Reverse Culture Shock, Afterthoughts, and Superlatives

I have now been back in America for almost two weeks.  Although I don’t think I really had culture shock going over to Europe, I definitely have since I got back.  What, I can’t walk across the street and have fresh pasta?  What, I can’t turn around the corner and get a beer for the road?  What, I can’t get on a train and go wherever I please?  Ugh.  Truly, coming back is far, far worse.  You’re used to this ultra-fast, ultra-cool lifestyle for seven weeks, going somewhere and doing something fantastic every day…and then you have to come back to this.  To Florida, and true boredom.  If anything, Europe spoiled me rotten.  Oh, this pizza wasn’t made with farm-fresh ingredients?  Oh, you can’t walk there?  Oh, I can’t get together with my 5,000 closest drunken friends and squat in this piazza to watch a futbol game?  Coming back to the grind of a job, leftover schoolwork, and absolutely no monuments outside of my house is quite frankly depressing.   And then you start telling the stories to all of your friends.  And they’re great, and you’ll have them forever…but then you wish there were even more.  Then you wish you could still be there making memories.  Then you’re like, I traded nights in Florence for 80% humidity?  Where’s my refund?  I’d say the worst bit has been my sleeping schedule.  My internal clock is still completely off, as sad as that sounds.  I just can’t sleep anymore.  I slept a grand total of 20 hours in like 6 days while backpacking, if that, and before that, I was only getting about 5 or 6 hours a night in Florence or whatever other place I happened to be in.  So for the first week, before I started back work, I had all this free time to really get some sleep, in my bed.  And let me preface this by saying I am a true-blue sleeper:  I’m used to going to sleep around 4AM and not waking up until about 2 or 3 in the afternoon (yes, this includes during the semester: people like me spend a LOT of time making our school schedules fit our sleep habits).  However, after becoming used to running on no sleep and being six hours ahead, I have had the unfortunate experience of NOT being able to sleep anymore.  Going to sleep at 2 or 3AM and waking up at 9AM for no reason?  That is my definition of Hell.  And yet I can’t escape it.  So for that, that is my one and only blame that I will place on Europe.

After my travels, though, as corny as it sounds, I do feel like an entirely different person.  Studying abroad changed me so profoundly, and in so many different ways that it is hard to put into words.  I can never, ever regret the experiences I had and the way they’ve made me feel by having them.  After it’s over, all you want is more, more, more.  More Europe, more traveling, just more!  I would jump at the chance to do it again somewhere else, but my college plan has been pretty laid out for my four years, and these next two are going to be pretty brutal and filled.  I doubt there is the opportunity for me to do a study abroad per se, but I would love, now, to try and do an internship abroad instead of in the United States this upcoming summer (as per my original plan).  Doing an internship at a British publishing house would be a dream come true, so that is now my goal for next summer that I hope I can accomplish.  Once you go to Europe, you ALWAYS want to go back.  Although I traveled to so many places, there were so many more I didn’t get the opportunity to visit that I would love to go back and do.  Plus, with an internship, I would have a couple of months, rather than seven weeks, for exploration (although a much heavier workload than a four day a week, two class load).  I think that going to Europe has really opened my eyes, in a way, to different cultures and people and how much more there is to the world than the melting pot of the United States.  The history, the architecture, the art, the flavor of the cities…it really is a totally different experience with a deeper resonance than any other I’ve had in America.  Everything is more distinctive and small things seem to have more meaning.  Italy was absolutely everything I had always hoped it could be, I only wish I could have stayed longer.

So, with all my traveling experience now metaphorically under my belt, I wish to impart not only some helpful tidbits for the future traveler but also give a round-up list of some of my favorite and least favorite places, foods, experiences, etc. in an effort to streamline the entirety of my blog posts.  Anyone looking for further information on any place I discuss is welcome to contact me.  As well, I’ll once again post the links to the pictures I’ve taken over the course of these seven weeks (though I’m still in the process of uploading the pictures from my backpacking week).  Enjoy!

Countries and cities visited:
Italy – Florence, Venice, Verona, Ventimiglia, Siena, San Gimignano, Rome, Lake Como, Tuscan countryside
France – Nice, Cannes, Paris
Spain – Madrid, Barcelona
Germany – Munich
Austria – Vienna
Czech Republic – Prague

Superlatives:
Favorite city – Barcelona.  The culture, the architecture (can you say GAUDI?), the flavor, the people, the CONCERT.  Barcelona wins hands down.
Least favorite city – Verona.  This is more than likely due to its intense similarities to Florence, and my lack of interest in Romeo and Juliet.
Best city (walking) tour – Munich.  Ozzie, the tour guide for the Wombat’s Hostel, gives the absolute best free walking tour (tip: free walking tour is free, though you should tip the guide if he did an even decent job.  Tip more for excellence [we gave Ozzie over 20 euros altogether]).
Worst city (walking) tour – Prague (part 1).  We had a very lackluster tour guide for the first half, but switched when we saw an opportunity and ended up having a much more satisfying second half.
Best Metro system – Madrid.  Clear, concise, great directions and drop-offs, and truly covered the whole city.
Worst Metro system – Madrid.  Lost my ticket that I paid 1 euro for during the only time I was asked for it to be seen, and it cost me 25 euros.  Can we say ridiculous?
Best night train ride –  Paris-Madrid. In a sleeper with two incredibly sweet Swedish girls and a super comfy bed, private sink, and wake-up service.  Absolutely delightful.
Worst night train ride – Florence-Paris.  Super uncomfortable 6 bed couchette with four super creepy Moroccan guys that gave me some true Taken fear in the morning.  Absolutely terrible.
Best day train ride – Florence-Rome, morning train.  We were all exhausted and this led to hilarity.
Worst day train ride – Barcelona-Tarragon.  Why?  Because I wasn’t supposed to be going to Tarragon.  This mistake cost me 120 euros and a panic attack.
Best food – Italy.  Hands down, bar none.  Pizza, pasta, prosciutto, pecorino cheese, pesto, strawberries (freshest I’ve ever had), lamb, biscotti, gelato…need I go on?
Worst food – Vienna.  Although this could partly be our bad for not having more, only being there two days and I had only two meals.  But the schniztel was not all it was cracked up to be.
Best meal – Either my extremely expensive seafood meal in Nice or dinner at Il Latini in Florence (a must!).  Both were delicious.
Worst meal – Anytime I had to get McDonald’s due to money-saving.
Best beach – Barcelona.  Perfect day, not too crowded, topless-appropriate, incredibly beautiful, and convenient trip.
Worst beach – Nice.  Don’t get me wrong, Nice was probably in my top three of my favorite cities, I loved it, but I wasn’t aware that they don’t have true beach there; it’s pebble beach.  You have been warned.  Although, a quick thirty minute tram ride can take you to Monte Carlo or Cannes, both of which are the traditional sand beaches.
Best one-line, street come-on – “Oh my god, god bless your mothers!”
Worst one-line, street come-on – “Ciao bellaaaaa!” (Come up with something more original, this is the “’Ey girlllll” of Italy).
Best monument – The Colosseum in Rome.  Visually awe-inspiring, still impressive after all this time, and even the crowds didn’t bother me (which is saying a lot).
Worst/Most underwhelming monument – Juliet’s House in Verona.  Can we say boring? 
Best one-day excursion – Neuschwanstein Castle outside of Munich.  Truly stunning, incredible area, great hike to the castle and through the gorge afterward.  And some delicious bratwurst at the base of the mountain.
Worst one-day excursion – Tuscan countryside with FUA.  Left too early in the morning and had to wait around in the boondocks.  Went to a cool winery in the morning, but didn’t get to taste anything at the second.  Long bus rides, the annoying nature of seventy kids on a trip, and overall not as awesome as the San Gimignano/Siena/Tuscany trip of a few weeks prior.
Best museum – Either the Pinakothek in Munich or the Vatican museum.  Both were superior.
Worst museum – San Marco.  Just wasn’t a fan of all the monk stuff.
Most beautiful city – Como.  It was truly gorgeous.
Least beautiful city – Paris.  So congested, and just overall not attractive to me.
Best hostel – This is a difficult one.  I’d say the nicest was St. Christopher’s at the Mosaic House in Prague, even though I was there for only one night, but my favorite was probably Jaeger’s Munich simply because we had the best time there.  Hostel Meyerbeer in Nice was also excellent.
Worst hostel – There truly isn’t a hostel I felt was the worst hostel, I actually truly lucked it.  There were aspects, though, that were bad.  Jaeger’s Munich’s showers were terrible.  And Alberguinn Youth Hostel in Barcelona was not very social. 

Favorite experiences:
Climbing the Duomo in Florence, climbing the Eiffel Tower in Paris, going to the Colosseum in Rome, going to the Vatican in Rome, seeing Siena’s Duomo, jumping in Lake Como, wine tastings in Tuscany, going to the Cannes Film Festival, watching a bullfight in Madrid, Casa Battlό in Barcelona, seeing Placebo on a mountaintop in Barcelona, arriving in Munich when Germany won its first semifinal game, Neuschwanstein Castle hike, seeing Musikverein where Mozart performed in Vienna, hearing Dante’s Divine Comedy being recited next to his house in Florence, beer gardens and pretzels in Munich, the TV Tower in Prague, the 8-hour pub crawl in Prague, every Tuesday at Bebop for the Beatles cover band in Florence, getting lost in Venice, Retiro Park in Madrid, lunch at Fattoria di San Gimignano, Jaeger’s Munich hostel, backpacking, THE TRIP.

Honestly, I could go on for hours.  For ages.  But I won’t.  This is my final post, and I just want to say how thankful I am to the University of Florida for facilitating this absolutely life-changing experience and to the Florence University of the Arts for the fantastic six weeks I had there.  Nothing can ever compare to this trip, and I will hold it, and Florence, in my heart forever.

Picture links:
Florence, Nice, Cannes, Ventimiglia, San Gimignano, Siena, Verona, Venice: http://picasaweb.google.com/102704924293330661941
Rome, Lake Como, Tuscany, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona: http://picasaweb.google.com/107390061807118500221
Munich, Vienna, Prague (will be uploaded within a week): http://picasaweb.google.com/115382168572965036483

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