Mid-Trip Reflections

It’s so crazy to think that I have been in Tel Aviv for almost three months now! And by that I mean both “Oh my god it’s been three months?” and “WHAT I only have three months left?!?!” When I left my home in Colorado at the end of June I had no clue what I had really signed up for, other than the classic Israeli stereotypes I had gathered on my 10-day trip to the country last December.  As I boarded my plane from New York to Tel Aviv, the sense of beginning a six-month stay in the great unknown was overwhelming. Perhaps if I had known how quickly Tel Aviv would seem like home, I would have been more at ease.

What are some fun facts about Israel? The time difference from here to the east coast is 7 hours. The Israeli weekend is Friday and Saturday because of Shabbat, so the week starts on Sunday. That’s probably what took the most time to get used to, and even still sometimes I get really confused about what day it is. The mediterranean is super beautiful and the beach always crowded. The main beach is a quick bus or Shirut ride away from my campus. Shiruts are shared taxis, they cost roughly the same amount as the bus but they drop you off wherever you need on its set route. Tel Aviv is a wonderful, vibrant, and beautiful city that I quickly fell in love with. Even though I didn’t speak a lick of Hebrew when I got to Tel Aviv and everything was foreign (even trips to the store to find scotch tape and peanut butter were HUGE adventures) I’ve never felt remotely out of place. Maybe that’s because of the people in Israel, who are often described as being “very direct.” Perhaps too direct for some people, but I don’t really see it that way. I feel more like Israelis just lack the social barrier that Americans construct around people they just met. Instead of treading lightly and being overly polite until you get to know a person, Israelis treat you like they’ve known you forever. That means they’ll tell you exactly what they think, whether it’s politically correct or not, but it also means they’ll invite you over for Shabbat dinner 5 minutes after they met you. Israelis are very welcoming, talkative, and interesting. For me, I think my fascination with Israelis and their way of life really manifested itself in my first month in Israel.

Shortly before I left for my semester abroad, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped. As the search for the boys unfolded, I packed my bags, spent a few days wandering in New York with my mom, and arrived in Israel. That night, their bodies were found, and the following month was a little chaotic, with riots leading to rockets — even in Tel Aviv, which is really considered a bubble in Israel because it’s a very secular and increasingly international city — leading to Operation Protective Edge and a ground invasion and failed ceasefire after failed ceasefire until there was quiet again. So by a little chaotic, I mean for non-Israelis. For Israelis, I hesitate to call it normal, but it surely wasn’t too far out of the norm. For me and my fellow international students, being woken by sirens and running to bomb shelters was entirely foreign. Even though I guess it makes my study abroad experience atypical, I truly believe that I got a better understanding of Israeli life and the ever-present conflict here. It was strange how quickly it became normal for me too.  Seriously. My friends and family back home were more concerned about me being scared than I was worried about being in Israel. Being in Israel during that period of time gave me such an interesting perspective on Israeli life, and while I obviously wasn’t rooting for a fight to break out while I was there, I wouldn’t trade the experience. And by my family’s reaction and a few dozen google searches, I know that what was being reported on the news looked really scary, but I never felt unsafe. We knew what to do if a siren went off and of course we followed all of the guidelines for being safe, but above all else life in Israel went on, as it always does. This is one of the things that makes Israel very unique. I think because of the nature of living in a conflict zone, there’s a greater appreciation for the privileges that people often take for granted.

So what have I done in my three months in Israel, you might ask. Well,  I have visited the stunning Baha’i gardens in Haifa, eaten an AMAZING lunch in a Druze village after learning about their religion, hiked Ein Avdat and Ein Gedi in the south, floated around in the Dead Sea, learned about the graffiti/street art in Tel Aviv, wandered and bargained my way through the markets (Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv and Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem) while marveling at pomegranates roughly the size of my head and laughing at the vendors competing for title of “Loudest Person Lane Has Ever Come Across.” I got a hair wrap from super cool Ethiopian women who opened a hair salon near the shuk to make their talent for dealing with difficult hair into a successful business. I prayed at the Western Wall, revisited my favorite ice cream shop of all time, started to slowly but surely study the fascinating and frustrating language of Israel, Hebrew, and more. So I guess what I’ve done in Israel is learned and absorbed. In all seriousness, I have learned so much, both in the classroom and out of it. I’ve met amazing people from all over the world with a really inspiring love for Israel and desire to be a part of this country.

In a surprising turn of events, I write to you now from Slovenia! After a month of summer classes and 7 weeks of an intensive Hebrew course known as Ulpan, I got a month-long break over the holidays before my semester officially starts so I decided to backpack through Europe with friends from Ulpan. My oh my has it been an eventful trip! My friend Ginsey and I flew from Tel Aviv to Geneva with the intention of going straight to Milan because Geneva is very expensive. Well, fate was having none of that. I left my wallet on the plane and after reporting it to lost and found, they told us we would have to come back the next day at 11. Welp. So we found a hostel, stayed the night, and wandered around Geneva, which was of course very beautiful. Everything was picturesque and the weather was gorgeous. To put it in Ginsey’s words, no filter needed. After wandering to the UN building we made our way back to the airport where we found my wallet! Hurrah! Except they wanted 20 francs for it. No, really. The lost and found in the Geneva airport charges you for their services. My interaction with the woman working there went something like this:

Woman: Sign here and here and I don’t know if they told you this last night but it is a 20 franc fee to collect your wallet.

Me: Ha- WHAT?

Ginsey: 20 francs?!

Woman (without reaction): yes.

Me: Are you kidding?

Woman (woman or robot? We couldn’t tell): No. This service is provided by the Geneva airport and we do not receive any money from the airlines so yes, there is a fee.

Me: Can I give you 20 shekels*?

Woman (still looking vaguely like a robot): Perdon?

Me: And what if I take my wallet and run?

Woman (WHO STILL HAS NOT CHANGED FACIAL EXPRESSIONS ONCE): Well, I would have to call security.

Me: So you mean to tell me that because of YOUR inefficient lost and found system I had to stay a night in Geneva, a city we were trying to avoid, spend money on hostels and food here, and now pay 20 francs to get back my wallet?

Woman: Yes.

*New Israeli Shekels, the currency in Israel. I had a total of 14.60 in my wallet.

So, incredibly frustrated both by the situation and this woman’s complete lack of facial expression, Ginsey and I resign ourselves to paying the 20 francs… but we don’t have any francs, we only have euros, and the exchange rate is in favor of euros. So after arguing with the woman about this too, we finally throw her 20 euro and run to catch our train to Milan. When we got to Milan, we got lost trying to find our hostel and when we got there we found out they had cancelled our reservation because the only thing we had managed to relay via Skype was that we wouldn’t be there that night, and they’d booked everything except this quasi-room in the attic with enough space for our bags, a bed, and our bodies. We were so tired we couldn’t bring ourselves to look for another hostel and we found a random restaurant where the people didn’t speak any English, mimed our way through dinner, and fell asleep within minutes of getting back to the hostel. The next day, fate had its way with us again when the machine to buy metro tickets refused to take our cards and proceeded to eat 20 euros. After being advised to wait a few minutes to see if the machine spat the money back out (it didn’t) and filling out a form, taking it to the central metro station, and finding the right people to take it to, we found out that this would be the second 20 euros we lost this trip. An angry Italian man informed us that we were basically out of luck and he got very, very upset with us when we asked what we could do. He was shouting, bouncing up and down, and waving his arms in the air as we tried to relay to him that we understood what he was saying. So that was no fun. We faxed the form with contact and bank info to the main metro office and hopefully we reduce our “wasted money” pile from 40 euro to 20. We wandered around Milan and saw a castle from the 12th century, complete with Michelangelo’s unfinished last work, Pieta Rondanini. We saw the Duomo and a whole bunch of stores that were so fancy I was afraid to look at them, and the beautiful Milan Cathedral before we grabbed a bite to eat and headed to the train station for our next trek. In short, as I’m sure you can see, our first two days in Europe were a little rough. Even so, misadventures are still adventures, and Ginsey and I have mostly managed to laugh everything off and roll with the punches.

In stark contrast to our first few days, Slovenia has been perfect. It’s beautiful here. Actually, I don’t think beautiful even covers it – it’s unreal. Ljubljana is the kind of city where every building looks like it could be on a postcard. Right now we’re in Bled, a small town about 45 minutes from Ljubljana that’s right on a gorgeous lake with a magnificent church on an island in the middle of it. So basically it looks straight out of the movie Frozen. Everything is lush and green, we ate apples and raspberries and grapes and pears and walnuts straight off the trees as we walked through the village today, and the view from where we’re staying looks like it was painted. It’s unbelievable. Today we visited the Vintgar gorge and, even in the pouring rain, it was so so so stunning. The gorge is covered in moss, with a river running whose fluctuates from a deep, mysterious blue to a bright, clear emerald turquoise. Even soaked to the bone and shivering, we loved every second.

So that’s all for now! We leave on Saturday for Berlin where we will meet another friend from Ulpan, Rebekah. Three’s a party right? If you want to read more about my first three months in Israel, feel free to check lanewithalamed.wordpress.com, where I’ve been blogging until now, and click on the link below for pictures!

https://www.flickr.com/photos/68441434@N05/sets/72157647618347298

European Adventures: Spring Break Part 1

Four countries, five cities and two weeks later, I have finally returned to Tel Aviv after an unforgettable spring break in Europe. Because my journey and experiences were so memorable (and lengthy), this post will be split into two parts to ensure that I don’t miss a beat.

My trip began in the land of pizza and pasta, and let’s just say, Italy didn’t disappoint with its food. The first few days were spent in Florence with friends who are studying there for the semester. We hit the touristy spots including the David, Pitti Palace, Ponte Vecchio and the infamous leather market. We climbed the stairs of the famous bell tower opposite of the Duomo and watched the sunset over all of Florence at Piazzale Michelangelo. In between activities, my friends were sure to keep my stomach full with heart-shaped pizza and delicious gelato. I loved the quaint feeling that Florence had to offer coupled with its beauty and timeless history.
 photo IMG_0972.jpg
 photo IMG_1031.jpg
 photo IMG_1045.jpg
 photo IMG_1017.jpg
 photo IMG_1034.jpg

After leaving my UF friends in Florence, my Tel Aviv friends and I headed south to Rome. Though I had been to Rome before, my experience was definitely different four years later traveling with friends instead of family. We spent the first day touring around and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, while our second day was spent getting down and dirty in the kitchen.
 photo IMG_1070.jpg
 photo IMG_1225.jpg

We booked a private cooking class with Chef Guido and his wife in their apartment outside of Rome. This was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. For about six hours we learned, prepped and cooked a four-course traditional Italian meal. Because Guido and his wife Elena spoke little English, a translator helped us communicate. Though it was challenging at times to understand one another, by the end we all became quite comfortable and were truly able to appreciate the art of cooking. After all, no matter what language you speak, everyone can appreciate a delicious meal.
 photo IMG_1095.jpg
 photo IMG_1115.jpg
 photo IMG_1172.jpg

Our final masterpiece consisted of an antipasto appetizer, homemade bolognese (we even made a vegetarian version for me!) with handmade tagliatelle pasta, caprese salad, a veal and prosciutto dish, and finally, tiramisu for dessert. All of our hard work really paid off while we enjoyed our lunch on their outdoor terrace overlooking the countryside of Rome. What a day!
 photo IMG_1196.jpg
 photo IMG_1209.jpg
 photo IMG_1217.jpg
 photo IMG_1216.jpg
 photo IMG_1221.jpg
 photo IMG_1222.jpg

After a wonderful five days in Italy, it was time to move on to our second country: France. From the moment we touched down, I was in such awe of how beautiful and classic the country was. The buildings and architecture looked like they were straight out of a movie, and each corner we turned was more breathtaking than the next. We truly did our share of walking, hitting the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, lovelock bridge and Napoleon’s tomb.
 photo IMG_1340.jpg
 photo IMG_1313.jpg
 photo IMG_1321.jpg
 photo IMG_1300.jpg

My favorite part of Paris was visiting the infamous home of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in Versailles. The decadence and detail put into each room and on every windowpane was unbelievable. The gardens were even more massive that it’s hard to believe only two people lived here for a period of time. I can now understand why the people of France were so resentful and angry at the king during the late 1700s. We finished our time at Versailles in true Parisian fashion at Angelina’s tea room sipping on hot cocoa and apple crumble. As Marie Antoinette would say: “Let them eat cake!”
 photo IMG_1349.jpg
 photo IMG_1365.jpg
 photo IMG_1371.jpg
 photo IMG_1378.jpg
 photo 1926893_10152394142822354_1878867827332921603_n.jpg

Though Paris was grand and glamorous, this was the first time that I truly encountered a large cultural difference while abroad. The people in Paris were not particularly kind or welcoming to us, and I constantly felt embarrassed for not knowing the language or customs. There were numerous times where customer service or simple manners fell short, and we concluded that being young American girls was probably why. Although this part of the trip was disheartening, Paris was a great place that I hope to return to one day when I’m older.

We kept our heads high and continued our adventures in Amsterdam for week two of the trip. Stay tuned!

Romeo et Giulietta… Arena di Verona

For a personal travel, this weekend I decided to go to Verona to watch an opera of Romeo and Juliet. It was fantastic! Great music, great performance, awesome use of lighting and minimalistic stage. Perfect. It was at the Arena di Verona, an old Roman amphiteather used for performances. We were sitting almost at the end on the rock benches and let me say, it was amazing to feel like and old roman empire citizen watching gladiators. Among other things we saw Juliet’s house, the famous balcony, her ‘tomb,’ and the Roman arena.

We took our time to walk along the river and we stopped at Castelvecchio. We just saw the exterior because as a class we will go back to Verona and actually enter the structure and see the magnificent staircase made by Carlo Scarpa. I can’t wait!

Venice and its Gondolas

I have to say I was very excited to go to Venice as our first officila trip! It has been a week but definitely worth to go back, speacially to go to Piazza St. Marco which is always busy.
We woke up early to take the train to Venice’s station and begin our journey. My first impression of Venice was awe and excitement to see the combination of classic building, the main canal running through and its gondolas. Pure art in a lagoon!

It was amazing to be able to go to some of Carlo Scarpa’s architecture. They are the Negozio Olivetti…

and the Querino Stampalia Foundation…

Where the Venecians used to build their big ships was made into a Contemporary Art museum and Tadao Ando was the architect who won the comission to build it…

Piazza St. Marco was another story. So many people it was crazy! We could not go into the basilica but definitely I want to go back for the piazza section.

It was a long day full of walking mostly but worthwhile visiting.

OHHHH by the way! recognice the story with the locks? they have one in Venice too!

See you very soon Venice!

Once Upon a Time in Italia

I realized I hadn’t left England since arriving. So I called up my friend Fiona in Spain, and Amanda in Nottingham, and decided we should try Italy. We left in the early hours of the 30th, and I hardly got any sleep from then on. Amanda and I met Fiona at the airport, then took a bus into Milan, where we’d booked a hostel for 2 nights. We checked into the hostel and then went straight into Milan.

I love taking public transportation, especially metros/undergrounds/subways. It makes me feel travel savvy, and independent. Because it makes me feel like a local. So we took the metro, which is always the cheaper alternative in a big city, to the city center. The first place we went to was the Duomo di Milano.
IMG_2198

IMG_2185

IMG_2196
It’s pretty impressive in person. We scaled the stairs to the top.

I will say this though: besides the Duomo and maybe a few other things Milan isn’t really the best city to tour. I know The Last Supper is featured in a museum there. There’s apparently a nice lake or something. It’s really a better place to people watch, and shop. Milan is the metropolitan business centre of Italy, and there’s a bunch of expensive shops there. So you can go window-licking. And if you’re into haut-couture? Go to Milan.

Something I’ve only really found outside of England (after having been to France and Italy) is that there are more street peddlers in other areas of Europe than in England. They’ll grab you by the wrist and slap a bracelet on you, or put a keychain in your hand, and urge you to pay for it, and harass you if you refuse. They mainly target tourists of course, so they lurk outside buildings such as the Duomo. If you see a man carrying a slew of bracelets, run away. One Senegalese man got to me, but Fiona spoke Wolof (a language from Senegal) to him and somehow convinced him let me have the bracelet he tied on me for free.

That evening was somewhat of a debacle. I’m not going to explain what happened, but I’ll say that my faith in humanity was restored. People are, in general, kind and willing to help. I met some great Milanese locals that night, so a round of applause for the people of Milan!

We went to bed at probably 2 a.m., and woke up the next morning at 6 to catch our train to Venice at 7. Miraculously we caught the train, then had a nice nap until we arrived in Venice.

IMG_2208

Two thirds exhaustion, one third delirium. Here’s Fiona and Amanda looking dapper.

Then Venice:

IMG_2212

Venice is fantastic. The people were fantastic. The city itself is just beautiful, even the run down bits. There are cute dogs running around everywhere. I urge anyone to go.

IMG_2215

Basilica San Marco

IMG_2216

There’s a phenomenon in Venice called “acqua alta” which means “high water”. In the fall months Venice is prone to flooding. This year they had the worst flooding in decades. However, by the time we got to Venice the waters had receded a bit, so the only parts that were inconveniently flooded were really just Piazza San Marco, which is the main tourist area of the city. Go figure. It’s got the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica di San Marco. Being in Venice in fall, and during acqua alta, meant that there weren’t many tourists at all. It was so hassle free. Although it is a bit chilly (in the 40s fahrenheit), I’d recommend Venice in the fall. Acqua alta isn’t that much of a nuisance either. There are raised platforms that you can navigate to keep your feet dry, or you can get a pair of rain boots and just trudge through the water. It’s an interesting experience and it’s something that locals deal with every year.

IMG_2211

Rialto, a bridge across the Grand Canal, known for its markets. This is a place where you can get Venetian souvenirs. It’s pretty touristy though.

We heard that it was a good idea to wander around Venice, and purposely get lost. A lot of the appeal of Venice is really just in enjoying the city, looking at the buildings, sitting in a random square and watching local kids play soccer. So that’s what we did. We ended up walking around, taking photos, looking at the graffiti.

IMG_2219

Love locks” on a bridge.

We caught the train back to Milan that night. Fiona left for the airport early. Then since Amanda didn’t print her boarding pass for our Ryanair flight back home we wandered around the city at 5 am asking hotels if we could use their “stampa” which is Italian for printer, because our hostel’s printer was broken. After a couple of failed attempts at other hotels, a very apathetic front desk attendant obliged and we printed her ticket and then left for our flight back home. I liked Italy, but it’s good to be back in England. It’s kind of like home now. It’s becoming familiar. I couldn’t image leaving after just one semester.

Alla prossima.

Arrivederci, Roma

This weekend I begin my journey back home. Today I left for Frankfurt, Germany to visit relatives who are then taking me to Dusseldorf on Saturday night for my flight back home on Sunday morning. It’s a miracle everyone, my suitcase weighed under 50 lbs!!!! It was 49.38 lbs to be exact. However, I’m pretty sure that’s what my carry-on weighs which is killing my back to carry. It is very bittersweet because I already miss Italy so much. I made so many wonderful new friends and had an experience of a lifetime. Seriously, everyone needs to study abroad. It is without a doubt one of the best things you can do. All the time and money put into it is so well worth it. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

Right now I’m sitting in the Vienna airport waiting for my flight to Frankfurt (yayy for free wifi.) As soon as I step off the plane to my right I see a Starbucks and realize things are already changing (Italy has zero Starbucks, but why should they?) I can’t wait to see my family on Sunday, especially my bff sister. You might be wondering what the first thing I have in mind to eat. The answer is easy: CHIPOTLE. I can’t wait. I’m like the biggest number one nerd fan of Friends so I really can’t wait to watch that 24/7 when I get back. And in 6 days I turn 21!!! So in spite of being sad about leaving Italy I do have some things to look forward to, this does not include school :).

Once I’m back in the states I’ll start thinking of more things I miss about Italy but here are just a few now that I miss: I miss attempting to speak Italian, the cappuccino & espresso, how insanely beautiful it is there, speaking of beauty-how beautiful the boyyyys are too, I already miss all my new friends (who are the coolest people ever), finding somewhere new & delicious to eat, the food of course, GELATO, and trust me I’ll think of more.

Everyone should have to opportunity to travel sometime during their lives, it’s something that changes you. Unfortunately for us who live in America we don’t find ourselves with the luxury most Europeans have in traveling. Germans are some of the most well-traveled people in the world, I met someone from Australia that said they can never get the right population census because everyone always goes on vacation, and Italians close down their businesses to go on vacation for like weeks-Rome dies in August because everyone goes on vacation. It just makes me realize how much more I have to see and how fortunate I am to be able to travel to the places I do, that I thank my dad for. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the chance to blog about my weekend trips to Prague and Ischia but I promise I will because they are so well worth talking about.

For now I just wanted to give a giant thanks to everyone from UFIC for giving us students the opportunity to partake in fantastic programs, the 4 phenomenal UF faculty members who went on this trip, all of my new friends for making this experience what it was, and to my family who I am fortunate to have support me in all my travels & ambitions.

Ciao Trastevere & the fantastic view from my apartment

Ciao apartment

Ciao gelato- tiramisu & watermelon

Ciao beautiful nights in Roma

Ciao Roma! You will be missed, but I will come back soon!

Firenze

July 12th the whole program left for Florence by train. Traveling by train is soo convenient. Our hotel was situated in central Florence, next to the Uffizi so it was a great location. The hotel was so cool, each room was different and it reminded me of a castle. Oh and did I mention it had air conditioning?? Yeah, awesome.

As a group we took a quick tour around the city, needless to say Florence is beautiful. After our tour we heard a rumor about the hotel having a rooftop you could go on. So before dinner we decided to check it out. Can you say most amazing view EVER?? It was like climbing the duomo to get the view of the city except you didn’t have to pay and the duomo was in the actual view.

We had a group dinner which of course consisted of delicious food, including the best bruschetta ever and yummy dessert (seriously I’m terrible about remembering the names of things.) Friday we had tours of the Uffizi and the Accademia. Unfortunately, they don’t allow you to take pictures in pretty much any of these places. For lunch was the most delicious, fresh panini place ever. For dinner 9 of us went to a place called Anita’s Tratoria. I shared a mushroom pasta dish for a first course (which was absolutely amazing) but what I was most looking forward to was the Bistecca Fiorentina. UH-MAZING. Just look at the picture if you don’t believe me. 1 kilo of delicious steak split between 3 of us girls. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their meals, so you can’t go wrong with anything you get there I’m convinced.

For Saturday we went to Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce and ended the tours with some gelato of course.  Some of the group spent the rest of the day to go to Pisa (to get the famous picture of course) while the rest of us did some SHOPPING! A must is to go to the leather market, so many cute purses. Relatively inexpensive and great for gift buying (I wear my new purse allll the time now.) But beware of the creepy people and the most un-haggler sellers (so weird.) For lunch we went back to the panini place and this time I built my own, which was so good I’m convinced they should have it on their menu (and name it after me of course.) For dinner we went to Gusta Pizza, sooo different from Roman style pizza but so delicious! With happy bellies me and 3 friends hiked up Piazzale Michelangelo for the sunset and view. Naturally, I complained pretty much the whole hike (so not in shape) but quickly stopped once we reached the top. the hike was totally worth it, it was nice to relax and watch the sunset on a breathtaking view of Florence.

Florence was a great weekend trip. It’s small enough to see in a couple of days and really get a feel for the city. Unfortunately it did not beat Rome as my favorite. I have a theory that people are biased to the one they study in. Florence is so beautiful but because it’s so much smaller than Rome it’s so overrun by tourists. It seriously drove me crazy how many tourists there were, EVERYWHERE. Also, everyone in Florence speaks English, which wasn’t the greatest when trying to use Italian. A highlight was seeing the David, so cool. Oh and Florence definitely wins for food, best food I’ve had so far.

View from the hotel rooftop

Bruschetta

Mushroom pasta

Say hello to the best steak ever

Panino

Guess I’m coming back!

The faux David

Roma, Pisa & Firenze

Image

Day 1
As I set off to Wien Mitte to catch the S-Bahn to the airport early in the morning, I hugged Phil goodbye & was on my way.  While I was waiting for the S-Bahn, a friendly American accent asked me if I spoke English.  Of course!  I ended up making sure he boarded the right train to the airport with me & I could tell he was relieved to have someone tell him that he was going the right way.  We ended up chatting all the way to the airport and found out we were both headed to Rome on the same flyniki flight!  It was cool showing someone around the airport that I knew like the back of my own hand and we chatted up until we boarded the plane.  Marlin from Reading, Pennsylvania (I have only met one person from there in my life: Katie Keene!) told me all about Amish country and his travels through Austria.  Once in Rome, we were able to navigate with a great buddy system, checked into the same hostel & explored the famous sites of Rome.  This took a lot of pressure off of me since I always go through the initial judgment of a city and take time to adjust.  We navigated to the Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Colosseum, Roman ruins, Parliament and some parks.  It was really neat to see the sights I have heard about in real life form… And let me tell you they were larger than life and super impressive.  I must have stared at each structure for at least five minutes a pop.  After a long day of walking, I was very pleased to go back to my ice cold room at the Yellow and relax after top notch lasagna, bruschetta & a glass of prosecco.

Day 2
Since the California girl in the top bunk above me & I chatted the night before, we discovered that we were both in Army JROTC in high school, members of the Raiders Adventure Training team and wanted to go to the Vatican Museum.  After walking outside the hostel room, I spotted a familiar face.  Was this possible?  It was!  Ursula, from Lima was traveling for a few days in Rome and we just happened to be there at the same time in the same hostel!  Talk about a small world.  Since we did not get to say goodbye to each other in Vienna, I was really excited to see her.  We all grabbed “the Italian Job” breakfast downstairs & headed out to the Vatican.  We walked through San Pietro Square and back around to join the queue for the Vatican Museum.  After a while, we were finally in & our five hour journey began.  Normally, I am not the museum type person, but I really enjoyed this one.  With an audio guide, a plan to follow and a buildup to the Sistine Chapel, it was totally worth it.  It’s crazy that it took Michaelangelo four years just to finish the artwork on the ceiling!  After the museum, we wandered past the Castle, Piazza Navona & to the Vatican Archives Museum.  They took 100 documents from the secret safes & put them out for the public to view.  Just to name a few: letters from Abraham Lincoln, the leader of the Confederate Army, etc.  I did not actually go in but I heard it was awesome!  Instead I ventured to Piazza Venezia where a beautiful flag of Italy was made with flowers and then to the Roman Forum and ruins.  I spent probably 3 hours there at least and was so impressed and did not want to leave- except they were closing!  I then navigated to my street and got a bite to eat: authentic Penne ala Vodka.  YUM.  Then it was off to relax and let my feet finally breathe!

Day 3
Since I also made friends with 4 Aussies that wanted to go see the Pope with me, we went.  It was really cool to see how many people gather to see him on Wednesdays and Sundays-so many schools, churches and pilgrims were recognized for their attendance.  Some sang songs, some chanted and some just cheered at the top of their lungs.  It was cool & at the end of the papal audience, the Pope blessed us!  It was incredible.  After we parted ways and I headed to Saint Peter’s Basilica to look around, go through the Tomb of the Popes & climb the Cupola (dome).  It was a massive 500+ steps to climb but so worth the view at the top.  I decided to write my family a postcard and send it from the Vatican post office.  After spending half the day in the Vatican City yet again, I was ready to hit the streets and find some pizza.  About 2 hours later, I finally ended up in front of the Pantheon and then made a long walk back to the Yellow Hostel with chocolate & strawberry gelato in hand.  SO SPECTACULAR !!!  I rested as soon as I got back, walked to Roma Termini to buy my train tickets to Pisa & Florence for the next day and then I just hung out and ate pizza with my roommates.  Great day but early rising!

Day 4
Rise & shine at 6am to catch my 6:57am train to Pisa.  As I sat in the train, I was rocked to sleep on and off for the next 2.5 hours which was great for me!  Toward the end of the train ride, I met an Aussie girl that was headed to Pisa and talked to her for a bit.  I was glad to hear that my plan to just see the Leaning Tower was approved by her (she had already been a few days ago & was going back to stay in a hostel that she really liked to make day trips to Siena & Cinque Terre).  I have to explain because if you have ever been to the town of Pisa you will know what I mean.  She pointed me in the right direction as soon as we were off the train & I decided to walk.  After 20 minutes, I was finally there & found out it really is a tilting building!  Very cool & even cooler was the hilarious pose that everyone was doing in their picture.  And no, I did not do that in my picture.  Gator chomp I did though!

Once I had walked back to the Pisa Centrale train station I was ready to board my train to Firenze (Florence).  Good thing I had a cappuccino & salami panini in hand because our platform changed 3 times.  Luckily the train was only a 40 minute ride & we were in Firenze in no time at all.  Upon arrival, I got a map and had the tourist info people give me a doable route for the day.  I tweaked it a little bit but I ended up climbing the Duomo (surreal beauty & vastness with an incredible view), wandering through the streets, going to the Palazzo Vecchio, visiting the world famous Uffizi Gallery, walked across the iconic Ponte Vecchio, seeing the Palazzo Pitti, wandering to grab some food and then walking through the shopping streets back to the train station.  Recap on the food: I got the lamest slice of pizza but the sausage atop was mouthwatering so that made up for it I suppose.  I spotted this one place after called Gilli and grabbed a fruit tart and then talked to the bartender and he ended making a “Jade Cocktail” for me.  Little did I know that with my cocktail I got unlimited access to the Antipasti bar.  Double score!  Once aboard the train, I relaxed as much as I could all the way to Rome.

Day 5

My last day spent in Rome was perfect and so relaxing.  Eliza, Nick & I went to breakfast across the street from the Yellow that was fantastic.  We then ventured off to Villa Bhorghese, Rome’s largest park that spans for miles.  It was as simple as just walking around, chatting, snapping some pictures and relaxing on the park benches.  We strolled past a fairy tale castle with a gorgeous lake, a former outdoor race track and several beautiful fountains.  Taking the last day of my Italia adventure off away from the loud buzzing city, crowded monuments & all of the touristy must sees could have not been better.  After spending about 3 hours at Villa Bhorghese, Eliza & I found our way back to the Yellow perfectly sans map!  We decided to grab some pizza at our favorite dig on the corner & sit outside at the Yellow’s great outdoor area.  We ended up making more friends from Australia (after I embarrassingly said that I could flawlessly discern the difference in accents between the English & the Aussies & yet thought they were both from England).  We also made friends with people from Tennessee and New Zealand.  We all ended up getting some mimosas before I had to take off for the airport and it was just enough time to enjoy a break before my hectic journey back to Wien.  Getting to the airport on the steamy Leonardo Express was no problem & picking up my boarding pass was quick but the delay of my flight for 2 hours was anything but fun.  I prepared to be at the airport 2 hours ahead of time & I ended up chilling there for 4 long hours.  At least I had some freshly prepared asparagus risotto!  Once our flight was pushed back again and our gate then changed, I figured it would be awhile.  Finally we began boarding soon after, shuttled by bus to our plane, sat on the plane for another half hour, got our departure place reassigned then finally we were off!  Ciao bella Roma!

At a late arrival of 11:30pm in Wien, I walked quickly through the redesigned airport to meet Phil at the arrivals area and I was so happy to see him.  With a family emergency & loss of a loved one, I was more than happy to be there for him.  It had been a hard week for him as well as his family and words cannot express my condolences.  All in all, with another rock thrown our way that we were able to overcome, I feel like we can weather many more storms to come.
I am glad that I decided to take a solo trip to Italy and fend for myself.  You develop a different part of you that was never there before.  I didn’t always feel comfortable but it definitely improved on this trip.  If you tell yourself that you can handle anything, pay attention and keep your wits about you, knock on wood that you will be FINE.  There were times that I just wish Phil, my family or friends were there holding my hand the whole time but you have to be your own person who makes their own decisions and creates their own personal happiness and growth.  I did it & enjoyed it…leaps and bounds of improvement if you remember or revert back to my Venezia post earlier in February!
To all of those out there who are afraid to travel alone, I was you and still am you but I still do things that scare me.  If you are always just comfortable, then who are you? Live life, get out there and make your own adventure…I promise you that you will never forget it or regret it.

Buongiorno Roma!

After about a 4 hour trek to make it to my apartment in Trastevere I finally made it. Rome is so beautiful. The apartment is so close to everything and it is HUGE, i love our apartment. We had our welcome dinner which was delicious accompanied with the Italy vs Spain soccer game. Italy lost, it was sad :(. But it was really cool to be here for it. The first week here has been crazy. On the second night we were here we went to the Deadmau5 concert, SO MUCH FUN. Nobody tells you the part about classes during study abroad, it sure isn’t fun reading and doing homework here. Classes though aren’t bad I’m taking 3 classes, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, Italian Cinema & Culture, and independent study. For independent study I have to write a diary in Italian while I’m here and the two other classes are pretty cool. I have class from 3-6 M-R so it’s not too bad. On Friday we went on a group trip to Hadrian’s Villa and Villa D’Este in Tivoli. Villa D’Este is so beautiful and nice to walk around. Tivoli is a really cute town too and we had the most amazing group lunch there, where we saw how pasta was made at the restaurant. With the help of Cori’s food app. and our teacher’s recommendations we have been eating really well here. I don’t think I can get enough pizza and of course gelato. Next week is going to be super packed with tours to the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine, and then finally a weekend in Florence!! SO EXCITED.Btw I got behind on blogging about my other trip but it was absolutely amazing!! Best trip yet! I would recommend going to Brugge & Venice. Overall Germany was probably my favorite and my least favorite was Luxembourg.

Hadrian’s Villa

The coolest restaurant ever

How to make pasta!

Antipasto

Ricotta and spinach pasta

Chicken

Some kind of delicious custard and berry dessert

Villa D’este

When life gives you lemons, book a trip to Italy.

This weekend I did something completely unthinkable. I sat outside, at a cafe, in a light sweater. I know. Hold back your excitement. As a Floridian, enjoying a nice day outside is perfectly normal. Well, this was the first time in months I’ve been outdoors without a jacket and scarf, so I reveled in it.

Other than that, things haven’t been all sunshiney. I faced a huge disappointment this week when I realized I wouldn’t be able to get a visa to go to China from the German Chinese Embassy, because I’m American, and I thus wouldn’t be able to spend 2 weeks with one of my best childhood friends on her study abroad. After all the excitement I had built up, I would be let down.

But when the sun came out this weekend, I couldn’t let myself be glum. It was beautiful, I was in Berlin, and there was so much excitement in the world. So, I grabbed my Kindle and read War and Peace while sitting at an outdoor cafe in the cool breeze, and I took some photos of Berlin with sunlight. Then, I went home. After a long conversation with someone who also loves art history about the unmatchable beauty of Rome, I decided it was fate and booked 4 days in Venice and 4 days in Rome. (At the hostels that user websites had voted the most fun and social, naturally.) I. can’t. wait. Following that, I went out to enjoy a typical St. Patty’s Day with great company. It’s amazing how one day of peace and happiness can erase the anxiety of a disappointment and make you appreciate everything around you.

In other news… I’m down to only about 2 weeks until my boyfriend comes from the USA!! And since I booked my Italian adventure, I also now have a flight back to Orlando. (I’m coming home some day, Mom and Dad!) Which is exciting but also kind of sad, because I know on April 22 this fairytale will be all over.