10 Things

 

So.  It’s been just over a month since I left Rome and adjusting to being back home has been quite the process.  When I first arrived, I tried ordering in Italian a couple times when I went out, and blank stares pulled me back to my true geographical position in the world.  Then, naturally, I’d turn red and giggle-speak incomprehensibly before running away.  And now, after the weeks have passed, it feels like the entire last semester was but a dream.  Thankfully, the massive amount of pictures I took over those four months in Rome have been helpful reminders that no, I was not dreaming, and yes, I was in fact one lucky duck that got to live in La Città Eterna for four months.

Anywho.  Because feeling “Romesick” has very much been a real thing lately, I’ve decided to share a list that I originally compiled because I had to, haha.  My creative writing professor asked that for our last assignment, we all create a list of 10 things we love/hate about Rome.  And for our last class, we met at Castel Sant’Angelo, circled up at the top of the castle and read them to each other.  I wish I could share this with any readers from atop of that place like I did then, because WOW what a view, but for now, good ole’ screens will have to do…

~10 Things I Love/Hate About Rome~

</3 HATE </3

 

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…and an expression to go with it, haha (at Villa Borghese)
  • Sidewalks littered with small, brown clumps left by too-tiny dogs
  • Roma’s very confusing, twisting, and winding streets.
  • The chaotic driving of dauntless drivers
  • Having to pay for water at restaurants
  • Crowded, smelly, body-to-body bus rides
  • The looks a late, freshly-showered person gets for being outside with wet hair
  • The more traditionally conservative viewpoints that are commonly accepted
  • How the entire city seems to always be tardy
  • How the tourists gravitate in massive blobs toward all the major sights
  • How so many humans have no choice but to use the hard, cold streets as their beds and pillows at night

❤ LOVE ❤

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… and the expression to go with this one as well (in Ostiense)
  • Pizza, suppli, gelato, wine, coffee, pasta, and basically all things food and drink
  • The flowers, the sunshine, and the sudden outpour of happy people kissing, reading, and eating throughout the city when Spring arrives
  • How the entire city seems to be tardy
  • The people.  Especially the friendly kind who patiently endure your poor Italian-speaking skills
  • Rome’s antiquity and its lesson-filled history
  • The cobblestone streets and the sound of feet wandering aimlessly atop them
  • Gorgeous piazzas perfect for slowing down life’s pace by reading or people watching
  • NUTELLA
  • The abundance of flower and fruit corner-stands that sprinkle the city with colors, good smells, and good tastes

Well, if you’ve made it this far in my nostalgia-induced post, GRAZIE MILLE.  ‘Til next time, my friends!

 

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PHOTOS: Il Cimitero Acattolica di Roma

~  Il Cimitero Acattolica di Roma  ~

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Nearly four months ago when I arrived in Rome, my school provided us with a few helpful hints and guidelines through some orientation sessions.  And one of the tid -bits of advice that stuck with me was this:  Find a place or two in the city that you enjoy going to to relax or read or picnic.  A place you can go to when you need to get away from campus or just need some fresh air whether it be a piazza, park, monument, or museum.  Find a place in Rome and make it your own.

And about halfway through the semester, I finally found such a place for myself in a cememetry.  Not just any cemetery though.  The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Rome.  Its situated right alongside the Pyramid of Cestius and is often referred to as the cat cemetery, because of the many cats that lounge about the space and live in the cat shelter within the cemetery grounds.

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One of the many cats that lounge about the cemetery

The cemetery was first opened in 1716 for the burial of non-Catholic foreigners.  The ecclesiastical laws of the Catholic Church say that Protestants can’t be buried in Catholic churches or consecrated grounds, so many non-Catholic cemeteries were created long ago in several parts of Italy that were frequented by visitors.

I first visited the cemetery with my creative writing on-site class, and together we paid a good deal of attention to the well-known writers buried there including John Keats and Percy Shelley, and Gregory Corso (an American poet of the Beat Generation who also taught and mentored my creative writing professor when she was a student).

I find Keats’ life story super interesting, so I’m going to geek out here for just a minute and briefly mention the story behind the inscription on his tombstone.  Near the end of his life, Keats’ works were still largely under fire by critics at the time.  Understandably, Keats’ was rather bitter at his lack of success as a writer.  As the end of his life neared, Keats requested that his tombstone bear no name or date, but only the words, “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.”  It’s said that this most likely signifies Keats’ own perception of his place in history: an easily forgotten existence that left nothing worthwhile behind to immortalize his name.

Despite his wish that these be the only words on his tombstone, more words were added as a part of the epitaph.  The date, 24 February 1821, was also added to the tombstone though he actually died the 23rd of February 1821. SO interesting, right??

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ANYWAY, I was late meeting with my class that day and walked entered the cemetery not knowing what to expect.  And I was pleasantly surprised.  By stepping beyond the cemetery’s gates, the day’s lesson turned into a visit to a sanctuary, a secret garden almost, a place full of stories and mystery.  Perfect for creative writing, no?

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The towering trees that stand throughout the cemetery swallow up the grounds in their shade and keep the outside world from infringing on the quietness of the space.  Birds echo each other from the treetops and in one visit, you can see a number of cats milling about or sleeping on top of graves. Weaving in and out of the rows, one comes across many beautiful inscriptions, names, and works of art.  In the midst of all these resting places are a couple benches for visitors.

I could go on about the beauty of the place, but for now, I’ll let my amateur photography skills attempt to do the talking.

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And now, I’ll end with a few words from Percy Shelley himself on the beauty of Il Cimitero Acattolica di Roma:

“It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.” – Percy Shelley

Flower Crown Me Please

 

Highlights from the weekend of 3/18/16-3/20/16 :

  • simplicity
  • cooking
  • flower crowns
  • eating home-cooked food
  • warm weather
  • casual meet-ups at casual landmarks
  • camaraderie

My friend Solis, who I’ve mentioned before, came home from Madrid for the weekend of 3/18/16.  And fortunately, we got to hang out for a bit and run about Rome together.  The Thursday night of her arrival, St. Patty’s Day, we met up in Piazza Navona and went to an Irish Pub called “The Abbey” for a drink.  There, we quickly discovered that the green beer we ordered was not for us, so our group of four peaced out pretty quickly for some gelato instead. 🙂

We stopped by Giolitti’s, which is a favorite gelateria of mine here in Rome, because it has many flavors for pretty cheap prices.

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From the left, Brooke, Kiki, Solis, and Myself

Kiki and I met up with Solis again the next morning and stopped by the Knights of Malta Keyhole and Aventino (the Orange Garden).  At each, we took our time as we talked, sported a communal flower crown I made, and took pictures until we decided to head off in the direction of Solis’ apartment.

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Side note: Below is a street just beyond the Keyhole that on our walk toward Solis’ neighborhood.  When I took the picture, I was abuzz with happiness at the presence of my friends, and I can still remember my excitement when I look at it now.  Plus, springtime in Rome does crazy things to a person.  Super intense allergies aside, everything suddenly seems ten times more beautiful.  And our walk seemed especially majestic then so, here it is.

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A Friday Evening Stroll

Now comes a major highlight from the weekend.  Dinner at the apartment of THE fam of Solis.  Extra emphasis on THE  because they’re all really cool and smart.  Anyway, once we reached their apartment, we started off the evening with coffee, and a tour of the apartment.  Then, the cooking fun began.  Most of the cooking was done by Solis and her mom.  I did cut up some fruit, but I otherwise stood back and watched the pros.  Actually though, they made it look so effortless. I swear, if i tossed in a bunch of spices with some potatoes without measuring them out like they were able to, you’d get something pretty funky.  I’m sure of it.  But with them, no, no.  Such is not the way of Solis’ fam.

Two other friends from Jforce, who also go to SLU and are in Micah, arrived at the tail end of our cooking.  The aroma of the food filled the whole apartment, effectively taunting our tastebuds as we got ready to eat.  Seven of us sat around their dining room table topped with warm tortillas, beans, beautifully seasoned potatoes, taco meat, fruit salad, and red wine.

Dinner was fabulous.  And so was sitting at a  full table of happy folk.  Ahh food and people.  Get a group of people together, put some food between them, and wonderful things can happen.  Happiness.  Laughter.  A purposeful way of slowing down  to catch up with people we care about..  Molto bellissimo!

The next morning, our first order of business was breakfast at the Secret Bakery.  That’s right, hitting up those .80 cent nutella donuts once Again. #noregrats

Then, our trio walked from the Secret Bakery to the castle and jumped up on the wall hanging above the running trail and Tiber river below.  There we sat and talked and ate our snacky snacks.  Tourists flooded the grounds surrounding the Castle and made for some prime people-watching.   The sound of a street performer’s violin filled the piazza with calming notes as the sun rested on our backs from above the Tiber.

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Sittin’ with Solis

Because this semester is almost at an end, I’ll allow myself to a get a little sent-y now.  I’ve learned a lot throughout this semester abroad.  I could go on for hours about what I’ve already taken from this semester.  But for time’s sake, I’ll mention just one tidbit that’s been important for me.  This semester has reminded how important it is to relish the sweet, simple moments.  I’m sure such general statement is a no brainer for some, but I’m also sure that some, like myself, often struggle with this when we become too wrapped up in exams, deadlines, work, and other sources of stress.

And for this reminder, I owe many thanks to the Italian culture.  I’ve grown to love and hate different aspects of it, but even now, I’m continually falling for the relaxed attitudes so prevalent in this culture.  Want to go out for a dinner that could potentially last three hours? No problem, we can make that happen easily. How about a stroll?  Where to doesn’t matter, let’s just walk to talk and maybe catch a glimpse of the sunset.  Va bene? Va bene…

 

48 Hours in Berlin

SO, as I’ve continued writing blog posts, I’ve noticed some underlying themes throughout my travels so far. AKA my tendency to shape the limited time I have in each place around activities involving the bookstores, markets, street art, food, and coffee shops in each place.  I didn’t anticipate these being the things I gravitate towards most, but there it is.  So, if you were looking for an idea of what this post will contain… ta-daa!

Highlights from Berlin:

  • Currywurst
  • Art on Walls
  • Book Tree
  • Hackescher Markt
  • East Side Gallery
  • Prenzlauer Berg
  • Kids watching bubbles

We arrived in Berlin the Thursday afternoon of our Spring Break.  First things first, we traveled to the Brandenburg Tor which we passed through to reach the Holocaust Memorial.  Then we visited the Holocaust Memorial for Homosexuals, grabbed a quick bite to eat and hit up “Topography of Terror.”

The TOT is a history museum on the site of the former Gestapo and SS headquarters during the Nazi Regime – it was bombed by the Allies in 1945.  The exhibition is basically one giant room (and an attached, smaller room) that have large panels hanging from the ceilings.  Each panel has loads of information on them, and because we arrived with about an hour left until closing time, and we didn’t get too far.  So, we left at closing time with promises of coming back the next day.

From there, we found our hostel, checked in, made our beds and unloaded our belongings.  Then we settled down at a table in one of the lobby area downstairs for a little bit of wifi-time so we could plan for the next day.  And to our happy surprise, some of our SLU friends had just started up a google hangout session, so we joined in on that too.

And from that hostel’s lobby in Berlin, Keeks and I “hung out” with our friends.  Some were in Madrid, one in France, and the rest scattered throughout the U.S.  Let me tell ya…  Sometimes, I get fed up with technology.  Don’t we all?  But its times like that one, from our hostel, that I really appreciate how technology can bring people together even when it seems we couldn’t have ended up further apart from each other on a world map.  Their familiar faces and personalities made me smile so much that it hurt.  And Kiki and I filled the little room with our laughter and talk.  Lil nuggets.

Next up?  Sweet, sweet sleep.

We peaced out of the hostel at 10AM the next morning.  We stopped for coffee and crepes and a nearby caffè, and then began deciphering the transportation signs in the area and our map to get to the East Side Gallery, which we enjoyed a lot.  Below are just a couple of my personal favorites.  (Also, please excuse the picturesque fence before them)

Then, we visited Checkpoint Charlie for some more of our history fix, and followed this with lunch at a place called “Back-Factory,” which had a variety of cheap, ready-made foods. It must have been about 3,00 euros for myself, and about the same for Kiki.  And we left full, so SCORE.

Topography of Terror was next up again.  I finished reading the rest of the panels a bit before Keeks did, so I practiced my special napping skill once more.  On a bench inside, I stuck my legs through the straps of our packs so they couldn’t wander off, and slept for a bit until Kiki was done.

We had dinner and then went back at the hostel where we bought a couple beers and set up in the lobby to do our planning for the next day.  Then, because it seemed like the stereotypical, German-esque thing to do, we went our for a drink at a bar near our hostel.  And man are we good at picking ’em!  We picked a bar that was positively hoppin’ with the older gentle-peeps of the area.  We were probably the youngest by about 10 years.  Anyway, after I got carded (yep, that’s right), Keeks and I sat on a leather love-seat and talked for nearly an hour or so about whatever came to mind as we drank.

We packed up and hit the road early the next morning.  Our first destination of the day?  You might’ve guessed it since we hadn’t happened upon one yet, but… a market! Specifically, a market in the square of Hackescher Markt.

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Some booths were still in the process of getting set up, so we our sights on breakfast until they were ready – a strawberry strudel for me, and waffle for Keeks.  Then we purchased some warm liquids from a caffè and checked out a nearby alleyway filled with whimsy and street art.

 

After our fun in the Hacksher Markt, we set our sights on a book-tree kiosk in the neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg.  The “kiosk” is a group of fallen tree trunks transformed into a book-sharing space as a part of a free book swapping program called the BookCrossing club.

This particular book tree is just outside of a caffè called Caffè Anna Blume.  The neighborhood was packed with people out enjoying their Saturday afternoon.  And while there, several people visited the tree.  They left books in the hollowed out shelves, behind plastic flaps used for protection against the rain, and took a couple in return.  I wanted to take it home with me.  But alas, that’s impossible.  And thievery.  So perhaps I’ll just have to make a few for places around good ole Tulsa and St. Louis when I get back.

The smell of food and sounds of people drew us to a market I later learned happens every Saturday in the neighborhood.  And it’s one of my favorite markets yet.  Everybody seemed so happy and little bambini clomped around in their boots, wearing fluffy, marshmallow-like coats and pants.

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All sorts of hand-crafted and home-made items filled the tents and booths throughout.  Scarves, foods, soaps, leather-bound journals, wallets made of recycled material, intricate Easter egg decor, and so much more.  And each whispered “come hither” in a language only those who really appreciate them understand.IMG_2137And don’t even get me started on the food.  Mouth-watering pockets of different, yummy scented air bombarded us every few steps.  It was there that I tried currywurst, a traditional dish in Germany. And the verdict?  It was absolutely delicious. 5 stars. 10/10 would recommend.  All the good things.

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Keeks and I split for just a bit so she could find herself a vegetarian dish, so once I got my food, I sat at a picnic table in a little green space alongside the market.  As I ate, I people-watched, which was especially entertaining.  A mother of an infant in a stroller blew a few bubbles from a bubble wand for her little tike.  Little did she know what an effect that would have on so many other little humans in the park.  There were about five other 5-6 year-old little kids present with their parents.  And I kid you not.  Every single one of them stopped what they were doing when the bubbles starting bubbling and just stared.  Their eyes were filled with wonder and they seemed to be concerned with nothing in the world but those bubbles.  Only after the last bubble was blown did life resume.  It was absolutely hilarious.  Not even going to lie, that was one of my favorite parts from the weekend.

And finito!  That was our last stop before we made a beeline for the airport.

Overall, our couple days in Berlin were great.  There definitely was a somber and reflective aspect to it because of our visits to the Holocaust memorials and museums.  There were many thought-provoking moments, which only further set Berlin apart from the other places we’ve visited.  And apart from the more reflective parts of our trip, our time spent there was delightful.  Good food.  Lots of struggling with getting places in the very spread-out city.  Lots of artsy walls to look at.  So many friendly folk.  And the city itself has a very young and hip feel to it which was neat to explore.

I sincerely hope that I make it back there with more time, because I’m certain we only scratched the surface in getting to know the city.  What a lively and happy place.  Many thanks to the Berliners who treated us so kindly.  Peace out, friends.

 

 

My Love for Brussels is Sprouting

***A belated post about my visit to Brussels (March 8th-10th, 2016).  I feel so fortunate to have gotten to visit this amazing city this semester.  The violence in Brussels this past Tuesday is truly heartbreaking, and I’m distraught by how this act of terror has destroyed the lives of some of the wonderful people of such a beautiful place.  I’m sending positive thoughts to this city that made me feel so at home in just 48 hours.

Highlights from our time spent in Brussels:

  • chocolate
  • waffles
  • frites
  • Tropismes
  • street art
  • coffee and conversation
  • Delirium
  • more food

Keeks and I arrived in Brussels around 9:30AM on Tuesday of our Spring Break.  After landing, we immediately located a Western Union to pick up a money order.  Just hours before our departure from Rome, Kiki’s bank card (and our only source of money) was swallowed up by the ATM on our campus.  With that sorted out, we then followed our written directions from google maps (since we are both phone-less), and traveled toward Etterbeek, Brussels, where our Airbnb was located.

Exhausted from travel and our 4 hours of sleep from the night before, we grabbed some cappucinos at a caffé near the Airbnb.  Afterward, we found the apartment and and our host greeted us with hugs.  We followed her up the ladder in to the attic where she showed us around our room for the next 48 hours.  There was a super comfortable bed, a cozy hammock hanging from the ceiling, a wooden partition with floral fabric standing in the room, and two skylights were implanted in the ceiling. One was above the hammock, and its opposite looked right up at the bell tower of St. Antoine’s church in the little neighborhood.  We set our backpacks down and joined our host downstairs for a cup of drip coffee, bread,  eggs and a little conversation.  Then, when we were ready to head in to the city,  she kindly led us to the correct tram stop and made sure we had a general idea of where we were going.

When we made it to the small, city center, we immediately found Mannekin Pis- a statue of a peeing boy.  After crossing the statue off of our touristy list, we thought we were kind of done seeing him.  False.  There are replicas of all sizes and colors throughout the city center.  Some are actual fountains where he’s peeing beer or other liquids, and others are holding ice cream cones or waffles in their free hand. The kid is literally everywhere.

Turns out, he’s actually part of series of three peeing statues in Brussels.  There’s also the girl statue, Jeanneke Pis, and a dog, Zinneke Pis.  We didn’t seek out the dog, but we did find the less-famous Jeanneke Pis.  She’s located in a little alleyway, right across from Delirium, and is blocked off by red, metal bars to prevent vandalism of the fountain.  And she, like her brother statue, pees unashamedly in her little corner of Brussels.  You do you, Boo.  You do you.

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From there, we  wandered around the city to get a general idea of our own whereabouts as well as those of the cooler spots.  We took our time and passed through Grand Place (the main city square) many times to get down the different streets, hoping to come across new, wonderful pockets of waffle-scented air. At one point, we made a pit stop  for some Belgian fries before carrying on. This time though, we set out with the intention of finding walls that are a part of the comic book route in Brussels along with other works of street art.  We came across one alley in particular that I especially enjoyed.  It’s a Rainbowhouse project, and if you’re into street art with a little bit of LGBTQIA+ advocacy, I definitely recommend checking it out.

Next stop was the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate where we paid five euro for a chocolate demonstration.  While we waited for the demonstration to begin, we helped ourselves to the containers of different chocolates that lined the wall.  Each one was filled with chocolates of a varying percentages of cocoa in them – creating a chocolate rainbow. AND there was a chocolate machine that constantly flowed with creamy milk chocolate, and biscotti sat alongside the machine for dipping purposes.

Our guide was a young man whose smile was contagious and his enthusiasm for his job admirable. He easily switched between English (for Kiki and I) and French (for the couple alongside us) throughout the session.  A small, glass partition separated us from a vat of melted milk chocolate and the giant block of cocoa sitting next to it (the before picture of the melted chocolate).  With the grace and ease of woodland fairy dancing among wildflowers, he stirred, scooped, poured, and smoothed some of the melted chocolate in to molding trays.  He then stuck these trays in the fridge, mimicked a timer, and pulled out some previously made and ready chocolates.  And all of this was done to demonstrate one way of making the little bite sized chocolates that were littered around his work space.  He gave us a few samples as he worked, and showcased the different shapes and creatures he’s made from chocolate (his woodland creature friends, I suspect).  At the end, we looked around the chocolate museum upstairs and finally left, feeling fat and happy.

Our next mission was to find a bookstore called “Tropismes.”  In our quest for this place, we without written directions.  But two bookstores and a few friendly strangers  later, we found it.  And happiness ensued. IMG_1938

Before becoming a bookshop, this space was once a dance school and then a famous jazz club in the ’60s.  Its mirrored dance halls and the ornate ceiling  from the building’s earlier uses remain and make for a truly unique space.  One that makes the book-lover’s mind gallop and spin and twirl – hyped by the seemingly endless rows of books and their reflections in the mirrored walls.  What a treasure.

In the small english section, I was pleasantly surprised to find many books having to do with feminist topics and other social justice issues.  The temptation was too real.  So I bought myself a book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of “We Should All Be Feminists.” She’s an author whose  works I’ve been meaning to read for quite some time now, so double-win for finding a smaller treasure within a larger one.

We ended the day with a falafel kebab dinner before heading back to our Airbnb.  We planned to turn in for the night fairly early, because we both needed to catch up on sleep.  And we did manage to get to bed at a decent time, but not before hanging out with our host and some of her friends that were over when we arrived.  Our host scored at a job interview earlier that day, made dinner, and invited some friends over to celebrate.  She even offered us some of the food she’d made –  sausage, rice (yellow and from Ecuador apparently), and this tomato-bean mixture.  And lucky for me, I got twice the sausage, because Kiki is a vegetarian.  SO, second dinner was delicious.

While we ate, we talked to our host and her three friends – all in their 20’s also – and got to hear a bit about what schools they’re going to and what they’re studying.  Our host is tri-lingual, and two of the three friends she had there speak English and French fluently, so there was a lot of translating for Kiki and me.  And a lot of hoping, on my part, that when I head back to the States, I don’t become content knowing only one language again (because LANGUAGE IS COOL).  After about an hour of conversation and food, we excused ourselves with thank you’s and finally caught up on those Z’s.

The next day, we left the attic around 10AM, grabbed coffee near our Airbnb, and then followed our written directions toward what was supposed to be The Cinquantenaire, a triumphal arch that provides a great view of the city.  We followed the directions exactly, but ended up some place that wasn’t our original ending destination.  We rolled with it and instead found a terrace with a good view of its own.  We took in the view for a bit and then walked until we found a pretty neat, eclectic antique store which we looked through for quite some time.

Then the all powerful and deciding STOMACHS demanded that lunch follow.  At a small grocery store near the antique shop, we purchased a baguette, a pack of gouda cheese, and some paprika chips for a beautifully simple and cheap lunch.  It was too cold to eat outside on any nearby steps or bench, so we hopped on to a tram and relished in its warmth as we ate.  Only after we were all warmed up and full did we hop off the tram and get on a different number going toward the city center.

We strolled through Grand Place again, but as it got later, it also got colder.  Once more we sought out a warm place and picked a caffé.  Distracted by good coffee and conversation, we remained there for at least an hour.  And what did we do next after another day of consuming foods and beverages?  We headed out for a couple drinks, of course.  We were told by many to stop by  Delirium – a bar in the city center with more than 2,000 types of beer.  And we did.  As soon as we approached the bar, the bartender asked how old I was.  When I answered (20), the bartender raised his eyebrows in his surprise with a laugh and an “Oh,” but asked for no proof.  After that #ClassicBabyFaceMoment, I ordered a Delirium Red, which was pretty darn tasty. The place would’ve especially been a blast if we’d had more friends with us, but as it was, Kiki and I found ourselves a table and chatted as we nursed our drinks.

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Drinks with Gnomeo (and Keeks looking like the happiest person alive in the background)

When we finished, we decided it was high time for some famous Belgian waffles.  How had we not tried them until our second night in Brussels?  I’m not entirely sure.  I’m just as appalled as any other lover of waffles might be.  We purchased our treats/dinner near the Mannekin Pis statue and sat and ate them on the stoop of a closed up shop.  Mine was pretty simple with some gooey chocolate spread and powdered sugar.  Keeks’ had strawberries, nutella, and whipped cream.  We stole bites from each others plates, and both were scrumptious.  I’m definitely kicking myself for not having consumed waffles and only waffles during my whole stay in Brussels.

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Thoughts on Brussels?  It was pretty darn cool. Going in to the trip, I thought there’d be more for us to do.  And if we’d gone on more tours and in more museums instead of winging it, I’m sure the two days would’ve been more packed.  But at the same time, it was nice to have a bit of downtime when a lot of the semester has been “Go Go Go.”  Our 48 hours in this beautiful city was full of eating, people-watching, sight-seeing, reflecting, talking, and more eating.  Brussels was definitely good to us. 🙂

LONDON

Some highlights from my weekend in London (25/3/16):

  • Seeing the London Eye lit up at night
  • An awkward encounter with a sleeping stranger
  • Sprinting through the wrong O2 with a very important mission at hand
  • TORI KELLY
  • Experiencing the magic of a pretty sweet bookstore
  • Trying a traditional cornish pasty
  • Developing my ability to fall asleep anywhere
  • and FRIENDSHIP
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Big Ben

Story time.  My two travel companions and I arrived in London pretty late in the night on Thursday, and took a taxi to our to our hostel.  We arrived at the hostel at about 1 or 2 AM, and were immediately shown the way to our beds for the night.  Without hesitation, I climbed into a bottom bunk the porter said wasn’t taken.  One of my friends, Mary, claimed the bottom bunk across from mine, and Kiki took the bed above mine.  In the dark and full room, we agreed on a wake up time in hushed voices before falling asleep.

Mary kindly me woke up the next morning.  As I staggered out of my bed, Mary whispered something along the lines of, “I can’t wake Kiki up!”  Still half asleep, I took it upon myself to complete this task.  I wasted no time in tapping her annoyingly on the head and whispering at her to get up.  Strange, grunting noises came from her and she stirred under her covers.  I took this as sign of a slow awakening, but these noises quickly transformed into a deep, groggy voice saying, “No. Stop it. No. Go away.”  That’s when I realized Kiki wasn’t really Kiki.  I immediately ducked away from the top bunk and on to my bed, and Mary backed up to hers.  We sat on our beds in the still sleeping room, looking at each other incredulously.  Kiki’s boots were still by the foot of the bed, but we couldn’t see her or backpack in the dark room.

“I don’t understand.  Where did Kiki go?!” Mary whispered.

I started laughing uncontrollably (the silent kind that shakes your whole body) at the ridiculousness of the situation.  Not only had I rather rudely just swatted a sleeping stranger’s head repeatedly, but I also couldn’t find my friend.  Even as I write this now, I’ve got laughter tears forming in the corner of my eyes.  It was all so bizarre. I finally composed myself enough to tip-toe silently around the room to see if Kiki was in any of the beds.  I finally found her at the opposite end of the room.  Turns out she’d been in the wrong bed, and was asked to move sometime after we’d all fallen asleep.  Clearly, we were off to a stellar start in London.

In the lobby/bar area, we convened for breakfast and a bit of planning and mapping out of directions.  And when we’d all eaten and showered up, we headed for the neighborhood our Airbnb was located in.  We were meant to share it with some friends (who are studying in France this semester) for the rest of the weekend.  We were unable to access the apartment ourselves though, because our France friends were the ones who booked it.  So, all 7 of us eventually met up at a Starbuck’s near the apartment, and from there, we made our way to the Airbnb.

We unloaded our stuff and had just enough time to get settled in and plug in devices before we split up.  Abigail, Mary, Kiki, and I had a Tori Kelly concert to get to, and our other friends had a Harry Potter tour to get to.  Together, Abigail, Mary, Kiki and I figured out the way of the Oyster card at the nearest underground station, and set off to the concert venue two hours before the doors opened.  Dedication, am I right?  And thank goodness for that, because we accidentally ended up at the wrong O2.  Silly first-time Londoners.  We had no idea that there was more than one O2 center until two kind gents who worked at the center told us we were at the completely wrong one.  Before receiving this news, we’d been care-free, but suddenly the pressure to get to the concert was real.  And thus began the sprint through the wrong O2 with a very important mission at hand, as mentioned above in the highlights.  I’m certain we looked absolutely ridiculous and like #typicaltourists and/or like #typicalAmericans, but none of this mattered because it was Tori Kelly we were running for.  When we arrived at the correct venue, the line to get in was wrapped around the building.  BUT we still ended up with pretty decent spots on the floor!

 

Abigail and I both had the chance to see Tori Kelly together in St. Louis last semester.   We were  pumped to hear her live once more, and in London of all places. We screamed, sang, and danced like fools. And after her final song on stage, we floated out of the venue on clouds of happiness. Side note: If my words of admiration for TK and her singing abilities haven’t convinced you thus far, friends reading this, you should definitely look her up and take a listen.

We ended the day by stopping at a small supermarket on the way home for some celebratory ice cream.  Back at the Airbnb, we alternated between shoveling spoonfuls of the stuff into our mouths and bursting with post-concert bouts of excitement and “what just happened??” feelings.  Overall, it was a splendid first day in London.

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Abigail and I post-TK Concert

The next day, we split up again.  My group first visited Buckingham Palace where we caught the tail end of the Changing of the Guards.    Afterward, we visited the Big Ben, observed the London Eye from there, stopped by Westminster Abbey and by then, it was lunch time.  We found a fairly cheap indoor cafe, where we ate and warmed up some before going back into the cold.  Then, we headed for the British Museum where we were scheduled to meet up with the other group. As we waited in the lobby, I put my developing ability to fall asleep anywhere to practice and took a little nap before they arrived.

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“Persephone Books” was next on our list (after a fish and chips pit-stop), and my inner-booklover was delighted. Today, this gem is a quaint little bookshop that reprints works written mostly by female writers from the mid-twentieth century.  All of the books have grey covers, with various patterns on the inner covers that have been borrowed from many different places, people, and works of art.  Lucky for me now (not so lucky for me then), I didn’t have much spending money with me at the time or I might have  walked out with an armful books and an empty wallet that day.

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A Hidden Gnomeo and Some Persephone Books

Then, Tommy, Mary, Kiki, Abigail and I headed traveled to Kings Cross Station to experience a run at the wall of Platform 9 3/4.  Quick confession: I haven’t read all of the Harry Potter books yet.  I’ve slowly been working on the series since about a year ago, so I wasn’t nearly as excited about the experience as I should’ve been.  However, I did get to witness some of my friends experience this long-time dream of theirs which was pretty darn cool.  After we got our pictures taken, we strolled through the Harry Potter shop there, and then Tommy and I grabbed and split a cornish pasty.  A good friend of ours had given us the task of trying this food, and because it was food we were talking about, we had no problem in completing this delicious task.

Next up on our list? Chipotle.  Tommy’s birthday was on Sunday of that weekend – the day we all flew out. So, we planned to have Chipotle birthday dinner for him for the night before, because the kid is obsessed with it.  After dinner, we walked back toward the London Eye.  Yes, we’d seen it from afar during the day, but it was an even better sight to see at night. In the Eye’s reflection in the Thames River, its red lights mingled with the blueish-purple ones of its neighboring buildings.  It was a sight difficult to look away from.  For my part,during moments like this one, I worked hard to ignore the date of my return flight and all that it entailed.  We were in London, in front of the London eye, and I still couldn’t believe it.

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Mary, Tommy, Kiki, Abigail, and the London Eye

So I guess you could say that during my weekend in London, I was like a baby bunny (or squirrel – your pick) who had just opened their eyes for the first time.  “Oh, so London made you feel completely and utterly adorable, eh?” Good guess! But no.  By this I mean that I did a lot of staring up at things with wide eyes and standing stupefied before all of the London sights we saw and London things we did.  At times, my excitement-o-meter was so great that I wanted to stop the strangers passing by who were so casually absorbed in their phones and chuck their devices into the Thames river (even though I’ve absolutely been guilty of getting distracted by technology in similar ways).  Luckily, I had friends with me who were just as thrilled by in the city, if not more.

My time in London this semester is complete, but I sincerely hope I’ll get to visit again some day.  A couple tips for future, first-time visitors to London? Make sure you have plenty of time to see all the cool things if London is a big one on your list (two days was pushing it).  And with this, a sound budget, because the pound can hurt.  Also, to future visitors, if you don’t like the idea of becoming so enchanted by a place that you maybe possibly are transformed into a newborn rodent, I’d suggest a visit elsewhere.  Ciao for now!

 

 

 

 

Parachutes, Potatoes, and Pickpockets… Oh My!

Just 6 days ago, I jumped out a plane that was about 13,000 feet above a town on the outskirts of Madrid.  During the 12 minute plane ride leading up to that 60-second experience of a lifetime, I looked out of the small window to my left and wondered, “How did I get here?”  Clearly I didn’t end up in a small, cramped plane, harnessed to a stranger by pure accident.  Skydiving had been on my bucket list for years now.  But this dream of mine stopped making sense when it finally registered that I was about to jump out of a plane.

Javier (my tandem person) and I were the last to jump out of the plane, right after watching my good friend Tommy and his person roll out and begin their plummet toward the earth.  We inched toward the open door of the plane until I was dangling in the air.  I put my head back and arched my body as instructed, and Javier pushed off the ledge.

In the first few seconds of the fall, I could think no thoughts.  None.  Just pure panic.  I desperately gasped for air and clung to the straps of my harness, until Javier pulled our first shoot.  He tapped my shoulder, signaling for me to spread me wings.  So I did.  And ironically enough, it was in those remaining seconds of my drop that my doubts concerning my own sanity disappeared, and I remembered why I’d dreamed of skydiving in the first place.

As we fell,  Tomás, the camera man assigned to me, floated around us, smiling and signaling for me to blow kisses to the camera until the second shoot was pulled.  As the ground grew closer, we spun around in lazy, calming circles.  The blue skies, white mountain tops off in the distance, and the green and brown spotted earth all blended as we spun, creating one stellar view.  Once on the ground,  I silently thanked the stars that I was alive and joined up with Kiki and Tommy for a little freak-out-fest.

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Tapas with my Leah, my lovely, longtime friend ❤

Some more highlights from the weekend? Food and friends, per usual.  Tommy, Kiki and I joined up with friends who are studying in Madrid this semester and together we did some sight-seeing, shopping, eating, and we tested the waters of Madrid’s night life.  It was so refreshing to be surrounded once again by the people who have made college and life as great as it is.  They were a beautiful dose of familiar.  And the food was absolutely amazing.  Spanish tortillas and tapas and churros con chocolate galore.  Seriously.  I didn’t realize how much I missed potatoes until fooding in Madrid.  Really, I could go on and on about my love for the food, but I’ll save that for another time.

As for sights, we took a walk through Retiro Park, checked out the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral, and wandered through the massive, open-air flea market, El Rastro.  El Rastro especially seemed to best compass the overall feel I picked up from Madrid while there: colorful, lively, and full of pleasant surprises.

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Gnomeo, some chocolate, and some churros
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Palacio de Cristal in Retiro Park

One downside of the trip was having my phone (in it’s wallet case) stolen.  Yep… Just four hours after skydiving, it was swiped during lunch in a busy restaurant, and one of my biggest fears going in to study abroad quickly became a reality.

My friends  dealt with my tears and calmed me down.  They provided me with endless laughs and always, without hesitation, did what they could to make the rest of my time in Madrid a good time. Especially my good friend and college roommate, Solis.  Seriously, a huge shoutout to her for remaining calm and rational when I wasn’t.  In my immediate frazzled state, she was safety.  And even long after the event, the kind soul made sure I had money in my pocket to get back home alright, and then some.  And then there are my parents.  My dad swiftly made the phone calls and decisions I couldn’t to cancel my card, freeze my phone, and come up with a plan for the rest of the semester. And my mom constantly checked in on me and assured me everything will work out every time we were able to communicate.  So basically, I don’t know what I’d do without these superstars in my life.

A major, personal take-away from this trip? Just like I had a parachute to keep me from going splat on the ground once I jumped out of that plane in Madrid, I was very soon reminded of the strong presence of the privilege and people in my life that prevent me from going splat in life. #EternallyGrateful

And now, to wrap things up, I’ll answer the burning question any readers might have in mind at this point. Do I now believe in money belts?  Possibly.  Would I ever go back to Madrid?  Yes.  Would I, upon returning, be satisfied with eating nothing but potatoes in their various Spanish forms? HECK YES.