Monday, December 23, 2013

Shoes!

Today was another lazy day, but I did leave the house! I went shopping with my stepmom to buy my dad a Christmas present and get a few things for myself, of course. Holiday shopping is so difficult! It gets harder every year, I swear because I feel like the people I'm buying for already have everything they need. Plus, I always find things for me when I'm suppose to be looking for other people's gifts. I suppose that's when it's time to get creative and start scouring Pinterest.

However, I did get some fabulous shoes at DSW – a pair of Oxfords and some black flats. My dad called them ballet slippers and tap shoes. I really hope that isn't the first thing that comes to other people's minds when I wear them... I think they're classy anyway, and that's what really matters when it comes to personal style.

On a more academic note, I finished my personal statement finally! What a feat! I am the slowest writer I know, so I'm glad that's over and done with, and all I have left is to choose my classes and get a letter of recommendation, which I already have two faculty members in mind for.

I ate too many cookies earlier, and I'm super sleepy, so that's about it for today. Sorry to be a bore! I suppose that's life sometimes, but it's good to relish the calmer moments, too. I'll be off dreaming some bizarre things as usual until the morning. ¡Buenas noches (I'm trying to teach myself Spanish)!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

I'm a Little Monster

I had a very lazy day today. I was feeling a bit under the weather, but I'm trying to battle that psychologically and with tons of water and vitamin C. I ate some cookies, watched Arrested Development, SNL with Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake (perfection right there), and Modern Family. I also stared at my personal statement for my semester abroad application. That's right, I stared at it. Obviously, I didn't get very far on that. I actually have it written, but it's mumbo jumbo right now and needs some serious TLC before I submit it.


On a far less academic note, my stepmom went shopping as usual and came back with a couple of geeky cat sweaters from Hot Topic for her and my dad, which they wore to a Christmas party tonight. I took their pictures, and it's no wonder people never know my dad is my dad. We're all starting to look the same age. What is life. After the conniption my dad had about her spending money on the sweaters, he ended up winning the ugly sweater contest. Everything happens for a reason, I suppose. They came back from their party with a cock. Get your mind out of the gutter! It's a glass rooster with a bow – lovely decor.

I'm just glad they put their young'n (5-year-old Korean they adopted in 2009) to bed, so I could just sit around some more while they went out. Ah, the lazy life, at least for me. He's adorable, but certainly my annual dose of birth control. I don't know how parents do it. Some magic must descend upon parents in order to care for kids because I sure can't handle them right now. I'm actually trying to live up my twenties by – drumroll please – going to the GAGA CONCERT IN JULY! The tickets were bought today, and I can't be more excited! I've been wanting to see her perform for about 5 years now, and it's actually happening! Little Monsters UNITE!


It turns out my dad is actually really into Gaga, but I didn't know this before buying my ticket with my fellow Little Monster, whom I adore SO much. For some reason, I don't know that many people who adore Gaga as much as I do even though she has millions of fans. I hope my dad gets a ticket, poor thing. Maybe that'll be my Christmas present to him. Strugglebus...I'm the worst with buying presents. I'd prefer if someone just told me what they wanted/needed, and I bought it right there. I know it should be a surprise, but let's be honest: who wants to go through the awkward gift return/exchange fiasco after Christmas if you get something your person doesn't like?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

It's Been Awhile...

So, this semester was a Strugglebus of its own. I was busy blah blah blah. Who isn't? I'm sure you know how that goes.

I took organic chemistry this semester and wanted to die. Some people click with chemistry – I am not one of those people. It also didn't help that I wasn't very fond of my instructor. Although it's great that I never saw a frown on her face, I think she failed to realize how many frowns were in front of her. She breezed through all of the tough material and focused on the easy stuff. Why do teachers do that?! Anyway, I passed with a B- so I can't complain. I've heard one too many horror stories of people completely failing the first time, so I'm grateful I at least made it the first time around. Plus, I refuse to retake a class. If I'm going to spend 4 months with a class, you can bet your cat I'm not going to do it all over again. No, sir.

Organic Chemistry: B-

I did change my major to Environmental Science. I couldn't be happier. I realized a major reason I was continuing as a biology major was because I shared classes with the same people, and I was reluctant to step away from them. I was afraid of change. In the end, I needed to do what was best for myself and strive for something I'm passionate about. I should've known I wasn't a science person when it was my weakest area in high school (besides history – that's just out of the question). However, environmental science integrates everything I love, and I can actually see myself in that field. I can't wait for next semester!

For the meantime, I'm working on my application to spend a semester abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. I wouldn't travel until next fall, but I need to start organizing things now. Flights are quite cheap at the moment, so I want to snag one while the price is right. I also need to think about winter clothing, whatever that may be. Arizona and Florida have not taught me those things...


On a real first world problem note: I made a playlist on Spotify of some of my favorite songs, and I can't find a song to pause on because they're all so good, which means I can't go to sleep. Strugglebus.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bonjour Paris!

Let me just tell you how foreign, yet familiar it feels to be back home in the States. It's strange. The reverse culture shock is certainly hitting me. Enough about that, though, and more about Paris.

Atop the Eiffel Tower.
I don't know who the lady is, but I certainly love this place.
Oh, Paris. This city was truly the most beautiful city I have been to. I'm sorry, London, but you definitely have some competition. I know the French and Brits have a bit of a rivalry, so I hope nobody gets too heated about that statement. Seriously, though, the moment I got to exploring the city, my eyes lit up, and I could have remained there forever. It almost came to that, but I'll explain later.

My first night in Paris was relatively uneventful. I got into my hostel late around 7:00pm, so there really wasn't much daylight to spend. I was exhausted anyway, so all I wanted was some food as I'd only had grapes for breakfast early that morning before I left Firenze. I caved and bought a California wrap at the hostel, inhaled it, and proceeded to meet some of my first friends in Paris. I had met a very sweet German girl while unpacking before my dinner, and she noticed a tipsy Canadian struggling with the washroom door. We giggled at him, and he proceeded to our table asking if I was Australian. Not even close, buddy.

I joined him and his friends outside soon after and we soaked in each other's company. It's really such a blessing to meet so many people while traveling. Whether I stay in contact or not, each person still holds a special place in my heart and experiences.

Around 2am, I was practically falling asleep at the table and the guys urged me to head to bed. I waved them off, saying I was fine, but about thirty seconds later I agreed and went up to get some much needed rest. I promptly passed out after cleaning up and brushing my teeth; I wanted to be ready to thoroughly explore the next day.

I woke up for free breakfast and found my German friend downstairs already eating. I joined her with a plateful of bread, ham, and cheese and a cup of English tea (forget coffee!). I was feeling quite ill with congestion in both my sinuses and chest, so eating seemed almost a chore, but I pretended not to notice. I have some wild infection now, but I regret nothing!

Since I literally had the whole day to myself with no one else's schedule to even consider, I thought the Notre Dame would be a great place to start. It wasn't too far, and I could easily walk wherever I wanted from there. I took the Metro, which I was getting really efficient at using finally and hopped off to a bright, beautiful morning filled with the sounds of tourists and French. I was unsure where to go, so I took a guess (which I'm apparently really good at). The ornate edifice crept into my view, and I hurried over. There was this great seating area, so I simply sat for some time and just soaked in the moment. I didn't go in as my shoulders were bare, and although I saw others going in without cover-ups, I didn't feel like fighting the line snaking half a kilometer back. I was content with just resting in the shade and staring at the exquisite architecture.

After what I felt was an adequate amount of time, I ran into an Egyptian guy. He offered to take my picture, so of course I accepted. He seemed nice enough, but clearly interested in more than friendship. Me being so passive, I just convinced myself he was just really friendly, so I allowed him to show me the palace nearby. It started to feel a bit claustrophobic as he asked more questions, wanted me to take his arm, bring me to lunch, and take pictures together in a lovey-dovey manner. This was my day, so I had to end it and end it fast. Quickest deterrent ever: "I have a boyfriend". I still feel terrible lying (thank the Lord, I'm going to church tonight), but it fizzled very quickly after that. Sorry dude, but I had a lot to see, and I really wanted a Me Day. It would've been counterproductive for both of us, and I didn't want to waste anyone's time.

Unsure what to do next, I thought "to hell with schedules and plans, I'm just going to wander around". What's the worst that could happen? Well, the worst that could happen was a perfect day. I ran into St. Jacques' Tower, the Louvre, the gardens, street dancing, the coolest Mexicans I've ever met, Arc du Triumph, and the Eiffel Tower. Being the curious weirdo I am, I calculated how much I walked. 14 kilometers (9 miles)! And that's just based on Google Maps! I know I walked even more in my aimless roaming.

My photography skills are on point. 
During this little journey, I would sit at the parks and gardens and just feel the breeze across my skin and the warmth of the sun. It was actually a fairly hot day - something I was hoping to escape after sweating constantly for six weeks. However, I didn't mind it; the shady areas were the perfect temperature to perch myself. I could contemplate life and the world around me. I think it was in these moments where all of my travels and learning would finally begin to sink it. Since being home, it all feels like a gorgeous dream that couldn't possibly have happened. Those small moments made everything real.

We even match.
When I met my two Mexican friends, it was kind of funny. I immediately noticed they were pretty attractive guys, and I sent them a small smile when they looked back at me. I figured they'd turn the corner at some point, but after about three lengthy blocks of passing and falling behind each other, I decided to say something. I noticed they spoke Spanish, so I looked up and said, "¡Hola!" Surprised, he replied back and asked if I spoke Spanish. Sí. Next came a jumble of Spanish that I could definitely not process fast enough. With nothing but a blank stare in return, he hastily asked, "English?" Yup. He then proceeded the conversation in perfect English. What?! That was easy! It gets better, though. As we're getting to know each other, he mentions he lived in San Antonio, Texas. Funny, because I lived there as well! I knew all the streets he talked about, and he attended the university I considered when living there. By the way, I lived off of Babcock and Huebner (I couldn't remember when we were talking). I guess it is a small world after all.

We headed up to the Eiffel Tower after checking out the Arc du Triumph. I loved getting to know new people. I feel like I could never do something like this back home. Or maybe I can, and I've just been too afraid. I've learned I really have nothing to lose because it may turn into something much more beautiful than a hello on the street. Though this one didn't, I'm still grateful to have met them; they were such kind people with great stories to share. Plus, we bonded over our Mexican heritage, which was cool.

It's a masterpiece.
After our huge hike up the Tower, we went out to dinner, and I ordered my first Parisian dish - a ham and cheese omelette for dinner. How wild is that? I suppose not so much in France, but it would be strange back home. It came out steaming hot, dressed with a small herb on top. I must say, that was the greatest omelette I've ever eaten. The guys' food was just as fabulous, and we even got some free wifi. We were ready to head back to our lodging afterward, so we parted ways, hoping to meet up again that night or sometime again. Unfortunately we didn't but my night certainly wasn't a waste.

Remember the Canadian guys I met? Well, I was supposed to go to the Louvre with them that morning, but thankfully I didn't wait for a response to my text because it was the first Sunday, meaning entry was free. The line was hundreds of visitors long, and I certainly wasn't about to waste an entire day waiting. Anyway, I met up with one of them at the bar that night, and we both happened to want to go to the Eiffel Tower at night. Well, the night turned out to be any girl's dream date: kisses on the metro, gazing at a sparkling Eiffel Tower on the lawn, walking around Paris.

No Canadians here...
It was great until we got back to the hostel. In short, he wanted more, and I didn't. There was no way I was about to compromise any of my values while he scoffed at them. Unfortunately, this was the one thing we just didn't agree on. A small squabble entailed, and the night went from magical to awkward in a matter of seconds. An awkward goodbye later and I was left feeling quite offended and just disappointed. Thankfully, we weren't in the same room; that would've been even more awkward. He was still one of the coolest people I met even though the physical aspect just didn't quite work out. He was off on another adventure the next day anyway, so I'm sure he could pick up another girl with no problem and maybe get lucky with her. I'm just not that easy.

I'd say that's okay, though. The next few days brought something far sweeter.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Beginning of the End

Today marks the final week of my stay in Firenze. I know I said I was going to keep up with posting, but I've grown lazy and my travel euphoria is making its descent (so yes, I'm still alive - no one has to go Liam Neeson on me). I don't know what day I'm on, but I can count the number of days I have left in Europe: 10 (on the 11th I head home). It has been a journey not only physically, but emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. I'll get to the nostalgic rant when my trip comes to a close, though; there will be plenty of time for that.

I just had an intense déjà vu that I'm not sure where it came from. Hm. That's not important. What is important is to record the events of the past, I don't know, week and a half maybe? I suppose I'll begin with Roma...

Ahh, Roma. Now that's a city I could fall in love with (never as much as London, but it's up there). The five-hour bus ride didn't seem so long because the countryside in Italy holds some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen. Sunflower fields, sprawling vibrant meadows, rolling hills. It is divine - I wouldn't mind frolicking in them one day. I could actually enjoy the views this time as I wasn't drunk or hungover. I certainly learned my lesson from last time. Some people can do that - props. I'll take a good night's sleep and some fresh eyes for a new adventure.

We arrived in Rome around noon, and I was surprised to see a city that looked so similar to Firenze. Tall buildings towered over the narrow streets, and it was actually quite small. I expected this giant city all wide with the Colosseum in plain view, but it looked relatively normal when we stepped off the bus. I decided to tag along with some new people because there was some turbulence in the apartment, and I had planned on meeting a ton of new people while I travelled anyway.

The sky looked troubled, but I decided not to take my umbrella, believing the sun would conquer the clouds. Always listen to your intuition. Three girls from the program and I decided to go on a hunt for food and found a street full of restaurants. Unlike Firenze, the hosts were incredibly aggressive. Some followed us down the street, persistently pleading us to eat at their restaurant, some offered free services if we chose their restaurant, and some would just tear apart neighboring restaurants, claiming their food was fresh and superior to the others. All we wanted was some cheap, delicious pasta to hold us over until dinner. We finally went back to one that had decent prices, and the host offered free bruschetta. How could we resist?

We sat down, perused the menu, and waited for the server. After he attended to us, we asked about the bruschetta we were promised. He became hostile quickly and refused to give us some because one of the girls didn't order a dish, even though the rest of us did. The debate escalated quickly to the point that a cappuccino was chugged and we told him to cancel the order because we were leaving. Yeah, we know this isn't our home and things are done differently, but nobody had to get chewed out. That's when round two of our hunt commenced.

A heavy drizzle began with only two of us having umbrellas - at least someone was smart enough to listen to the little voice saying, "Just in case it rains..." We roamed - ha! "Romed"- around for awhile as the sky darkened and thunder boomed around us. This definitely wasn't just a typical rainstorm. We quickly headed back toward the meeting place and found a small pizza joint. It ended up being cheaper than expected and quite delightful. Being the cheapskates we are, we decided to find a bench or something to sit at as it costs extra to sit at a table in/outside restaurants. We found a short wall to plop on, and then it hit. The torrential downpour with gusts of wind and lightning strikes crackling one after another. The trees and the two umbrellas we had gave some protection, but we were definitely on the Strugglebus trying to eat our pizza. These tiny flower leaf things kept flying into my cappuccino, too, but I managed to enjoy my lunch.

It was fun to hang around and get to know other people on the program because many of us just stick to the people in our apartments. Although it's convenient, it's refreshing to see some new faces. We made light of our rain troubles and met up with everyone else to begin our tours of the Vatican City. This, by the way, is the smallest country in the world. I can officially say I've been in two countries at once. Anyway, the Vatican Museum is incredible to say the least. So much art and history are held in this ancient edifice, and it's an experience that simply cannot be described. I'm not an expertise in the arts, but I do appreciate the beauty of such stunning artifacts.

Our next stop was to the Sistine Chapel. Now, I was itching with anticipation to see this. We learned about this incredible work of Michelangelo's in my honors arts and humanities class, so I definitely felt a greater appreciation for it than many of the other pieces I had seen since being in Italy. Pictures are strictly forbidden, but they wouldn't have done it justice anyway.

Never have I experienced such a connection to a piece of art in my life. I shuffled in amongst the dozens, maybe hundreds, who had also traveled all this way to view the ceiling. I gazed up, wide-eyed. My jaw immediately dropped as the fresco swam into my vision. A warm tear rolled down my cheek as this experience enveloped me. Another warm streak and another followed. It's one thing to read the Bible, but it is a most divine experience to gaze at its scenes artfully crafted by the hands of Michelangelo. The world had stopped in that moment, and I could see the roots of my faith so clearly.

The tour continued on to St. Peter's Cathedral - the largest in Italy - where its size was incomprehensible. I knew it was enormous, but my mind couldn't quite fathom it. I finally realized it was because the edifice was so proportional that the size of each part simply couldn't be understood. This was gorgeously puzzling, and I adored every minute. I'm not Catholic, but I wouldn't mind attending a mass in there.

We were then released for free time. I didn't buy anything because, honestly, souvenirs are overrated. I always look back and wonder why I bought that keychain or mini model of some monument that sits on my shelf collecting dust. Instead, I've learned to absorb the experience and take some pictures. Plus, I'll have wonderful stories for my friends and family that a magnet or postcard can't tell.

From the Vatican City, we headed into the heart of Rome to our hotel rooms, which were roomy, comfortable, and best of all, had air conditioning! It took us quite some time to figure out the electricity because the hotel key had to stay in a small slot by the door in order for it to remain on. It was strange. However, we had a spacious bathroom with a real tub we could take normal showers in. I napped in our bit of spare time, then we all headed to our scheduled dinner. Pizza was on the menu, so I wasn't complaining. A full belly later, I was ready to go to sleep. One of my roommates turned on the TV, and what did we find? The Hunger Games! I was a little too excited to watch it in Italian, but I soon found my eyes heavy and took the card out of the slot to turn the lights out. I wanted to be energized for day two.

The Colosseum was first on the agenda after a scrumptious continental breakfast (those are the absolute best, might I say!) The walk was shorter than it appeared on the map, and I thought it would be more... colossal (so punny! I know, I'm lame. Just accept it). Nevertheless, I stood in awe of the ancient arena. Our tour guide was fantastic! She didn't give us the lesson we get in history class, oh no - she gave us the dirty details of the place, and I loved it even more. We were allowed some time to explore the second floor, where many pictures were taken and a lap around the entire thing had to be done. I could've spent all day there, but of course, there was plenty more to see.

We went to the house of the Vestal Virgins, saw the place where Caesar was cremated, and looked over Roman ruins. So many facts flew my way, and I attempted to snatch as many as I could. The more you know, right? Our tour ended, we sadly departed from our lovely tour guide, and one of my new friends knew of a place a friend highly recommended (no pun intended; you'll see why in a minute). She knew it was atop one of Rome's seven hills (see?) we just had to go apparently. We asked our tour guide for directions and she pointed out the way on the map, but warned us we'd likely get lost. Not only did we NOT get lost, we found some of the best views in Rome. Where did we go? To look through the keyhole on top of Aventine Hill. It is famous for its view of the Vatican. If you look it up, you'll see what I saw, but naturally it's even better in person.

After my friend and I looked through the keyhole, we found a perfect little park on the hill that overlooked all of Rome. We sat for awhile and chatted about our experiences in Italy so far. We had some similar struggles and a similar personality, so it was fortunate we met. This was the part of traveling I loved. After sufficient time baking in the sun, we wandered around some more before heading back to the hotel. Dinner was in a few hours, so I took a bit of time to relax.

Dinner was delicious again with a few different courses that left me with a food baby. Many of my peers were planning on going out to bars, but I really wanted a preview of the Trevi Fountain before our tour in the morning. Expecting it to be at least a bit less crowded, my new friend and I waddled up and down the steep streets of Rome to make a few wishes. When we arrived, we were disgruntled to find a swarm of tourists snapping photos of the majestic fountain. That didn't deter us, though because it was just magical. I could've stared at the massive marble structure all night, but after almost an hour, we were ready to head back to the hotel.

I hung out in my friend's hotel room because I didn't really want to go to sleep or be in my room alone. Again, the TV was turned on, and what did we find? Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets! In Italian! Needless to say, we were unnecessarily giddy and watched the last half of the movie. Once it finished, I returned to my room and snuggled into my bed.

My final morning crept upon me quickly, and I shoveled down another free breakfast. I had to stock up for the last day before heading to our final tour. We walked all over Rome, visiting the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, and Pantheon. At the Trevi Fountain, our guide told us how to properly make a wish, and I realized I'd done it all wrong the night before. My picture was perfect the night before, except it wasn't right. I redid everything the correct way, so we'll find out if it comes true. Obviously, I can't share what I wished for, but we'll see if it's granted in the future.

Once we were released for the remainder of the day, I met more people I hadn't previously encountered and decided to tag along with them. We ate lunch, and I found they were a bunch of goons like me, filling our meal with laughter and warmth. Afterward, we all headed back to the Pantheon to get a look inside since we couldn't beforehand (a mass was underway). It was magnificent as most of Rome is, and we headed to the Trajan Tower next. Here, a few of us parked and chatted for about an hour. It really is a unique experience to share this entire adventure with others, even for only a moment. With only about an hour until our bus left for Firenze, we soaked in the last sights of the Eternal City on the way to the hotel.

Drained, we retrieved our luggage, and reclined in exhausted silence awaiting our departure. Finally we boarded the bus and were ready to head back. Unfortunately, two of our people understood the time to be an hour later than the scheduled time, so we had to wait an extra thirty to forty-five minutes for them. In the meantime, an anomaly happened. Another fierce thunderstorm appeared overhead; not only was it more intense than the first, but large hail crashed down from the sky. I hoped the lost sheep would find their way soon, which they did.

I found it peculiar that we were being seen off in the same way we were greeted. I enjoyed the raging weather and watched its progress as we drove into and out of it. We returned to Firenze safe and sound with cloudless skies just as we left it. The weekend was certainly one of my favorites, and I hope I can return there one day. For the meantime, I'll be celebrating my last week of classes and my time here. Then, I'm off to Paris and, finally, home.

I can't say I'm not excited and ready to go home. I can't wait to see my family and friends and snuggle in my cloud. I also can't wait to move into my new apartment with some of my best friends. What an eventful summer. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Buonanotte! This girl needs to study for finals...

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Day 29: A Turnaround

I've had some bumps and bruises during my time in Firenze, but things are beginning to look up.

Monday was one of the best days I've had here, and it was very unplanned and simple. One of my roommates was going to retrieve her phone, and I asked to join because I planned on roaming around anyway. She wanted to go to Museo Galileo, and I thought it sounded interesting, even though it wasn't one of the free sites included on our museum cards. I just wanted to explore anywhere new. We picked up her phone at the school, stopped to get her a panini, and made our way to the museum. Thankfully, it wasn't packed as I had expected, and I was pleasantly surprised at how intriguing the place was. It was full of nautical instruments, ancient globes, and other gleaming gizmos that would be any inventor's dream.

I was glad that the other roommates were in Paris because we could take our time through each exhibit and not worry about rushing anywhere. This was the experience I had been wanting here without worrying about what five other people wanted to do or were complaining about.

This great bike exhibit explaining the origins of the bicycle and hands on activities dealing with space and physics completed our tour. It was an incredible experience, and I learned so much. It was nice that the museum wasn't overwhelmingly large, and visitors were sparse. After all of the walking, though, we were ready to grab some food.

Lorena and I headed to the restaurant where I had eaten previously with our program director and other roommates because she desperately wanted some Carbonara. We were the only ones in the restaurant, and our server was quite cheeky. Many of the Italians are; I love it. That is actually defining factor of my personality, but I usually stay quiet because I'm always afraid of offending someone. You never know when people will take offense to something, and my sense of humor is certainly an acquired taste.

The food was just as scrumptious as the last time, and we were ready to continue on our spontaneous adventures. As we walked out of the restaurant (I never remember the names, just the locations), Lorena pointed out the doors across the street. We're almost certain we found the apartment the Jersey Shore stayed in when they were in Firenze. We'll have to watch that season to be sure, but I think we found it. I have a picture, and I will certainly be comparing it to the one seen on the show. Unfortunately, their wild behavior contributes to the awful stereotypes us Americans get, but I will admit it's entertaining.

After our revelation, we headed to the Fortezza (fortress) because it looked interesting. It turned out we couldn't actually go in, but we parked in the grass outside of it. A bunch of people were napping or relaxing, and we figured why not? I'm not sure how long we stayed there, but it was blissful. The air was fresher, a pond twinkled behind us, and everyone just kept to themselves. I will certainly be going back again to study or just take in the scenery. It would be perfect for a little picnic date; where is my Italian stallion?!

On the way home, we stopped to get Lorena a smoothie. Unfortunately, the juice bar had literally just closed, so she said an iced coffee from Astor would suffice. Little did we know, we'd get more than just an iced coffee. Free Korean aperitivo! That's right: chefs in training cooked some classic Korean dishes, and we got to sample them without paying a cent. It was delicious, and the Korean chefs were very hospitable and kind. It made me want to travel to South Korea, so that may be in my future travel plans.

A full belly and some exhausted feet later, we hiked up the eighty steps to the apartment. I relaxed awhile, then decided I wanted to go for my first run in the city. I thought for sure I would land on my face because of the cobblestone, but I found my awareness has increased dramatically. I felt like those superheroes who have just discovered their powers, and the world looks completely different. They can maneuver around obstacles stealthily like a badger and sense incoming objects from miles away. That has become my life. Okay, maybe I'm not that advanced, but I'm definitely more aware of what's going on around me, and I don't trip as often; that only happens when I have a little too much wine.

The night was beautiful, and it was exhilarating to finally exercise after being a slug most of the time. I'm going to try some yoga tomorrow night because I'm certainly not hitting any clubs before we head to Rome. Being drunk and hungover in the same day is not a goal of mine (been there, done that).

The next day (yesterday), I attended my two classes and napped - world's most interesting story. Lorena then asked if the roommates and I wanted to eat dinner at her new friend's place. Free dinner again?! Count me in. His apartment was modest and had an antique collection that he sells from. Four of his friends were also in our company, and I was apprehensive that they were born-and-raised Italians, but after awhile, we all had enough wine, good food, and great music that diminished the language barrier. They could all speak quite good English so communication was possible and fun. I received an odd compliment from one of the guests. He pointed to my nose and asked if I was Greek. I'm usually apprehensive about it because the bridge rises first instead of dips under like a typical American nose. He claimed that mine was most beautiful and rare, though, and that everyone else's was insignificant at best. I'll take it. I love how Europeans appreciate the natural beauty in people and not the plastic Barbie wannabes that litter the U.S. - all the more reason for me to move to Europe.

The night was wonderful, and I'm so thankful we got to spend time with some natives because that's what I've been wanting all along. Risotto, pollo con birra (chicken with beer), Sardinian cheese, and lots of wine. That sounds like a good time to me. I crave more of these authentic experiences, and I'm hoping the next few weeks bring them. I wonder if I can get any Italians to start saying "Strugglebus"...

I did randomly run into a member of my honor fraternity today. What are the odds?! Neither of us knew we were in Firenze at the same time, and I couldn't have been more shocked. She and her boyfriend have been backpacking around Europe this summer and are moving to London later this year (Yeah, I'm really jealous...). We got to talking and decided to run around together. I was initially planning on going to a museum, but obviously plans changed pretty quickly. Instead, we climbed up to Piazza de Michelangialo. This was lovely as I hadn't made the climb yet. The sun was in a prime position for pictures, and I loved having some great company. Their adventures sounded incredible, and I still can't believe we ran into each other. I showed them my apartment, from which they departed to eat dinner and explore more.

I need to study for an exam tomorrow anyway, make dinner, and catch up on this thing. I've been slacking, and I'm well aware. I'll try to keep up for the last half of my trip at least. This is my point of reference for all of the stories I have to share when I get home, which I can't say I don't miss. I think it's just my friends I really want with me; if it weren't for them, I'd probably never want to leave Europe. I still plan on moving here when I graduate, so that gives me three years to peruse my own country. I really can see why foreigners aren't fond of Americans, though. Truthfully, I'm not either now. That's a rant for another time, though. It's time to actually study (you know, because I'm "studying abroad"). Buonanotte!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Day 27: That Small City Life

Florence is growing on me. I'm not in love with it, partly because some of the experiences I've had have been less than pleasant. I had a migraine yesterday - something I haven't had since my junior year of high school. Of course, it would happen while I'm out of the country. I am thankful, however, that I was at home and could sleep, even though I'd done that all day. I'm always on the Strugglebus in this city, I swear.

On the plus side, many of the girls have made fabulous connections that get us into clubs as VIP with free bottles, drinks, and shots. Last night would have been prime had I not just battled that monster migraine, felt severely dehydrated, and had a leech on my side half the night. In other words, my night was less than fabulous. Attempting to satiate my thirst with alcohol is one of the less intelligent decisions I could've made. It did absolutely nothing and left my mouth feeling even more like sandpaper than before. Having a guy who wasn't really my type all up in my business didn't help, either. I finally just told him I wasn't really interested and that I wanted to find an Italian - not another American!!! - he just brushed off the comment and continued his pursuit. If there's one thing in this world that ceases my lady juices from flowing, it's a clingy guy. Throw some traveling in there, and he's in the negatives. Just no. I'm adventurous and independent, and if I'm already not attracted to you, you might as well give up the chase.

I don't mind the prodding from the Italian men because they're accustomed to the word "no". For instance, this would only fly in Italy:

Italian guy walking behind us: What time is it?
Us: One.
Italian guy: What?
Us: One!
Italian guy: Oh, time for sex!
Us: No.
Italian guy: Awww...what's your name?
And so on...

I kid you not; that is how it went down. I think they just cut to the chase in the glimmer of a hope that some woman might just agree. You'll never know if you don't ask, right? The guys here crack me up. Although, I haven't found my Italian stallion yet, and I only have three weeks left until we leave Firenze. Time will tell, I suppose.

I've been feeling the pangs of homesickness, which I haven't been willing to admit until now. I haven't been able to communicate with my friends and family back home as much as I would like, but I'm thankful for the times when my sister is available to FaceTime or I open a Snapchat. Being halfway done with the program is reassuring. I love my classes and getting to know the culture, but it's still tough being away from the people I love. I know I'm being a total wimp, but it certainly takes a lot of energy to turn your life upside down, even if it is only for a few weeks.

After a little rest and relaxation today, I'm ready to embark on some new adventures tomorrow (or later today, as it's now early morning).

*I would also like to lament the passing of Cory Monteith. Waking up to that headline on my phone was devastating. I remember watching Glee from day one and falling in love with the show. I could escape into the world of McKinley High when my own high school days were dark and dreary. Cory brought such light to the show, and I always admired the relationship he and Lea Michele shared on screen. May he rest with the angels above.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Day 20: Misery (Maroon 5 Ain't Got Nothing on Me)

As I got back from Venice on Saturday night, a slight burning began to develop in my throat. I told myself repeatedly that I wasn't getting sick, as I was the only one in the apartment who hadn't experienced some kind of ailment (besides my heartache for the UK). I had just said earlier that day that I hadn't gotten sick yet, either. I knew I jinxed myself right at that moment, too.

After adding a load to the washing machine for the first time, I turned in early because I wasn't feeling too well, expecting a nice deep slumber. Nope. I tossed and turned as my searing throat ensured I wouldn't reach my full sleeping potential. Throughout my frustration, I could hear the washer going and going and foggily wondered why it was taking so long, but it wasn't a huge concern of mine as my health was deteriorating through the night.

I awoke before the rest of the girls from what little sleep I could manage and immediately went to go lay my clothes out (dryers are quite rare here). When I opened the door, my hand retracted momentarily; I didn't remember having a shirt that color. I leaned closer and came to a horrifying realization: the colors of my clothing had run together. What were once white or nearly white were now a grayish lavender. In my incapacitated state of mind the night before, I had moved the dial to the wrong setting, washing my clothes in hot water. It was one of those mornings when you hate your life and all you can do is shake your head and either want to laugh because you're beyond tears or crawl in a hole and end up like Gollum. Can anyone say Strugglebus?

I FaceTimed my sister for some kind of support, but our conversation was short-lived because of the time difference. Distraught, I laid out my clothes anyway and hoped this would become funny in the next few days or weeks. At the moment, however, I just really wanted a shower, a bit of food, and to feel better. Sleep was pointless as it was less painful to keep myself occupied than battle this stupid virus.

The Saldi, or July sales, had started so I'd planned to go shopping with my roommate that day. Despite both of us not feeling well, we went out for some retail therapy. I was successful in finding some new shorts and sunglasses at H&M, but we soon became tired after this escapade. Some aching crept into my muscles, but I quickly shooed it away and pretended not to notice. Some gelato could cure that, right?

My belly was happy, but my bank account was reprimanding me. This was the first time the language barrier had really done a doozy on me. I told the woman behind the counter "cono piccolo", to which she nodded and motioned me to scoot down the line. She then asked which cone I wanted, which threw me a curveball. I thought I had already indicated which one I wanted. I confusedly pointed at the smaller looking one, but that was actually the bigger one and got charged double what I normally pay for my daily fix. Clearly, my day was just a bundle of fun. I muttered a disgruntled "Whatever" and proceeded to enjoy my gelato - menta and ciocolata. The flavors were magical, so I cared less about how much I paid for my cone.

When we reached our building and ascended the eighty steps to our door, I found myself far more weary than usual. The aches came on stronger, and I finally accepted that I had a fever and some nasty flu symptoms. Into bed I crawled. My condition worsened to the point where I probably could've cooked an egg on my skin. I couldn't even sweat. I lay there for hours, melting into my sheets in absolute misery. Finally, a spark of hunger got me up. Like a newborn lamb, I wobbled to the kitchen and boiled some noodles. Though the sun was setting outside, a new light crept into my health. My energy gradually returned as I ate my dinner. I then moved to the couch and finally began to perspire. After approximately an hour, my dewy skin relieved me of my fever and the aching was substantially less.

I topped off the night by FaceTiming a friend, which helped me see some optimism. I must have acquired some 24-hour flu somewhere, but this illness definitely wasn't joking around. Being sick while out of the country is definitely worse than being sick at home. I just hope I don't have to deal with a round two of this nonsense.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Day 18: I Have a Lot to Write About!

I'll just start with my most recent escapades because those are the freshest, and I'll put the rest in their own posts.

We took our field trip to Venice this weekend, and might I say, I did something really stupid. I went out the night before, and was not only drunk on the bus at 7:00, but also was hungover in the same day. Lord help me.

I did meet a nice German guy at Blanco and attempted to make the best conversation possible over booming music and 4th of July clamor - yes, Italy celebrated 4th of July for us Americans. It was a nice gesture, really. The club had cute little fireworks and everything. I shook my head, however, at the girls from the U.S. saying they wanted hot dogs and hamburgers. Seriously, how can those wretched foods even cross your mind when you're eating some of the best cuisine in the world? Sheesh.

Let me tell you about the bartenders at Blanco. I was drunk off of a mojito and a sex on the beach. That's it. I'll admit I'm a lightweight, but I'd say that's excessively strong. I'm not complaining because that's less alcohol I have to buy, but dang! I was feeling really good. I would've stayed longer if it weren't for a friend's emotional breakdown. This was a blessing in disguise because I hadn't even packed for Venice yet. We didn't get home until about 3:30-4:00 and didn't head to bed until 4:00-5:00. A lot of it was a blur, hence the broad range of times.

Anyway, I awoke in what seemed like two minutes with an ten-minute warning from my roommate. This is when I shot out of bed and began throwing clothes and toiletries into my duffle bag very disoriented and attempting to fight the sluggishness off. I wouldn't really find out what I packed until I reached the hotel that night, but I did alright for being slightly intoxicated still. A long walk in the chilly morning helped a smidgen, but not much. I plopped down into a seat of my own on the luxury coach and struggled to find comfort. All I wanted was a bed and a glass of crisp water.

After managing to wane in and out of sleep for about an hour, I finally sat up with the sad realization that I was definitely awake with no hope of heading back to sleep. I sat miserably, feeling my organs drying up like Spongebob in Sandy's dome home. "Water...water..." was all that repeated in my head. The good Lord above was watching because, within ten minutes, we pulled into a gas station for a bathroom break and food run.

I imagined this glorious chugging was about to happen where I would empty the bottle and toss it aside like a champion. Yeah, it turns out I drank it like I normally would because my swallowing reflexes were barely awake. Either way, that water was the elixir of life.

I snoozed contentedly afterward, and the ride passed by in a heartbeat. Venice looked a lot different than I had envisioned. It was very industrial on the outskirts. The colorful buildings you see in the magazines are more where the tourists go. Did you know it's comprised of over 180 islands? I sure didn't. Did you also know it feels like it's 180º (Celsius or Fahrenheit, whichever you prefer) in the summertime? My logic of it's northerly position on the map and high heat capacity of the water backfired. If it wasn't for the beautiful water, I may have thought I somehow ended up back in Florida. My white pants and light sweater did not help in the least.

We took a large ferry from the port to San Marco, a.k.a. tourist central. We were given an hour for lunch before our scheduled tour time, and I had one of the few meals I haven't been crazy about since traveling to Italy. I needed sustenance after the previous night, so I didn't care too much. I was just glad I didn't have to pay for the bagno, and it was cooler in the restaurant than outside.

We met back at the square, where our tour began. A few things would have made this trek through Venice much more enjoyable if:

1) I wasn't suffocating in my clothes,
2) the tour guide's voice wasn't so soothing (I was falling asleep while standing at some points; how is this even possible?!),
3) I bought the sunglasses I had wanted in London,
4) I didn't go out the night before, and
5) my camera wasn't dead, and I was forced to use my iPhone 4 (though reliable, not the best for quality pictures.

Don't get me wrong - it was very informational, and the city is beautiful. However, I was on the Strugglebus. For hours. Not fun. I was thankful when we got time to wander for an hour so I could travel under the shadows of the tall, winding edifices like a vampire. My goal was to avoid the blazing ball of fire that I was sure had targeted me at all costs.

We finally reconnected at the square as evening approached and prepared to board the ferry once again. I don't understand how some people get seasick. The rocking of the boat gave me the sense of infancy, being rocked back and forth, back and forth. I was lulled to sleep several times as the sparkling turquoise waves of the Adriatic brushed up against the boat. Marvelous.

Once we were back at the port, we hopped on our bus and headed to the hotel. It was a gorgeous little place furnished with red and gold. I was quite impressed. I stayed in a room with my current roommate at the apartment and another girl who lives in the apartment. My plan was to freshen up before dinner, but I overslept once again and rushed around an hour later to look less like a sewer rat and more like a proper dinner guest. I gave up very quickly and headed out the door grumpily. I was under the impression my roommates hadn't tried to wake me up, when actually my unconscious self had taken over decision-making. I swear my unconscious self has a complete mind of her own sometimes.

Dinner was delicious, and I drank more water during my four courses than I probably drank this whole week. I obviously need to work on that. I made conversation with some other girls from the program, and they seem to be sharing many of the same experiences as us. When dinner was finished, some of them went to explore what little nightlife existed while I relished a warm shower and snuggly blankets. I then proceeded to get the best night's sleep I'd had in weeks.

The morning brought rejuvenation and a free breakfast. I couldn't have been much more content. I stuffed my belly full of croissants, breads, coffee, juice, cheese, and sliced meats. I needed to stock up so that I wouldn't have to spend time or money on food later; we had a busy day ahead.

Our first destination was our ferry to Murano, where we observed and learned about glass blowing. It was an enchanting experience. The glass makers are so skilled, and it gave me a new appreciation for the work and passion put into glass making. I bought my first souvenir as well - a handmade glass ring. It took forever to find one that fit because my fingers are so slender, but I was finally successful after browsing a tiny shop within Murano. I couldn't stop staring at it because it was so unique. It was a good buy.

We headed back to San Marco, where we had several hours of free time. Everyone wanted to go on a gondola ride, but I only wanted to explore the city. That's when an important realization hit me: this is my trip. I paid for it, and I need to do what I want to do. Instead of following the crowd to spend an arm and a leg on a boat ride that I would rather spend with a boyfriend or husband in the future, I did what any adventurer would do. I flew solo. Yeah, I know that's how Taken happens, but I needed to do something for me. There's nothing more lonely than feeling alone in a crowd. Being alone doesn't necessarily have to mean being lonely, so I decided to hang out with myself.

I make quite good company. I stopped in several stores, gazed at the historical architecture, and appreciated the culture surrounding me. My roommates are interesting people, but I feel out of place. It's truly much more uncomfortable than being on my own because their values sync more with each other, and I find myself feeling like I'm in high school again. Girls just annoy me - at least the ones who just act like the stereotypical girl. I'd much rather have guys for company because they're simpler, make better conversation, and don't focus so intently on the superficial things. The ones I hang around are like that at least. I think that's what's so difficult about staying in Florence. In London, I met the greatest guys. They were intelligent gentlemen who weren't afraid to venture into something greater than the typical tourist. They were there for the experience like me, and that's what was beautiful about those people. I hope I can find a buddy like that here because I'm missing my people back home - not really home itself - but my sister and close friends who I can be genuine with. They're what make life so great, and I was hoping for more of that here in Italy. I guess I just need to start doing my own thing and stay true to myself. I know it's cheesy, but it's true. I'm not going to go out and sleep with some hot guy just because he's foreign, and I'm certainly not going to throw my money out on alcohol every night.

That's why I'm not out tonight. Plus, I need sleep, and I feel under the weather. My immune system has finally taken its turn to break down as almost everyone in the program has gotten sick already. I'm trying to battle it psychologically, but I'm just exhausted in every way at this point. Strugglebus.

Speaking of the Strugglebus, I'm currently on it. I left my €17 towel in Venice and had to dry myself with a dirty cardigan after I took a shower tonight. What a way to end the weekend. I need to go scour the city tomorrow to find another one. Just fabulous. Luckily, the July sales are going on so I can probably get one relatively inexpensively. Pray for me!

I'm going to remove my clothes out of the washing machine now and lay them out to dry. Ciao, Ciao, C-c-c-c-c-c-c-c-iao!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Day 9? Maybe?

Last night, my roommates and I wanted to go to Flo Nightclub. We were pumped up, looking smashing, and ready for a great night. We called a taxi, which cost a good €20, so it wasn’t cheap by any means. Prepared for a fabulous night, we descended the steps to the bouncer, where he spoke a string of Italian, naturally. Seeing the vacant looks on our faces, he quickly realized we must speak English. He then asked our age, which are in our early twenties, but he was quick to throw out there was an age limit of twenty-five to enter because of an event. He recommended we try Blanco because that would “fit our ages more”. Bewildered, we glanced at each other and inquired the reasoning behind this. He shrugged us off, and we just stood there confused and aggravated. We begrudgingly retraced our steps and complained for awhile until we decided it was no good to do so and decided to try this Blanco place the bouncer referred us to. We called another taxi, expecting a five-minute ride to this club like the bouncer had said, but made it there another €20 later. 

The place looked nice: the decor was chic, the lights vibrant, and the outdoor arrangement of moderate size. We walked up to the entry and found no fellow partiers there and more strict security. Admission wasn’t even free. It turns out, there was a beauty pageant happening for another twenty minutes. We asked to use the bathroom, and truthfully, it was all we wanted at that point because our night was sour so far. After several minutes, the bouncer finally allowed us in, and we were able to relieve ourselves. We were forced to wait until the fashion show was over, but that didn’t look like it would happen anytime soon, so we sat on some couches bored. While I was still in the bathroom, the attractive DJ apparently was also fed up with the wait and socialized with some of the girls on the couch. When I arrived, they told me of this interaction, and I was intrigued. He returned shortly and beckoned us to follow him. Our night was beginning to look up.

We went to the bar and ordered drinks (Tequila sunrise, please!). The bartender caught my eye with his fashionable hair and tattooed arms. This was going to be a good night. My drink was tastefully strong, with the flavors all dancing around my mouth as I sipped it. After watching the remainder of the fashion show - Miss Toscana? - we were ready to get down. The DJ arranged for us to have our own table and a free champagne bottle. I’m sure we would’ve had a much different experience had we stayed at Flo. This was the life. 


I was feeling fabulous after finishing my first drink and was ready for my second after letting the first absorb into my bloodstream. People were beginning to arrive, and the beats left us swaying more than contentedly. I missed going out, and it definitely felt great after our first week of school. Unfortunately, I had to stumble to the bathroom every ten minutes, but otherwise, it was a great night.

A bit of drama ensued after the club was shutting down, and some of the girls wanted to ride home with the DJ. Two roommates and myself let them go because we were just watching out for our own safety. We are in another country, after all. Luckily, a free shuttle was available, but it took several minutes of waiting in a chilly drizzle for it to arrive. The bus dropped us off at the Arno so we could walk the rest of the way home; I love that Florence is a walking city. If the U.S. was like that, we probably wouldn't have so many drunk driving accidents or obesity problems. Drunkies and fatties - what a proud country. 

More to come! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Days 6 & 7: Busy, Busy, Busy

I'm sorry, this is going to be pretty short again; I'll add more later. I have class in the morning, for five hours straight - one in which I stand the whole time, and the other in which the couches were undoubtedly created for posture correction.

Yesterday, I attended orientation for Florence University of the Arts. We sat in these chairs that were reminiscent of thrones, but I could barely stay awake during the hour plus long introduction. I blame the jetlag and lack of sleep. Although, I did have the best sleep that night than I had for a few weeks. After preparing for our walking tour, we were guided by a wise old woman with great knowledge of the architecture in the city. We even got to see the Baptisteria for free.

We looked like absolute tourists with small speaker devices on bright yellow lanyards and the packet we received from the institute. The sun bore down on us, but it was welcoming. We saw many historic landmarks, then were released for an hour of exploration. Victoria and I decided we wanted to save room for dinner so we decided to satiate our craving for gelato. It definitely did the trick and, surprisingly, kept us full for a few hours. Also, we a heard a market vendor say, "Ooh, ice cream. Hot..." I'm glad we didn't look like slobbering dogs with our gelato...

We returned to the Palazzi an hour early on accident because we lost track of time and our whereabouts so we attempted to scope out a 99 Cent Store in search of a towel. No luck. I guess we'd have to deal with the "community towel" one more night (only two girls brought towels, so we had to share them between the six of us). After our feeble hunt, we attended the wine tasting workshop near the culinary arts buildings in the school. We learned so much! I feel much more intellectual with a glass of wine now.

After the wine tasting, we got another break to freshen up for a free four-course dinner as part of our orientation. Unfortunately, a downpour began outside and our feet were squelching across the cobblestone the entire way to the restaurant. However, the food made it worthwhile. The first dish was by far the best. It was a panini with some meat and cheese. I can't give specifics because I don't know them, but it was straight delicious. The meal was slightly awkward as we had an "interesting" fellow at our table. The sad part was he came from our home country. Lousy Americans.

We went out for a drink and found a small, chic bar with a gorgeous bartender. He spoke Spanish and had one of those movie star qualities about him. He seemed like a nice guy. I had to head home because I didn't want to be out all night before our first day of school. Only Victoria and I left to go to sleep so I felt like a buzz-kill, but school comes first. We get plenty of time to party.

Today went fairly smoothly. Classes were great! I felt awful because my head kept lolling over in psychology, not because I was boring (I love psych!), but because I was just unnaturally exhausted. There are only about twelve people in the class, so there really isn't room to be a nuisance. Thankfully, we got a break halfway through so I could try and wake up a bit.

I got my lunchtime gelato at Grom; it was magnificent. I got Crema di Grom under Espresso. There is nothing as delightful as that combination. My belly and taste buds were basically having a party from it. We then took a siesta, grabbed our ID cards, free museum passes, and fresh food at the market. I bought TWELVE things for 16€. I could never find anything like that in the States. Great quality for such a low price. Gosh, I just sounded like an advertisement. I'll explain that trip more later.

Tonight was a little frustrating. I really don't enjoy going out on school nights because then I'm up this late, making me want to sleep tomorrow. Hopefully, I can make it through the day! I did eat a whole pizza tonight, yet somehow a six-pack is forming. I'm confused. I'll take it, though.

Okay, I need sleep. I'll update later. Buonanotte!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Day 4: Cheers London and Ciao Florence

Our last day in London has arrived. Truly, I'm going to miss it. Though, I won't miss the cigarette smoking and the dirty air. I have been blowing soot out of my nose for the past two days, and my eyes are more irritated than after swimming in chlorine. I hope Florence has crisper air even though it will be hot. I'm ready for some nature where there aren't so many cars and buildings.

I swear I'm allergic to London. I have sneezed at least ten times today, my eyes are irritated, and my nose is infinitely itchy. It started yesterday, but it's only been getting worse. Hopefully, it ends tomorrow when I change scenes. I will miss London a lot because it is just gorgeous, but I really want to be in our apartment in Florence so I have a bed to come back to, and I can be a little messier with my things. Normally, I'm quite disorganized, but being in this hostel has broke me like a horse. That's ok, though, because it's a bad habit of mine anyway.

For our last day today, we had a few Strugglebus moments. Brittany's debit card disappeared, so that was a fiasco in itself. Luckily, she cancelled it before it was used if someone did steal it. We got running a little late today, and I was really tired. My allergies prevented me from being comfortable as we made our second round around London because Melissa hadn't seen the major tourist attractions yet. Also, the weather was bitter cold with gusty winds. We got a few pictures of straight hair because it flew in front of our faces, especially since my hair is getting a lot longer.

We got to see the Globe Theatre, which was phenomenal. It would've been great to be a Groundling, but we probably wouldn't make it to Stansted in a timely manner if we did. There was also this crazy golden guy that made my day. We also saw the Millenium Bridge (the one destroyed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). The previously claimed Millenium Bridge in one of my older posts actually wasn't the right bridge, but it was still enchanting! The walk was beautiful, and we kept it local, visiting some of our favorite spots, like Big Ben.

We went out one last time for good times' sake, and we did in fact have a good time. I didn't have to buy any drinks, and Melissa and I met some lovely British gentlemen. We got into a pretty intense conversation about accents, and asked them to try an American one. What does one of them come up with?

"Yo! Whaddu" - laughter. He couldn't even form a sentence. I guess we sound pretty thug. That's right, be scared of us Americans! Right...it was a good night, though. I tried German strawberry beer, but I didn't have my Guinness. I saved that for this morning at the airport, where I bought this angelic chocolate-filled croissant and a half-pint of my favorite Irish brew. I didn't sleep for about 36 hours, and I managed to rake in about 10 hours of sleep throughout my entire stay in London. I don't know how I survived this long, but I finally took the most glorious of siestas before getting cleaned up for tonight - our first night in Florence!

I must also say it is SO GOOD to have an apartment on the top floor overlooking the Duomo with 6 incredible roommates. We are going to have a blast. The rooms are furnished, the beds comfortable, and we have wifi! I'll admit, I literally got homesick for London after we left; it was the most discerning feeling like I'd actually left home. I haven't even felt that about the U.S. yet. Clearly, I'm in love with Europe and so blessed to have this opportunity. I'll probably say that a lot, but it just truly is such a beautiful experience. I may have missed some things that may have happened due to lack of sleep (no human should know the unrest I felt, oh my). I'll add more as I think of things, of course. I'm happy you can share in my travels! It is time for some authentic Italian pizza and some vino - a relaxing night. Ciao!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Day 3: Melissa, Platform 9 3/4, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Drunkenness

*I reread this (sober) and deemed it needed a few adjustments. I'm sorry if it was inappropriate - I just had a little bit too good of a night. The first sentence was priceless, though, because I unintentionally had a grammatical error; oh, the irony. But really, I like to at least try and be even a little bit classy.

I apologize in advance for any grammatical errors, etc. I'm the grammar queen, but I may or my not be very intoxicated. Haaaaaaaaaaaaa.

Melissa came into London today, and she is a riot. She is more on the Strugglebus than I am! That is a real feat because the struggle is so real. Though, the attractive marine left - no Americans for me, I guess. Sad day. (He actually didn't leave - some Aussie just stole his bed, and they exchanged a few hours in the wee hours of the morning. Both were drunk so it made the scene hysterical). However, I achieved my goal of not buying one drink and managing to have a great time via other drinks and befriending two British locals with Melissa.

Before life went wild, we went to Platform 9 3/4, therefore I'm a witch. I am a winner, and I clearly belong at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I took a smashing photo, and this was easily the highlight of my day.

We also saw St. Paul's Cathedral in the evening after searching relentlessly for Diagon Alley with no luck - STRUGGLEBUS. We walked down Baker Street for a good half hour. The cathedral was gorgeous, though. We took a million pictures trying to capture just the right one.

Like I mentioned earlier, we met two British guys at an outdoor bar. They waited until the second bar, which was German, to buy us drinks. They literally ordered the girliest drinks they could ask for - strawberry beer. I finished that pint, then we checked to make sure Brittany made it back to the hostel. She did, for the record, and was actually waiting for us! We met the two British guys at the bar two doors down, and I downed an entire Corona Extra. It was a great night. I need sleep, but the room is still spinning. Hopefully, I just pass out. I do NOT want to throw up. Maybe I'll finally get good sleep. Also, I think I found a potential doppelganger.

Okay, I'm done. And let me just say: my morals are intensely concrete. I'm such a damn rockstar. Aaand I'm out! Goodnight!

Day 2: Westminster Abbey, Hangover, and Pub Crawl

Today was interesting. First off, I woke up at frickin 6am because I couldn't sleep very well. I do miss my cloud, but not that much. I'm not really adjusted to the time, I don't think. However, no matter where I go, nighttime is my peak. I might go watch the sunrise in a few hours because Clay did that yesterday since he didn't sleep much either. I made my time productive by messaging sissy on Facebook. We get free breakfast between 7am and 9am, and I didn't want to wake Brittany up too early, so I waited until 8am.

When I woke up, I felt alright. Then, I felt a bit off at breakfast. Once we left for the day, I felt like complete shit. I now understand hangovers. I got more food in me and some water, but I didn't really feel 100% until I took a nap later in the day.

Okay, so after breakfast, we headed to the Underground where I bought my Oyster card, which is a pay-as-you-go card for the tube. I feel like a Londoner now; it's great. The only Strugglebus moment I encountered was that cardholders aren't allowed to add more onto the Oyster card twice in the same day. I had to go find a shop to exchange my money, and the guy still wouldn't give me all 10 pounds in coins. I managed, though, with my crappy Subway sandwich.

Clay, Brandon, Brittany, and I walked all through Westminster. It sprinkled a bit, and the temperature dropped, but otherwise it was fine. It took forever for us to find Buckingham Palace, though. We asked around, and this one guy straight pointed us in the wrong direction. Dumb Americans! We pretend we're Canadians sometimes because we know the U.K. isn't fond of us. What can we do? However, I do think how much the Brits dislike us is exaggerated in the States. People like to know where we come from and are curious about the differences in our lives. It can be nice as long as we're not doing or saying anything stupid.

We were told today in Adam & Eve, the restaurant we ate lunch in, that it was difficult to understand us. This turned me upside down because I couldn't imagine people not being able to understand American English. I pondered this for a good half hour and realized it must be valid because I don't understand what the Londoners are saying sometimes. I feel so dumb having to say, "What?!" a thousand times. It's weird. Although, I do catch myself saying things in a British accent or certain words are changing in my vocabulary (that's brilliant!). I hope it doesn't fade when I go back to the States. Go accents!

We took a nap for a few hours, as usual, once we got back to the hostel to reenergize for the night's Pub Crawl. This is where it gets interesting. After taking the tube to Leicester, we began at a bar called Verve. It was the classiest bar I've ever seen. There were sparkling chandeliers and modern lighting and furnishing. We got a free t-shirt (another to add to my collection - yes!) and free shots at all the bars. The Crawl was £10 itself, but it covered quite a bit.

The shot was, let's just say, not my cup of tea (punny!). It tasted like black licorice, and I'm not a fan of such flavoring. I figured they would switch it up at the next bar. Wrong! We downed our second shot of the stuff, which felt hot going down for a few minutes. I also had a pineapple and vodka to try and feel a little tipsy. I guess my body is adjusting to the alcohol rather quickly because drunkenness was obviously not an option last night. I did find someone that caught my eye and chatted with him a bit, but nothing happened. Yet.

I don't remember what the licorice alcohol was called, but I just googled it and came up with anis. Seems legit. Apparently it's 80-90 proof? I'll ask around today to get the actual name since I'm ballparking it right now, but I didn't feel buzzed at all. I guess it's time to go back to beer (more Guinness, please!)

We weren't really feeling the Pub Crawl, but continued on to the third bar anyway. Another licorice shot! I don't know why we kept taking them - they just were not tasty. Really, where's the tequila at?! Probably £8 or something ridiculous. The bars were pretty pricey. I've been avoiding converting money in my head because the conversion rate is painful. Darn U.S. economy!

Anyway, we snagged a table and were really feeling like dipping out. It just wasn't really that fun. This is where I get dumb. I was bored, so I decided to go mingle in the crowd and the guy from earlier finds me. He was with some obnoxious friends who kept taking my picture (sketch much?). We got to talking, not that we really understood each other because English wasn't his first language and the music was blasting, and his friends wanted to take another damn picture and motioned for us to kiss. Well...surprise! He was really attractive and foreign, so whatever. The friends started to get a bit aggressive and utterly annoying so I told them off and headed back to my friends. Clearly, it was time to leave.

We walked about two miles, then hailed a cab, which are very nice in London I must say. In fact, I really haven't seen a p.o.s. here. Not one. Walking around London at night is magical. It's a beautiful city - stinky, but beautiful. The lights dance on the Thames, and people are up all hours of the night. The architecture just looks that much grander with the sleepy shadows encasing the ancient structures. We appreciated their ornateness until one friend (I won't name names, *sigh*) peed in front of an embassy. And no, it was not me! Shake. My. Head. There were guards or something right down the pavement, too. Luckily, he didn't get caught, and we made it back in one piece. He was a little drunk, I'll give him that.

Some guy in front of us was talking about spaghetti sandwiches and how he wanted to invest in them, so we commented on it jokingly. He then asked if we were from Philly! Apparently he's been watching some guys on YouTube, and he's an expert now on Philadelphia. This just cracks me up because it's so random. Yes, of all the cities in the U.S., we must be from Philly because that's what he knows. We encouraged his spaghetti sandwich idea, though. I bet he'd make a fortune.

We also saw some guys definitely on the Strugglebus. They were attempting to both ride one bike down the road; it is highly probable they were drunk. They wobbled and giggled, and I was genuinely concerned they would get run over. They didn't, but we found them a few meters up crashed along the pavement laughing hysterically. The funny thing is they passed us a few minutes later going at it again! Priceless. This is why I don't need to buy souvenirs. These memories are better than anything I could've wished for. I should've recorded it, though. It was great.

You should also know London drivers do NOT mess around, hence why I feared for the bikers' lives. I would die if I drove here. Think of the scariest driving you've encountered. Now multiply that by ten. I suppose it may be comparable to New York. Also, the street signs are on buildings, not on the road. I know my way by landmarks now, and the only street I really know is where the Inn is. 'Tis a strange place.

This morning I couldn't sleep, so Clay and I went to watch the "sunrise". It was more of a shade rise because London skies are almost always gray, and the sun seems like a myth most of the time. Our arrival date was an exception, and I'm convinced Florida followed Brittany and me here, if only for the day. The skies doesn't change much, so it always feels later than it truly is. The "sunset" also doesn't happen until 10pm. Maybe that's why I can't sleep; I'm just never tired. It could be the naps, too. I don't know. I'm obviously just a opossum - I sleep in the light, and wake in the night. It doesn't matter which time zone I'm in, I guess.

Clay and I talked for a long time, and it's so nice to meet truly great people. He is a blessing. I was hoping to meet people from outside the country, but it feels just as good to meet others who are sharing the same experience as myself. I like that we have a lot in common and know we'd be great friends if we actually went to school together. There are beautiful people in this world from every walk of life. I think everyone needs to get out of their own backyard and learn about the cultures elsewhere. It completely changed my perspective on where I come from and wonder about why people behave or live a certain way. My mind is opening to a completely new place, and I'm so grateful for this opportunity. I don't think I can go back to being content with just staying in the States. There is so much world out there that needs to be explored. You can't get that by staying at home.

Today, our third amiga comes in. We don't have much planned since we've seen the main attractions, but we need to go to Platform 9 3/4, the Globe Theatre, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Abbey Road. I suppose we'll take the tube some more. I love public transportation, by the way. It gets us where we need to go in a timely manner and saves a lot of money and gas for the locals. I wish we had that in the U.S. Otherwise, I think it will be a relaxing day. I'm getting used to the city, so I'm feeling more comfortable with everything, except the smokers. I don't know if it's a European thing, but man! They are everywhere!

I'll keep you all posted about what's going on over here. More adventures to come! Cheerio!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Day 1 - What. Just what.


I'll just begin with my flight because, well, that's where this entire trip begins I suppose. Virgin Atlantic is AWESOME!!!! The food was great (surprise!), only one baby made a fuss twice throughout the entire seven hours, and I got to meet the most perfect Irish couple. I hope to be like them one day, traveling the world and holding one another close. Now that's real romance. This airline also had the most amazing movies to watch and music to listen to. I am so impressed. If I could fly Virgin Atlantic everywhere, I would. Not to mention, the flight attendants were incredible and an overnight pack with a toothbrush, toothpaste, pillow, blanket, and eye cover were all included. Why can't every airline be like this - sheesh! Also, the plane was so huge that it had a second floor - yes, a double decker plane. How is this even possible?



Enough about how brilliant my flight was - time for the good stuff. Today felt like an entire week in one day. First, we took the train from London Gatwick to London Bridge. By the way, I made it through customs without one single Strugglebus moment; go me! The currency is strange, but more on that later. The train took approximately 45 minutes (maybe?), and Brittany and I were only slightly turned around. We made it to the hostel without getting lost - again, a great feat. We checked in our luggage for a few pounds. She was on the Strugglebus, though, because her suitcase is enormous and wouldn't fit in the locker. Eventually, it worked out, and we headed out to explore.




We almost tried to get lost in order to discover some great London sights, but we didn't and saw some beautiful architecture and historical monuments. In other words, our legs and feel were complaining about all of the walking they hadn't done in a long while. We did find a great pub called The Draft House, which had, well, draft beers and the famous fish n' chips. The food was great, and my first legal drink (how precious) was pretty good. I got a Camden Pale Ale, of course, but it was a bit bitter. Plus, after all that walking and food, I was bound to experience some nausea. We made it back without me spewing anywhere like a volcano, though, and even got to check in early.

St. Christopher's Inn - London Bridge.
View from my bed.
The hostel is interesting - not bad - just interesting. There are 11 bunk beds (22 altogether), and we are next to the window in the corner, which is a nice spot. It allows some air to flow through, and it's away from the sunroof. There are cute American guys all around us, so I'm not complaining. They ended up being our London crew, so it really worked out nicely. The washrooms (not bathrooms!) are small and kind of sporadic. I had a real Strugglebus moment trying to shower - oh lawd. Basically, I got as sweaty trying to figure out how to get dressed without getting my wet feet on my clothes as walking around all morning. I managed somehow, but I felt just as nasty as before I showered. I did drop my makeup bag and shattered a section of my eye shadow, which saddened me, but at least I have the remaining shadows, and nothing else broke.

On a happier note, our attractive fellow American friends decided we wanted to do the Pub Crawl, but we missed it - go figure. Instead, I got some chicken wings and 2 for 1 vodka and pineapple juice, and we decided to try and get lost in London on our own. This was a fabulous idea - no sarcasm, either. We took the tube to Waterloo, enjoyed more beer (I downed a pint of delightful Guiness like a champ!), and viewed some great sights, like Big Ben and a random Shrek and cowboy. We lost two of our seven, but were reunited at the hostel during karaoke night. I was quite drunk by this time, but I sobered up enough to know I was NOT going to sing. The DJ conveniently cut off performers right as a friend and I were getting pressured into singing. I'm still slightly tipsy, but I'm ready for sleepy time. It was a wonderful day, and I'm so glad I have friends to go venturing around London with tomorrow. Off to the London Eye we go!

P.S. The accents were an immense amount of culture shock. I wanted to marry every British guy that walked by. Also, there are WAY more attractive men here than in the States. Just saying - the men need to get it together over there. I'll be damned if I end up marrying an American man. That is all. Ciao until tomorrow!

Monday, June 17, 2013

T-Minus 39 Hours

So, it has come down to counting hours. I'm finishing up that last-minute load of laundry, making the final highlights on my list of items to bring, and feeling thoroughly freaked out. I don't have many other things to do, but there is enough unfinished business to give me some anxiety. I suppose this is natural as it is my greatest adventure yet. Moreover, as my flight draws nearer, a maelstrom of chaos is beginning to develop in my mind. As frightening as this is, the wonderment of my impending expedition will surpass this mental frenzy. I can't believe how quickly time has passed.

Quick Update (I'm tired. It's Late.)

Father's Day was today, and my dad has been in town from San Antonio, Texas since last night. We went to the beach this afternoon, floated around in some choppy waves, and got some delicious Grouper sandwiches from Frenchy's. It's nice to finally be building a better relationship with him after eighteen years of frustration on both our parts. The distance keeps us closer, if you know what I'm talking about. I'm also seeing a lot more similarities between the two of us that are just uncanny. For instance, we have the awful habit of asking "What?!" after someone says something even though we actually heard what he or she said; we just need time to process it. Thus, my sister developed the Ten-Second Rule so she doesn't need to repeat herself. It actually works most of the time.

Another thing, I'm fighting the mother of all zits - of course, right before my trip. I think this inflamed imp is driving the Strugglebus all on its own. I'm battling it with some gel from an ibuprofen capsule placed directly on the area, though. My stepmom saw it on Pinterest, so it must be legitimate. I do love Pinterest - I actually have quite a few things I want to test out from my own boards. We'll see if this one works.

Besides being nearly completely packed, enjoying my pop's company, and fighting little red devils, I don't have much else to tell right now. It could be that it's 4:30am (most probably), and sleep is dragging my thoughts into the blankets, or I haven't had much going on. It's most likely the former. Stay off the Strugglebus, my friends. Goodnight!  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

T-Minus 6 Days - OMG

You know how a dog sticks his head out of the car window, ears flapping in the wind, tongue lolling out, and you just know that dog is having the time of his life. That's me right now. I am less than a week away from leaving the motherland for the first time. Meep!

I'm the Foreigner Now

I wonder what people are going to be like over there. I have this fear, I guess I could call it, that people are going to hate me because I'm American. There's the whole stereotype of the world hating America, but I've talked to some people who said nobody really cares. I hope the latter is the case. My dad suggested I stitch a Canadian flag on one of my bags (who doesn't like Canadians, really?). I'm not about to go on fabricating this elaborate identity, though, because I guarantee I'll actually meet someone from Canada and it'll just be a mess. So... 'Murica!

In the News of My Life...

One of my very good friends just got engaged to her boo thang, and I am just thrilled for her. I really mean it, too! Sometimes, you just nod your head and act excited, but in reality could care less what just happened. However, when I say I'm excited for her, I truly am. I watched the video of his proposal to her and was giggling like a school girl. It was terrible - my sister had to ask what I was doing or watching that was getting me so wild. She is just so precious, and I know they love each other so it's going to be a beautiful thing. 

Normally, I hesitate when my peers get engaged because we're just so young, and there is so much to experience out there before getting tied down. Don't people want to travel, get their careers started, and go out with their crew and get wild? There's no one to answer to - unless you have overly involved parents; in that case, I am so sorry for you - and no one to present conflicts with when it comes to school, activities, and work. Maybe it's just my being single and self-serving attitude, but I feel like there is so much to do before settling down to plan a wedding, kids, and basically forever. I've always been a free spirit, though, and I'm not sorry at all about how I'm living my life. The fact that I couldn't fathom getting married, or even getting involved in a serious relationship, for another five years or so is a benefit personally. I'm not ready to multiply my problems by two, but some people are. Everybody's different, and I praise those who figure these things out early because it's something that I'm just not ready for. But really, imagine being tied down to someone while Italian and British hunks walk by left and right. I don't think so. 

I'm not saying if I meet my future husband tomorrow, I'll politely decline. Of course, I'll take him! I'm just waiting for the right one to come along; I don't mind exercising patience in this area of my life. I know God has someone out of this world planned for me, and I don't want to jump the gun for someone who doesn't mean absolutely everything to me. I think that's where a lot of relationships fail. People settle. Don't do this. You don't deserve to be anything less than happy, and they don't deserve to be with someone who doesn't fully appreciate them. Besides, you would be stripping someone else of the opportunity to love that person in ways you never could. It's a win-win situation for everyone if you just give life some time to bring you and your perfect person together. 

Now that I'm done being a relationship guru (who even reads this stuff?), a wonderful thing happened last night. My sister and I have been on the Strugglebus because we're running out of food, and she doesn't get paid until Friday. First world problems. Anyway, our friend came over to watch Lord of the Rings with us, knew we were low on food, and bought us a frozen pizza at FOUR IN THE MORNING. He confided that Jesus told him to get us something after he left for the night and picked up the best frozen pizza he could find. God works in such mysteriously wonderful ways. I'm now going to make that frozen pizza for dinner. It's a good day.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

T-Minus 7 Days - Wait...ONE WEEK?! *Gasp*

I'm getting all packed, and I'm truly almost there! I still need my flight from Florence to London, but I'm not too worried about it. My travel buddies just need to get it together because I've been ready to buy a flight for three days now.

I also survived another orientation today. I was more comfortable onstage, which actually was not as beneficial as I might have hoped. A few "ums" escaped, and I almost drew a few blanks today. When people say they never say the same thing twice when public speaking, they aren't joking. I got a ballpark number of how many people I was in front of, and it was about 600-650 incoming freshmen and parents. That's a real feat if you ask me!

Here's a funny Strugglebus moment I encountered today:

Once I was done with my four minutes of fame, I went to make a few copies of my passport in the Marshall Center computer lab. I was trying really hard to figure out how to scan my passport and I couldn't figure out where to send it - it was just a mess. So, there I am tapping relentlessly on the screen with no luck, and I'm certain I'm hearing the same struggle next to me. I finally give up and look to my left where I find mutual failure. He asked if I was trying to scan my passport, and I replied that I was. It turns out he was, too! I then inquired where he was headed. What are the odds he's also studying abroad in Florence? Frazzled and adventurous minds think alike, I suppose.

Luckily, a girl to my right is also studying abroad soon - in a different location - and saved the day. I got my passport scanned, printed, and ready as a backup in case something goes awry. But really, what are the odds of this madness?!