and is right next to school, uh oh

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Just admiring Ponte Vecchio you know, casually

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Ponte Vecchio at night

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Across from school. This building has a beautiful fresco (wall painting)

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The Dumo at night featuring Gelato

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I don’t think this needs a caption

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The river Arno and Ponte Vecchio, a better picture  without me obstructing its view

When in Rome, do as the Romans do and don’t order cappuccinos after a meal, EVER

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SO the majority of people I have talked to on my trip all have step counters (or whatever they’re called) you know the things that measure how many steps you’ve taken that day. So I am constantly hearing, “OMG Michelle we just walked 500 steps to the gelato shop, that’s so crayyyy.” I don’t have one of these magic little devices. Here is how I measure the distance I covered in the day: my feet are sore, my back aches, I’m thirsty, my leg cramps, my hair looks like the handy work of some nesting birds and my mind cannot comprehend the beauty and awe that my eyes absorbed in just a few hours.

Roma is a city full of rich history and modern culture. It is difficult to describe the feeling of walking a block down from your hotel, turning a corner and seeing Roman ruins next to an immense church, across the street from Michelangelo’s first (but not final) resting place, which is next door to a selfie-stick and adapter stand. My amazement is not in short supply here in this city. I walked all over Roma seeing the Trevi Fountain, several beautifully old and detailed gothic and baroque churches, the Pantheon, the Prime Minister’s home and many wonderfully carved obelisks placed all over the city that once served as coordinate markers for people who didn’t have access to Google Maps 600 years ago.

Next stop? Vatican city. Wow. This place was amazing. We walked all through the Vatican seeing enormous paintings from Raphael that were breathtaking. I learned so much about the history of different paintings and their creators from my tour guide who also happens to be the painting professor at my University I will be attending in Florence. When I entered the Sistine Chapel I felt humbled. Michelangelo truly captured life and faith in his work. The chapel is gorgeous and each painting tells its biblical story so well and intricately. Lets just say my neck hurts A LOT, that ceiling is too incredible not to stare straight up at for half an hour.

It is the year of the jubilee (an event the occurs every 25 years in which Catholics make a pilgrimage to the Vatican to walk through the Holy door, which is closed to the public at all other times). This is a special jubilee since the last one was in 2000, the next one shouldn’t have been until 2025. It was really special watching women and men of absolute faith enter through the threshold, kissing it and praying as they entered, you could feel their joy and love radiating.

As I exited the Vatican I walked out into the square where the Pope gives mass on Sundays at noon, the Christmas tree still up and decorated with a nativity scene at its foot, a vision of holiday spirit that gave me a sense of comfort.

Finally I went to the Colosseum and Roman ruins. It was insane to think about the people and lives they led 2,000 years ago as I snapped pictures with my picture taking device (something I’m the ancient Roman people could have never imagined, as they pushed criminals off the sides of buildings or buried them alive). As I walked through the city ruin’s streets and looked up at the arches and amphitheaters standing with incredible detail and towering height, I kept thinking to myself how awesome people are. Thinking about the perseverance it required to build structures such as those I saw, and then the nonchalant nature of the next couple generations to just pull down these gorgeous buildings to build new homes and churches. In many of the churches I entered, the columns within would not match because the constructors of the buildings used columns from the colosseum or the old senate house etc. SO cool.

The metro in Italy is, how should I say it… simpler compared to London? It is just not quite as modern and lovely as the Tube. Another three course meal for dinner (which I have had every night, covered by my program). Here is something I learned from these 3 course meals… pasta, all covered in red sauce and meat, is an APPETIZER in Italy. Yeah, needless to say I have had pasta, then meat, then dessert every night and am feeling satisfied and grateful. However, don’t be surprised if the next time you see me I am 85 pounds heavier, I cant help it! It’s the Italians and their delicious food… and wine!

It hasn’t been without its tribulations, but I think I am finally settling into life abroad. Today as I was walking through the streets of Trastevere a little girl all dressed up fro carnival (a celebration for children similar to that of Halloween but for a month long period… lucky little kiddos) ran up to me. Throwing her fist into the air with the biggest smile and sweetest laugh she released her fingers and a cloud of confetti rained onto my jeans, down my shirt and into my surprised hands. It was a small, silly gesture that made me so happy and welcomed in this beautiful country.

I leave for Florence tomorrow morning and will finally be able to settle into my apartment with my roommates! Myranda, Kiersten and Duvi are the lucky ladies who will be my roomies in Florence and I couldn’t be happier to get to know them and feel our friendships grow! It’ll be wonderful to establish myself somewhere and actually go back to school, I know! Crazy right? But I actually miss the routine of school work. For instance I am very excited to learn about Italian renaissance architecture, which is one of my classes!

 

Ciao for now famiglia.

 

Ps, I begin all of my posts with “SO” because I have realized that is how I begin most of my normal conversations and that way it really does feel like I am talking with you and catching you up on my life instead of talking AT you.

 

Much love and enjoy a few of favorite pictures from my little Roman exploration!

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Raphael’s last painting, very dramatic and beautiful

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Michelangelo’s sculpture of Jesus up close and personal

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One of the many obelisks all over Rome

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Bird’s eye view of ancient Roman ruins

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Only 1/5th of what is left of the original Colosseum 

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Gorgeous church 

Didn’t see the Queen, but London treated me like I was her Majesty

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3 of London’s favorite things all in one picture!!! A telephone booth, Big Ben and me!

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My HUGE fish and chips and mushy peas (green thing that looks like guacamole but tastes evil)

 

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Look Mom, I made friends!!!

 

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Weird ducks, scary eyes, too friendly for comfort or a prolonged photo..

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Kensington Gardens

SO after a few tears, an oddly delicious shrink wrapped airplane meal and standing alone in Heathrow airport for 40 minutes looking for my ride, I arrived in London! After discovering that I forgot my adapter, I made friends with my roommate, Vanessa, who graciously let me charge my phone. Two other girls, Grace and Leanne, who flew with my roommate from Dallas, Vanessa and I set out on our first mini exploration of our much greater adventure. We walked all through Kensington Gardens, stopping to see many very friendly birds, monuments (Peter Pan, Princess Diana’s fountain etc). We got back to our hotel and spent the night in, going to sleep at 9 pm. Jet lag hasn’t been too bad, it’s just been stranger to convert my current time to that of home, thinking about what I would be doing at that time back in the States and what my loved ones are up to.

On Tuesday (the 19th), I woke up at 8 am and was on a tour bus by 9 am. We traveled all over, learning fun facts about London’s biggest staples. We saw Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, Covent Gardens, London Bridge, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey  and all the streets in between. Our bus dropped us off in the center of London and we walked our way around the city successfully, eating and laughing along the way. We used the Tube with success, only one wrong train was caught… We got back to our hotel at 7 pm and headed out to a local pub to have a “traditional English kitchen dinner”. I got fish and chips (image included) the fish was huge, but oh so good on a blistery cold night in London.

This morning (Wednesday the 20th) I boarded a bus to take me back to Heathrow and off to Rome at 6 am. And after a beautiful flight through the clouds and over the alps I have arrived in Rome (my temporary home for the next 5 days). The view out of my hotel is stunning. Wonderfully tall and colored buildings surround the alley my window is above. Each terrace has a lush garden and trellises that would make Romeo jealous. I opened my window to get some fresh air and with the fresh air came the voice of an elderly woman yelling Italian from her window to her pals on the street as they yelled back, I smiled, deciding that they must be yelling about how incredible their city is and how rich their culture feels, and not about what was for dinner or wether they had seen her cat lately.

I will update my blog after my travels in Roma (as the Italians say). Until then, it is nap time and of course pasta time after that, ciao!

Here’s to getting lost a few more times and finding myself again in a new country. Thanks for everything London, give me all you got Roma!

Love and miss you all. Wishing you were here to experience everything with me.