Archive for March, 2007

Spring break pictures

(none from Barcelona! sorry!)

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Spring Break, Parts 2 and 3! and some very important lessons learned

I have no excuse for taking so long to update… if anything, I should have in the past few days because while y’all are watching flowers bloom and donning short sleeves and flip-flops for strolls in the park, I’m fighting snow and negative-degree wind chills!!! Which mostly means I’ve been inside a lot… it’s just too cold and so windy to really be out and about unless you have to be. But, it’ll be warming up again hopefully this weekend and next week.

So, continuing where I left off in terms of spring break… we left warm, sunny Barcelona and landed in Paris at another off-the-beaten-path airport and took an hour bus ride into the city. The ride through the countryside was pretty, but Sarah and I at this point had been on so many buses that we were a bit sick to our stomachs, and little did we know, coming down with the flu as well. So we fell asleep and woke up as we pulled in. We found a cab and headed to our hotel on Boulevard Rouchechouart, in the Montmartre district, near the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur. It was a fairly decent hotel, and we dropped our things off and decided to head back out in spite of not feeling well. We wanted to do a hop-on hop-off bus tour but were so tired that we ended up doing a little shopping and looking around and then heading back to our hotel, hoping we’d wake up the next day feeling better. We stopped at the grocery store on the way home and got things like bread and cheese for dinner.

The next morning we got up and ate breakfast at the hotel and decided to try and see some things, so we found the Eiffel Tower but it was freezing, rainy, and so windy. My umbrella got a hole in it so I bought a new one, and immediately it blew inside out and was pretty much unsalvageable and did that several more times… we walked around the Champs Elysees, saw the Arc de Triomphe and the Palais Royale… we continued to walk for a long time but it was so rainy and so cold that it wasn’t too enjoyable! Not to mention we looked like drowned rats and couldn’t bring ourselves to go into stores like Louis Vuitton. We weren’t exactly sure where to go from there because we both didn’t feel well, so we decided a nap was in order. After our nap we got up and walked around Montmartre and saw the Moulin Rouge and all the sex shops (SO MANY!) but really just couldn’t take the rain and cold and wind… I have a lot of pictures of inside out umbrellas!

The next morning we left Paris for Nice. We flew AirFrance this time which was a lovely airline who gave us snacks and drinks for free (this doesn’t happen much anymore). Flying into Nice was gorgeous and I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me which was even better! The grounds of Provence were so beautiful and green, and then seeing the water was stunning. When we landed at the airport we found a taxi to take us to our hotel. We drove the whole way on the Promenade des Anglais, the beautiful street along the coast… I was overcome by the color of the water, the smooth small stones that the beach is composed of, the blue and white umbrellas and beach front restaurants, the boardwalk with the white arbors with benches in them… it was gorgeous and sunny. Our hotel was located directly behind a gorgeous hotel called the Palace Negresco, which incidentally my mother and grandmother stayed in when they were there. It was so beautiful! We had a little apartment-type room with a kitchen and simple, white decor. Sarah still wasn’t feeling well when we checked in so she took a nap while I explored Nice on my own (mostly the shopping) and four hours later returned with a couple new things :). We went to the supermarket and made dinner (we tried to keep meals REALLY cheap and grocery stores are the best way to do this in Europe).

The next day we headed directly to the beach of course and spent most of the day on it. A lot of the beach is considered private, so if you don’t want to lie on the stones, you rent a chair, which we did, for 5 euro for the whole day. They were very comfortable. Sarah ordered a cocktail and I ordered a cappucino, of course 🙂 I was a little cold (ALWAYS cold) and needed to feed my caffeine stream. We stayed there the whole day, soaking up sun, and it warmed up a good deal. We watched the boats come out of the port around the peninsula and sail across the horizon silhouetted by sunlit haze. It was fabulous. That night we walked around a little and then fixed dinner again.

Our last day of vacation was spent on the beach of course, but later in the afternoon we found the bus to Monaco and Montecarlo, where we walked around and saw the beautiful boats and took an elevator up the mountain to the casino and Montecarlo area. It was dripping with wealth, and of course we couldn’t go in– I think there’s a pretty formal dress code. It was enough to stand outside and see the amazing cars, the botanical gardens, the society going in and out… beyond that, there isn’t a lot to see though, unless you want to shop in designer stores– which, believe me, I do, but couldn’t afford that stuff!

When we got back, we went to dinner and killed time until our bus left at 12:45 AM (yes, it sucked). The first thing we saw when we got to the bus was a passenger throwing up so that was a good sign. We crawled on and pretty much went to sleep, but as soon as we reached the Italian border, some scary men got on the bus and forced us all off, while they got on, went through our stuff, and then brought their dogs outside and let them jump on us and sniff us. We were too delirious to be irritated, and we simply climbed back on and went back to sleep. We arrived in Florence around 6:45 AM and caught a train back to Perugia, and upon arrival climbed into our beds and slept the day away. And that was spring break. Quite an adventure!

I feel like the luckiest girl alive these days… mom and dad will be HERE a week from today to see me (and Italy, too)!!! And then, after they leave, Liz and Grant will be here less than two weeks later… and… well, then I come home. Which is really sad. I’m looking forward to a lot of things about home… but I know it’s going to be a difficult adjustment when I get there in so many ways. I’ve really gotten accustomed to life here, to a city life, to places that are lit with lanterns and wall sconces, places with vaulted ceilings, tiny cups of coffee, long meals, people that look like a million bucks every time they leave their apartment, walking everywhere with the rhythm of this city, the rhythm of street musicians, dogs that prance around with more of a command of the city than the people.

I’ve also realized why the transition was so difficult for me when I got here. I come from a school and a home where I am constantly surrounded by cushions of love, people that know me inside and out, and I’m so fortunate to have so many people in my life at home that I love so dearly and I know love me. We’re very open about our love for each other at home, at school, etc. Here, although I have a core set of friends, I have not found a warm love from anyone. I’ve had to find it within myself, which sounds cliche, but for the first time I think I truly understood what loneliness can be. This is something many people here have gone through, it’s been discussed amongst us. Many, many of us have experienced various degrees of loneliness, homesickness, separation anxiety… they don’t tell you this when you sign up to study abroad, but I think this is where the growth comes from… the hardest parts… There comes a point when you are sitting alone in your apartment or at school or in a cafe and your brain starts to wander, and you suddenly find yourself realizing that you are a tiny pinprick on this gigantic earth in this gigantic universe and you are miles and oceans from home and suddenly you feel isolated and scared as the world hurriedly moves around you, this miniscule, anonymous pinprick. But all it takes is a smile or a hello from someone and you return to where you are in the moment and you’re back on earth. At home I live in a world of hugs and loving gestures (I’m a very huggy person… as a child, mom called me Kissy Face because I always wanted hugs and kisses). I live with the two most cuddly people in the world, my sister and Grant, and we spend many a day and night on our couches tangled around each other. This sounds weird unless you know the three of us well, in which case, it no longer sounds weird. Anyway, here, I don’t get hugs often, I could probably count my hugs on 2 hands (except in Barcelona when seeing Mike and Allison and Lindsey… I don’t think I let go of them the whole time). I’ve found solace in playing piano, which is a return to home for me. There is nothing more like home than a piano. My family knows. There’ve always been pianos in my life.

I’ve learned so much. I’m three-quarters of the way down the road… I now truly, deeply realize the value of friends and family and home. I also, finally, have experienced the beauty that is traveling and seeing the world, and fully experiencing independence. There is also a hard truth to be learned in loneliness, but the other side of this truth is the opposite of loneliness and I only appreciate more the feelings of independence I have gained in addition to the fortune I have in my family and friends and school. This is sort of my last week here of normalcy, as the semester comes to an end, family visits, we travel… and I just have to express my gratitude to my family for supporting me in this huge endeavour, not letting me give up when I was so sick with pneumonia, patting me on the back, and letting me spread my wings (with a lot of encouragement). I have learned so many valuable lessons– talk about facing anxiety head on. I’m sure many of you know I’ve dealt with an anxiety and panic disorder my whole life, and it has more than popped its head up here, but I now think the only way to deal with your toughest issues is to face them head on, with gusto and a proud fear, letting your most frightening emotions wash over you so you know what they feel like, and learn they won’t kill you, probably just make you cry for awhile, and then, at last, you’ve dealt with it and you can move on from it. There is always a temptation to ask a psychiatrist to re-balance you with some basic prescriptions, and sometimes I think that’s important if you really, truly feel uncapable of dealing with it on your own, but I have learned here, the hardest and best way, that this is something you can conquer on your own.

I also now see that this has been an incredible preparation for the future. The first month I was here, all I wanted to do was come home and never, ever leave my parents and my family and my puppies and kitties. Now, of course, yes I love them more than anything on this planet, but I know that I can survive away from home, I know I can be separate from them and still a part of them, even halfway around the planet, six timezones away.

I can blab all day about what a life-changing experience this has been, and how absolutely indispensable it has been for the person that I am right now, today, in this moment– and when you see me, whether or not you notice a change, it’s here inside me, and I’ll probably never be able to explain it in full. Nor should I, because it is mine, and another thing I have learned is the beauty of keeping some things to yourself (this is not a value I knew beforehand… haha… I say this with humor and a touch of dismay).

Anyhow… when I get home, I’ll post more pictures, but you’ll have to wait a month because the internet here is so slow that it just takes too long now.

I love you all, and miss you so much, and hope to get hugs from every single one of you when I get home.

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La Mia Vacanza, part 1: Barcelona

Goodness… where to begin!

Last Friday morning, I got up and had eggs (and grits, thanks to a lovely package from my lovely sister) and then Sarah and I hit the railroad tracks to Roma Termini train station. From there, we found the bus to a smaller airport outside the city called Ciampino. The ride was a bit jerky, and in Rome traffic… it was a tad nauseating! We got to the airport and hopped in line for our flight to Girona, a city outside Barcelona. I’ll stop here and say we decided to fly on a European airline called RyanAir that flies to smaller airports outside of larger cities, and you have to take buses and shuttles to get to and from them… the airline tickets are cheaper, but the convenience and comfort factor is lacking. They didn’t take our razors or our water bottles, and once we got to the terminal to board, we had to squish on a bus to the plane, from which, upon arrival at the airplane, people literally took off running toward the plane– there are no assigned seats. Quite an experience, let me tell you.

So anyway, we arrived in Girona about an hour and a half later and then found a shuttle to downtown Barcelona. It was really exciting coming into the city… we saw the enormous, incredibly phallic building first… wish I knew what that was, and then we saw one of the Gaudi buildings as well. We took a cab and found our hostel (at this point we’d been travelling for about 12 hours) and then I called my Elon friends who are studying Madrid and were kind enough to meet us in Barcelona. It was so wonderful to see them and hear about their experiences in Spain. They live with families, so theirs is quite different from ours. We found a tapas restaurant and had our first Spanish food and chatted til a little after midnight and then headed to bed.

Saturday morning we got up and saw a Starbucks!!! and of course went running to it and had a lovely Frappucino and blueberry muffin… oh, how exciting that was. We met up with Mike and Lindsey and Allison again. We decided to walk around and look at the crazy weird Gaudi buildings (I can’t really explain these, they’re just strange architectural structures– google them). So we found three of them I think and then walked a really really long way to the Gaudi park. First, we stopped at a market and got some bread and cheese and meat for a picnic. We climbed a huge hill and were a bit unimpressed at first. The view was amazing but we were a bit confused– we’d heard that the longest bench in the world was at this park, but we didn’t see it… we were really hungry and ready to sit down, but we heard some music and decided to walk toward it, and found ourselves in this amazing courtyard-type thing… all this Gaudi stuff is impossible to describe. Anyway, this place was incredible, and huge… the bench is completely done in mosaic and it winds around the whole courtyard, acting as a wall and a bench. Below us were more strange structures waiting to be explored, but we sat and had a long picnic first.

Barcelona is full of interesting characters. The first we saw was sitting next to us while we ate. Mike discreetly took a picture of him, and we later studied him more in-depth. He had about 75 piercings in his face. I can’t even tell you how disgusting this was! And he had the huge HUGE gauges in his ear lobes… yuck! People were staring. Of course.

After lunch we explored Gaudi park some more and then had to say goodbye to Allison and Lindsey, who were heading back to Madrid. Mike stayed with us til Monday.

Saturday night, Sarah and Mike and I found some dinner and I got to try hot chocolate and churros (fried batter, basically, that you dip in hot chocolate). Then we went to a couple bars and had some Sangria (I just had a little) and went to bed a little after 1.

The next morning we woke up and realized we were coming down with some sort of cold so we stopped at a pharmacy and I got some echinacea and Tylenol Cold. We had deemed Sunday to be our beach day, and started walking. We didn’t pass a Starbucks, though, so we did a rather large loop until we found one! They asked to see my ID when I tried to use a credit card and then made fun of me for having my headshot on my International Student Card (something I’ve endured since being here… I didn’t know they were going to put it on everything when they asked for a picture)!

We were walking along the port when suddenly we look up and see another Barcelona character: a man, probably 75 or 80, completely buck naked, just walking along. He had a speedo tattooed on… and… a rather interesting piercing that um, well, swung back and forth when we walked. This was probably the funniest and most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen in my life in person. The best was watching people’s reactions… conservative women kept stopping and staring and looking at each other confusedly. It was hilarious. And, we know he does this often because the girls had seen him the previous morning. How is this okay?!! Anyway, we continued on.

Finally we came upon the Mediterranean… it was warm, and just a bit breezy. Walking along was interesting– there was a platform on the beach that had a boxing ring and workout equipment, where beefy guys were exercising… it was strange. We found a spot on the beach and spread out, and realized how many topless women there were, and how many men in speedos there were, and how many people seemed to have forgotten their bathing suits but, no problem, they just wore thongs and bras. Europe has a lot of naked people.

We spent the day in the sun, had dinner, and hit the sack a little early since we had an early morning the next day.

Anyway, that was Barcelona… Paris and the Riviera are on their way. 🙂

Miss and love you guys.

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Spring Break!!!

I’m just about to go to sleep, but I just wanted to tell y’all I’m headed to Barcelona, Paris, and Nice for spring break. Send thoughts of on-time flights, sunshine, warmth, and health my way!!!

Also, I’m feeling about a hundred times better. Thanks for the prayers… miss you guys SO much!!! 🙂 Check back next weekend for spring break stories… I promise it will be better-written than some of these last ones have been. 🙂 Buona notte!

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