I’m back with new experiences to share!

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, but as many of you know, I recently spent three weeks traveling through Europe as my college graduation celebration and had many requests to blog about the trip. If you’re Facebook friends with me, the best way to learn about my trip is to check out my photo albums, as most of the photos will have detailed captions! We traveled to France, Italy, and Greece, and had an amazing time. While this post won’t give all the details of my trip since I’m traveling more this summer and then starting a new job, I wanted to tell you what it was that made this trip an incredible experience.

Sometimes it’s about the journey. Sometimes it’s about the experiences. This time it was about the people.

I went on the trip with my friend Danielle, whom I’d met last summer at my internship, and we researched and planned for months in preparation for the trip. Since we were funding most of the trip ourselves (our parents were kind enough to pay for our flights as our graduation gifts), we knew we had to do Europe the cheap way. We bought Eurail passes to save on train trips but we knew another big expense would be our accommodations. I had done hostels and hotels during my previous Europe trips and had managed to find some pretty good deals, but Danielle wanted to go even cheaper. Much to our parents’ dismay, we decided to try out Couch Surfing, a program where people open their homes for travelers to stay with them for free. And while we were a bit wary at first, it turned out to be an amazing experience that provided us with opportunities we never would have gotten otherwise.

While of course I’ll remember the glittering Eiffel Tower against the Parisian night sky, the candy colored buildings built into the cliffs of Cinque Terre, and the shiny blue domes against the bright white town of Oia, Santorini; the fondest memories came from the simplest pleasures.  When I look back at the trip, I remember our “backwards night” in Paris where we ended up having dinner at 1 a.m. and Joe, our host in Paris, doing his best Jamaican accent impression. I remember conversations late into the night comparing our culture with our Italian hosts’ culture. I remember having a foosball tournament on the roof of an apartment overlooking Rome, and four friends in Naples cheering me on as I finished the last slice of the largest pizza I’ve ever eaten. And in Greece, I remember laughing hysterically on our scuba trip at a man who kept referring to our scuba guides as Greek gods, a 70-year-old Dutch man in a speedo who took way too many pictures of us, and a boat ride that was more like a whitewater rafting trip. It was meeting all these people, learning about their lives, and making connections that really made the trip an amazing experience.


Ireland, Winter Wonderland, Thanksgiving, and Spain

So normally I would blog about these things separately but I’m really behind and running out of time so I’m combining them into one post. I’m just giving you brief overviews and shortened versions because I will be home in 5 days (not looking forward to leaving) and you can just ask me about them in person at that point.

The second weekend in November I went to Ireland with Clinton since he had relatives in Dublin that allowed us to stay with them. The first night we got in we were greeted with the most delicious traditional Irish meal: corned beef, cabbage, soda bread and potatoes, of course. Saturday morning we were greeted with a huge traditional Irish breakfast, including pancakes, sausage, ham, eggs and Black Pudding (which I discovered the last day was pig’s blood….). That day  we explored Dublin. We saw Trinity College, the old post office, Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral and just walked around the city. That evening we toured Guinness Brewery, which was really interesting. We got free pints of Guinness on the tour, however stout grosses me out so I passed mine off to Clinton. That night Clinton’s relatives made us Irish Stew (beef, carrots, celery and potatoes) with bread and even more potatoes on the side. People aren’t kidding when they say the Irish love their potatoes.

Dublin Castle

Personally I wasn’t a fan of Dublin as a city. I can’t explain what, but it was just lacking something (I’m not the first of my friends to say this). It just didn’t have the buzz and good vibe of a fun city like London or New York so the next day I wanted to get out of Dublin and see some Irish countryside. We found out about a town a little ways outside of Dublin called Howth, which is a seaside fishing village. We had a beautiful sunny day (although it was like 20 degrees outside) and the town was gorgeous. We walked around the harbor, saw seals, walked out to the lighthouses and down on the rocks to the sea. After warming up in a coffee shop we decided to do part of the cliff walk before we ran out of daylight. The views from the tops of the cliffs were absolutely stunning. It felt more like what I was expecting from Ireland, with the grassy hills and the ocean views for miles, redeeming Ireland from the disappointment of Dublin. That night we went out to a pub with some friends and then left to go back to London the next day.

The Harbor at Howth

If you haven’t figured it out by my status updates and pictures and what not, London is obsessed with Christmas. They lit the decorations the first week of November. And to add to their Christmas obsession, they have a giant festival/market called “Winter Wonderland” in Hyde Park. I went to this with some of my friends and I have never been in a happier place. Everything is CHRISTMAS! Christmas themed rides, Christmas food, Christmas activities (decorate your own Gingerbread), Christmas souvenirs, etc. We first got food (hog roast sandwich for me with apple sauce and stuffing= delicious!) and then walked around the market. We rode the Christmas roller coaster and then headed over for our ICE SKATING session!! Winter Wonderland has the largest outdoor ice skating rink in London. Ice skating is one of my favorite activities and it was so much fun to do it in the middle of London, my favorite place in the world. We all had a blast skating around, holding hands, avoiding running into the stragglers and posing for pictures. And I didn’t fall once! Then we got hot drinks (I had mulled wine, so good) and got in line to see Father Christmas! After telling Santa what we wanted for Christmas we got crepes (Jacquie and I split an After Eight mint one) and headed home.


For Thanksgiving, I was a bit bummed about not having a homemade meal but then a couple weeks ago I got the most amazing news that one of my good friends Carlos (aka Michael Gaytan) was coming to London to be with his family (who lives here) for Thanksgiving and I was welcome to join them! Wednesday night we had our group Thanksgiving where our faculty advisor made the turkey and each flat made a few dishes. Then Thursday after class I hoped on a train to Carlos’s town. His house was gorgeous and his family was so welcoming. We were able to watch American football (something I haven’t seen in a while) and had a delicious, traditional, homemade Thanksgiving. I ate way too much! It was so much fun to see Carlos because I’d missed him terribly!

Carlos and I at Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving night I did not sleep since I had to catch a flight to Barcelona at 7am on Friday. After some difficulties getting to the airport, Sarah and I finally made it safely, ate a large breakfast at 5am consisting of porridge and croissants (I don’t know why we did this) and literally passed out on the airplane (I don’t even remember taking off). We landed in Barcelona around 10am and took a bus to our hostel. We had the most fun hostel, with the nicest employees (all young people) and we met some really awesome people who were staying there. We had heard that Park Guell was a must see so we decided to go to that for our first Barcelona adventure. On the way we saw some amazing buildings that Gaudi designed. The park was the coolest park I’d ever seen. There were so many different trails with awesome city views and you could see Gaudi’s influence all throughout the park. He designed two houses at the entrance to the park that look like gingerbread houses and there was beautiful tiling all throughout. After the park we decided we needed some food and a siesta. We had seafood paella and then took a nice nap before going to a club on the beach for the night with some guys from the hostel.

Gingerbread houses at Park Guell

Saturday we decided to explore the huge Park Montjuic. We saw the Olympic stadium and walked through some beautiful botanical gardens on our way to the castle. However, our map failed to inform us that the castle was basically on top of a mountain and we had to hike up to it. After a loooooong, exhausting walk we finally reached the castle and could see over Barcelona on one side and the ocean on the other side. After the park we headed back to the center of the city and walked down La Rambla, the main street in Barcelona with all the crazy street performers. We also walked through the huge market and got fresh fruit juice. Then we found a restaurant that had a “tapas tour” which consisted of 20 different types of tapas. We had to put on our eating game faces for that one. That night we went to a bar that had drinks where you would roast a marshmallow on a fire lit on the bar and then dip it in your drink to extinguish the fire. We then went to a club that was fair themed, with fun mirrors, a circus tent and carnival decorations. I was taught to Salsa dance by a random Spanish man. Typical.

Candy at the market

Sunday we headed to the beach! Unfortunately, Barcelona was having unusually cold weather so we could not go in the water but I did go ankle deep, causing my feet to go numb. The waves were huge and there were so many surfers. We beach combed for a while, walked around the wharf and ate lunch before heading to the Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia is a church designed by Gaudi that has been in the building process for over 100 years. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. The architecture was stunning. The details on the front of the church were so intricate, the architectural design on the inside was amazing, and the stained glass was the most beautiful, colorful glass I’d ever seen. Of all the cathedrals I’ve seen this trip, it was definitely my favorite. That night we had Mexican food (we were kind of over Spanish food…it wasn’t our favorite thing ever) and then went to a karaoke pub with people from our hostel. It was hilarious to hear Spanish people do karaoke of American songs. Also on another note, people in Barcelona don’t speak Spanish. They speak Catalan, which was a disappointment because we wanted to be able to practice our Spanish. After the pub, we went to a Brazilian club. Barcelona people are crazy. They really like to party all night. I couldn’t keep up and ended up going home at 4am most nights, whereas most people stay out until 6. I now know why the siesta is important to the Spanish. Monday we went to the chocolate museum, went into a few souvenir shops and then headed to the airport for our flight back to London.

Inside the Sagrada Familia...showing some of the stained glass

London updates: I am now finished with class! Exams were easy of course…just like my whole semester has been. Now I have 4 days of freedom and will be on a flight back to America Monday morning 😦

Oh and it’s been snowing here for the past 2 days! Yay!

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We stayed with pirates in Venice.

And the saga continues…

Sarah and I arrived by train in Venice around 3pm to a beautiful sunny day. As soon as we walked out the door of the train station I was greeted by the sparkling blue Grand Canal lined with brightly colored pink, orange and yellow buildings.

First view of Venice

For the first two nights of our stay in Venice, we had to stay at a hotel off the island (in a town called Marghera) since the only good hostel we could find was booked for those nights, so we had to take a bus from the main island to where we were staying. Once we checked into our hotel, we decided to explore Marghera a little while waiting for the next bus (they only came once an hour). We discovered that Marghera has 1 restaurant, 1 grocery store and 1 gelateria. Quite the thrilling town.  The bus finally came and once we got back onto the island we decided to go to the Piazza San Marco. On the way we crossed the Rialto, one of the famous bridges that crosses the Grand Canal. We saw the Basilica of San Marco and walked around the Piazza where we went insome shops and saw amazing Murano glass chandeliers. Begin obsession with these chandeliers. I would probably give up my first born child for one of them. Kidding, but that’s how much I want one. After walking around for a while, we decided to get dinner. We found this cute little restaurant with the most friendly waiters and had amazing quattro formaggio pasta. We were pretty tired after dinner so we just went back to the hotel and watched James Bond in Italian (and understood probably 10 words).

View from the Rialto of the Grand Canal at night

The next morning we woke up bright and early to catch the bus into Venice. We had read in a guidebook that if you take the Vaporetto Route 1 then you get a tour of the Grand Canal. Vaporettos are essentially large water taxis. They are Venice’s form of public transportation. Best public transportation ever. We decided to take this from the Piazzelle Rome to Piazza San Marco. We saw numerous gondolas, churches and historical landmarks on our boat ride. We were really able to marvel at the architecture. What I think is so cool is that in most places the water literally goes up to the door. There is no land between the buildings and the canal. It’s such a crazy/cool thing to see. We then went in the Basilica of San Marco which was absolutely gorgeous. Inside, the whole ceiling is made of gold mosaic. The outside of the church is covered with intricate carvings and exquisite paintings.

San Marco Basilica

We next decided to go to the Accademia Gallery which had some cool Renaissance and religious art but felt a little repetitive after a while. Then going for a completely different type of art we went to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. We lucked out because it just happened to be “pay what you like” day and we had arrived in the 2 hour window for it. So we paid 2 euros to get in instead of the regular 12. I liked this museum better than the Accademia because I prefer modern art. After getting our fair share of Picasso, Ernst and Kandinsky, we finished the museum right in time for dinner. We decided to go back to our hotel, freshen up, get dressed up and go out for dinner and then to one of the famous bars after. Well, this plan failed. We get back to our hotel without a problem, however when we went to catch the bus back, it left us! We had been at the stop and the bus pulled up, stopped, opened the doors and then slammed them right as we were halfway in. At which point we banged on the doors but accomplished nothing, as the bus driver drove off, almost with us hanging out the doors. We realized that if we waited for the next bus we wouldn’t have enough time in the city to make it back for the last bus of the night. After standing in shock at the bust stop for a good 5 minutes we decided (well, we had no choice) to go the 1 restaurant in the town of Marghera. We walked in and saw some Americans that we’d briefly talked to the previous night in our hotel. Begin friendship. Two of the boys decide to come sit with us and explain that they’re from Pennsylvania but are studying abroad in Croatia and visiting Italy on a weekend trip. As the night went on, more and more people on their trip began to join us. We all split a bottle of wine and were at the restaurant for a good 3 hours just hanging out and having fun. We also befriended the one waiter who spoke English and used him as our translator. After we finally got the hint the restaurant was closing, we went back to the hotel and hung out on the balcony off our room. Before calling it a night, we exchanged contact info and some of them are even coming to visit us this weekend in London!

The next morning we checked out of our hotel and moved into our hostel on the actual island of Venice, which was much more convenient. Now here’s where the real experience begins. We followed directions to our hostel, which had a private bridge straight to the door of it. We buzzed in and while waiting for a reply, a guy suddenly sticks his head out the window above us and says “Ello! Do you have a reservation?” After the dumbfounded looks on our face finally left we said yes and he buzzed us in. We go upstairs to be greeted by the same guy, who introduces himself as James and we immediately realize looks just like Orlando Bloom from Pirates of the Caribbean. And, to add to his pirate looks, he talks to us and we realize he speaks just like a pirate too. He looks to be about our age and explains to us that him and four other guys own the hostel. After exchanging “what have we gotten ourselves into” looks, me and Sarah pay the rest of our deposit and move in with the pirates. We meet them all, realize they are all college age guys, and they explain to us they are from Australia.

This is what James looked like

After dropping our luggage in a 10 bed room, Sarah and I hopped on a vaporetto to Murano, the glass blowing island. We walked around the island, visited the Museum of Glass Blowing, had a guy show us how to make glass hearts and butterflies and did lots of shopping! I bought some of the most beautiful glass souvenirs there. Oh and let’s not forget how I lusted over the hundreds of glass chandeliers. That night we decided to go out with the guys who owned the hostel. They took us to Frulala, a smoothie and fruity drink hut/outdoor bar, which was really cool.

Glass Star on Murano

We reserved our last day in Venice as a shopping day. We also rode a gondola across the canal because we couldn’t afford to pay 80 euros for a fancy one. We went to a few little outdoor markets and shops all over Venice where I bought even more souvenirs for my family. That night we just stayed in and hung out with people in the hostel since we had an early flight back to London the next morning.

So there you have it…the three part account of my fall break! I wish I could write about everything but I tried to condense it! I loved Italy. It’s such a beautiful country with such an amazing culture full of love and food (and love of food). I hope to one day go back and explore even more of it!

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We got a great workout in Florence.

We left Rome Monday morning to take a train to Florence. We were staying with Amanda’s friend Lexi who studies abroad there so she met us at the train station to take us back to her flat. After settling in, Sarah and I decided to explore the city a little. Our first stop was the Ponte Vecchio, where we browsed the jewelry shops on it and pretended like we could afford any of it. We went into some more shops around the bridge area, got gelato, then walked around basically the whole city, passing the Duomo, Piazza Signoria, and some famous churches.

The Ponte Vecchio

That night Lexi wanted to take us to a family style restaurant since she knew a lot of the waiters there. Let me tell you, I have never had so much food in one meal in my life. They first brought out the most addictive bread, then for our antipasti they brought tomato bruschetta, eggplant bruschetta, buffalo mozzerella with cherry tomatoes and balsamic. Then they brought a meat platter with prosciutto, turkey, salami and some other meat, then roasted eggplant, zucchini and peppers. And then for the pasta there was penne with red sauce, penne with a spicier red sauce and tortellini in a truffle cream sauce with mushrooms, and then lemoncellos for dessert. It was all so amazing! And it was only 15 euros each (there were 9 of us who went), which also included 4 bottles of wine and 2 large bottles of water. After dinner, we went over to the bar part of the restaurant and hung out for a little while before going out. Fabio, the owner of the restaurant, and one of the waiters, Berat, decided to come to the club with us. We went to YAB which was a suave club with some awesome dance music. We had a lot of fun; a great first night to kick off our stay in Florence.

The next day since we had warm, beautiful weather, we decided to tour the Duomo and climb the dome. The Duomo is a gorgeous building from the outside. It is made out of pink, white and green marble with intricate carvings. It’s so extravagant looking. However, the inside was less than impressive. It was pretty plain, except for a giant fresco in the dome. We got a closer look at this fresco while we climbed the dome, where we discovered that it actually had some pretty disturbing things in the hell part of the painting. 463 stairs later, we reached the top, completely out of breath. We burst out of the dim interior of stone spiral staircases into the bright sun light on the balcony atop the dome. We had a clear day so we could see the whole city of Florence for miles in all directions. It was breathtaking.

The Duomo

After a not as exhausting climb down, we went to the outdoor market where I bought some Italian souvenirs for my family. While we were leaving the market, there was something going on and the police had to be called. We never figured out what happened, but I did fall in love with one of the police officers. And by fall in love, I mean I dragged Sarah with me to sneakily follow him around on his whole investigation so I could stare at him for as long as possible. I can’t help their police uniforms are adorable and I have a weakness for Italian men anyway. After my love left, we walked around a little more, saw the church of San Lorenzo, a fort, and even more churches. For dinner, we went to a restaurant where I had the best pizza I’ve ever had in my whole life. That night we went to an English pub (a little taste of home, aka London) and an Irish pub to see the Elon shirt on the ceiling. We also ran into the waiters from the night before and decided to go to Twice, another club, with them. We weren’t a fan of this club though because all the guys there were very creepy, so we left fairly early.

For our last day in Florence we went to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see the Statue of David. It was amazing. It was much bigger in person than I expected it to be. Everything about the statue is so detailed, from the curls in his hair to the veins in his hand. After the gallery, we decided to go to the Piazza Michelangelo because we’d heard the views of the city from it were amazing. We followed signs to it but the way you would normally go was closed for some reason so we had to hike up some extremely steep streets until we reached the top, which was quite exhausting. We first found a church at the top which also had excellent views of the city. After taking a lot of pictures there, we moved on to the Piazza Michelangelo. The views of the city were panoramic from up there. And it was sunset which made it all the more gorgeous.

View of the city from the church atop the hill

That evening we went to a Spanish restaurant with some friends Sarah knew. After dinner, we went to a club called Fullup for our last night in Florence. One of the waiters from the previous nights worked as a bartender there too so he was able to get us into the VIP section which was a lot of fun. The next morning we left for Venice.

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There is no entrance to the Roman Forum.

Italy: 10 days. 3 cities. 1198 pictures. 20 meals of pizza and pasta. 7 different flavors of gelato. 100s of creeper comments by Italian men. 17 souvenirs. 1 unforgettable fall break.

Since there is just so much to write about each city I visited, I’m doing individual posts for each place. I’ll be starting with Rome, where I spent three and a half days.

Our flight left for Rome at 6:50am on Friday morning which meant we had to leave for the airport at 4am. Not fun, especially when you only get 2 hours of sleep. Similar to our Germany trip, I had booked a taxi for us since the Tube doesn’t open til 5:30am and it’s cheaper than the Heathrow Express if you have 3 people splitting the price. So we get to the airport in plenty of time and Amanda had read online that our flight was out of Terminal 3. Well, Sarah failed to inform us that the boarding passes said Terminal 4 until after our taxi drove away. We ran inside and found out that the only way to Terminal 4 was via train, which didn’t open til 5:30 and we probably wouldn’t make our flight in time. Panicking, we ran outside and asked a couple bus drivers if there were any buses going to Terminal 4. Obviously there were not. There also were not any regular taxis outside, because really, who needs a taxi at 4:30 am? After asking and being rejected by 2 prebooked taxis that had just dropped people off, we were about to cry. Finally we saw one more taxi driver who Amanda ran up to and goes PLEASE I’ll give you 20 pounds to drive us to Terminal 4. First childhood rule broken: don’t talk to strangers. After the look of confusion left his face he agreed to do so and we hopped in his car. Second childhood rule broken: don’t get in the car with strangers. The man drove like a maniac to get us to the Terminal in time (which was 10 minutes away). He also offered us lemon candy which we willingly ate to calm ourselves. Third childhood rule broken: don’t take candy from strangers. After rejecting everything our parents taught us, we finally arrived safely at our terminal, flew through bag check and security (after being randomly selected to have my bag scanned…this always happens to me. Do I really look like a sketchy person?) and made it to our gate right on time. As soon as we got on the flight we all immediately fell asleep. I’m sure we looked like quite the attractive trio: Amanda curled up in a ball on the seat, Sarah with her head back and mouth wide open, and me passed out face down on the tray table. I came out of my sleepy haze just in time to see us flying over the Swiss alps, which was absolutely breathtaking. We flew into Rome Fiumicino, which is right next to the beach, so it made for a pretty landing. We had to take a bus shuttle from the airport to the city center and then find our hostel from there. Luckily we didn’t have any trouble and our hostel was a nice little place right near the train station (convenient). All the staff there were such nice Italian men who gave us maps and highlighted routes for us to take to each major sightseeing destination.

After settling in and getting lunch (we learned when you order what you think is a slice of pizza, you just get a whole pizza), we decided to go to the Colosseum! Now, I’ve studied Ancient Roman history about 3 times and it falls right behind Ancient Greece as my favorite thing to study. The whole walk to there I tried to contain my excitement but I couldn’t hold it in anymore when I got the first glimpse of the Colosseum through the streets. I squealed and smacked Sarah with my map several times out of excitement. It took everything in me not to run down the street. After having a photoshoot on a bridge in front of the Colosseum, we decided to go in.

So excited.

Tickets were 12 euros and granted us access to both the Colosseum and the Roman Forum ruins. Walking into the Colosseum was a surreal experience. The first thing that you notice is how big it is. Seeing pictures of it doesn’t give you a correct sense of just how massive it is. There are multiple levels and you don’t realize how high up they go until you actually climb them. Second thing that hits you is the history this place holds. It was so crazy to remember everything I studied and be standing in this place that I’d heard about for so long but felt that I’d never see. It was also a bit eerie to think about what went on in there; the gladiator fights, how many people were killed, animal fights, etc. We walked around each level and got some amazing views of the city and the ruins around the area.

View of Rome from the Colosseum

We also were there around 4pm which made for the most perfect lighting (yes I am a photography nerd) so I have some beautiful pictures. After the Colosseum we followed signs to the entrance of the Roman Forum which was supposedly 200 meters away. Begin confusion. Suddenly the signs stop and we arrive at a gate which seems a bit too small to be the entrance. The gate is also closed. We stare at it for a little while then decide that can’t possibly be it, so we continue walking. After determining that we had walked more than 200 meters, we decided to turn around and go back to the main area around the Colosseum. We walk up a path next to the Forum that still does not lead to an entrance. We stop and ask a woman at the exit of the forum where the entrance is. She tells us to go back the way we came. We ask her if the entrance has a gate. She laughs at us and says no. We walk back the first way, even further then we walked before. We even walk all the way around the forum and still find no entrance, just stone walls. We finally give up since the Forum closes in 30 minutes and apparently no entrance exists anyway. We walked around Rome for a while, saw some big historical buildings, had dinner and went to bed early since we were exhausted.

The second day we went to the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica. After waiting in line for about an hour we finally got into the Vatican. We walked around through the museum and large halls of statues that, while interesting, were not enough to overcome my excitement to see the Sistine Chapel. All the ceilings in the Vatican buildings were gorgeously decorated; gold ornate decorations, paintings that actually looked like sculptures, and paintings depicting different scenes. However nothing compares to the Sistine Chapel. When you first walk in, it takes your breath away. It’s almost overwhelming there’s so much to look at. I automatically found the Creation of Adam painting and went from there. Seeing it in real life was so surreal. It’s so obvious just how talented Michelangelo was. Much to my disappointment, we were not allowed to take pictures inside of it. After the Vatican Museum we headed over to St. Peter’s Basilica. It was huge and the inside was so exquisite.

St. Peter's Basilica

We also got to see the Pieta, the sculpture of Mary holding Jesus, which is actually Michelangelo’s only sculpture that bears his name. I also couldn’t believe I was seeing that in real life. Growing up, my Mom and Dad had a small replica of the Pieta on their nightstand and I would always look at it. I never knew what it was until I was older and then seeing the real thing was once again, a totally surreal experience.

We walked along the river back to our hostel and saw some more historical sites, including the Castel St. Angelo and the Piazza del Popolo. That night we hung out at our hostel with some Spanish people we met who were also staying there. It was fun because I got to put my two years of Spanish to work, seeing as they only spoke about 2 English words.

Our last full day in Rome, a guy who worked at our hostel mapped out a walking tour for us that would take us past the major tourist sites. We started our journey at the Trevi Fountain, where we all threw coins in, guaranteeing our return to Rome.

Throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain

We next saw the Pantheon, the giant dome with the hole in the ceiling. Then we went to Piazza Navona where we sat on the fountain there and people watched for a while. Moving on, we next reached the Spanish Steps. I was a bit disappointed because there were no flowers on the steps like you always see in the pictures. I wonder if this has to do with the season. But we still joined the hoards of people on the steps and sat and people watched again. We then headed up to the Medici Villa where we got so amazing panoramic views of the city. Sarah left Rome that evening to visit a friend in Florence a day early, so Amanda and I decided to treat ourselves to a nice last dinner in Rome. We searched Trip Advisor to find a good restaurant around our hostel and came up with one called Babbo’s. It was rated the 6th best restaurant out of the 2032 in Rome, so we knew we had to go. The restaurant had a quiet, cozy atmosphere, and would have been the perfect setting for a romantic Italian date. We started our meal with an amazing antipasti of Buffalo Mozzarella and tomatos, and then had main meals of pasta (perfectly aldente) with broccoli, olive oil sauce and pecorino cheese for me and shrimp risotto for Amanda. We finished our meal with an apple torte in cream sauce and then got complimentary biscotti dipped in Sherry. It was seriously the best food I’ve ever had. It’s worth going back to Rome just for that.

The next morning we got up to go to St. Peter’s Basilica again to climb the dome since we missed out on that the other day, but unfortunately there was about a 2 hour wait and we would have missed our train. We asked a guard (who looked like an Italian version of Bradley Cooper) if there was any way we could skip the line since we didn’t need to go back into the Basilica, but sadly there was no way around it. So instead we had a relaxing Italian breakfast and then hopped on our train to Florence!

I had to condense my pictures into the slideshow for this post so please look at those and if you are friend with me on facebook, there are about 120 pictures of Rome on there!

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A Wonderful Weekend in Germany

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to Germany for a few days. I had been to Germany before about 6 years ago and loved it so of course I was super excited to visit again. Our longtime family friends, the Fischers (Harald, Inga and their daughters Sophie, Clara and Lea), were kind enough to let me, Sarah and Clinton stay with them for the weekend.

Our flight was at 8:40am Friday morning. Which means I woke up at 5am because I had booked a taxi for us at 6:15am (look at me being all responsible and waking up early). We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so I bought a latte to become fully conscious. After boarding our flight, Sarah and I high-fived and congratulated ourselves on successfully booking and boarding our first flight without any help from our parents. Neither of us had gone through this process totally alone before (booking the tickets, arranging transportation to the airport, printing boarding passes, making sure we got there on time, having all the correct papers for customs) and it felt good to know that we were being “real adults” in the real world. We flew Swiss, which we quickly learned is the best airline ever. On the short 1 hour flight, they gave us warm croissants, Swiss chocolate and drinks (compare to: the miniscule bag of pretzels I got on a 4 hour flight to California). They also gave the children free puzzles and Rubik’s cubes. We had a layover in Zurich, where I continued to say Switzerland (Swveetzerland) in a Swiss accent, much to the annoyance of Sarah (and probably the Swiss people who heard me). After another short 30 minute flight (and more chocolate!) we landed in Nuremburg where Sophie picked us up. The last time I had seen Sophie was 6 years ago so it was great to see her again. We were best friends when we were little but I’d only seen her twice since they left to go back to Germany. Every time we see each other though it feels like we’ve never been apart.

Sophie drove us home where we were greeted with hugs and kisses from the rest of the family. After settling in and eating some delicious German cake, we went to explore Coburg, the town the Fischers live by. I had been there before but it was so weird to see a place I had been to so long ago and thought I’d never see again. After sightseeing and doing a little shopping, we headed home and ate a wonderful homemade dinner of beef Goulash.

View from a hill in Coburg

Sophie wanted us to experience German nightlife so she had planned to take us out that night. German nightlife is quite different than London nightlife. In London, the last call for bars is around 2 or 3am so people go out earlier, normally around 10pm. The Germans however, like to go out late. The last call for bars is at 5am, so people don’t go out until about midnight. Some guys that Sophie knew came over to hang out with us before we went out and they were hilarious (they were all our age). One guy wanted us to call him Doug because he was obsessed with “The King of Queens” and constantly thought we were talking about him every time we spoke English. They spoke English fairly well but wanted us to communicate with them in German. Obviously this did not happen. We only learned how to say cheers (“prost”). They were also interested to know what other languages we knew, so about 5 different languages were spoken between us.

Sophie called a cab to pick us at 11:45 to take us to the first club in Coburg we were going to go. Unfortunately, Doug and the other boys didn’t come with us because they didn’t want to pay to go out, at which point me and Doug sang “Money Money Money” by Abba together (totally normal). The first bar we went to was a swanky, contemporary bar where we met some other guys Sophie knew through her boyfriend. Sophie’s boyfriend is 25 so these guys were older than Doug and his friends. Vitamir is a lawyer, Christopher is a Ralph Lauren model (I kid you not, he told me to google him) and I don’t think I ever found out what Benedict did. They knew English really well and wanted to communicate with us fully in English, which was definitely good. They were very nice and funny guys, and also total gentlemen! This was quite a nice change compared to most of the American boys I’ve met….chivalry does still exist! You just have to go to Europe!

After the bar, we went across the street to an underground club where we met up with even more of Sophie’s friends (she is quite the popular girl). It looked like you were descending into a castle’s dungeon to get to the club. They were playing crazy techno German music so we wasted no time hitting the dance floor. The way people dance in Germany is also different than the dancing you see in American clubs. It’s more about actually dancing than just disgustingly grinding, so it was a lot more fun. After dancing with the model for a while (of course) he said in his cute little German accent “I would love to have girlfriend like you”, at which point I had to break the news to him that I was only in Germany for 3 days. This made him very sad but he told me everything would be ok when we got married. To this I just had to laugh and keep dancing to distract him from any future marriage proposals. All of us were having so much fun that we didn’t even realize it was 4am when we finally decided to leave!

The next morning, Saturday, we went to the Veste Coburg, which is the castle in Coburg.

View of the Veste Coburg from the hike up to it

The hike to the castle had an excruciating amount of stairs but the view from the top made it all worth it. We toured the inside of the castle too and saw some neat artifacts.

Sophie, Sarah, Inga and I at the top of the Castle!

After the castle tour, we ate at an authentic German restaurant in Coburg. I had sauerbraten, which is definitely my new favorite food. It’s like pot roast but the sauce is such a unique sauce. I can’t describe the taste but it almost had a hint of gingerbread in it. It was served with 2 potato dumplings, also called “dunking balls”. So yummy. That night we just watched a movie and went to bed early for our full day of Oktoberfest on Sunday!

Sunday morning we woke up super early to catch the 8am train to Munich. It was kind of a long train ride so I curled up “like a homeless person” in the words of Sarah, to sleep on the way there. When we arrived in Munich we stepped out of the train station to find a Lederhosen and Dirndl outlet. Sophie had been wanting a Dirndl to wear to Oktoberfest because everyone wears traditional German outfits there so we had to go try some on. Of course we found really cute ones and couldn’t resist buying them (how many people can say they have a traditional German beer maid outfit actually from Germany?).

Us in our dirndls! Don't we look cute? Also notice the random man who stuck his head in the picture

Now that we had the appropriate outfits, we were ready to go! Oktoberfest is actually a huge fair that families go to, not just a load of drunken Germans (you find those in the beer halls). There are tons of rides, food and carnival games. Of course we had to have a beer at Oktoberfest (the thought of this made me cringe, I’m not a fan of beer) but to my surprise it actually was pretty good; I mean Germany is known for their beer, they can’t disappoint. After this we decided to go on a roller coaster. You would think a fair would just have small coasters, but we’re talking Six Flag status roller coasters here. Being thrill seekers, we chose the largest one to ride. It was called the Olympian Looper because it had five loops that resembled the olympic rings. It. Was. Awesome. We were all crying laughing from how fun it was (and of course doing the totally logical thing, I screamed the whole time despite my current laryngitis…).

The awesome roller coaster

After the coaster, we met up with yet another one of Sophie’s friends who was in one of the beer halls, Hofbrau. I don’t even know how to describe the beer halls. Just think of beer maids running around with their arms full of 1 liter beer mugs to hundreds of drunk Germans singing, dancing on tables, hugging and kissing everyone and just being ridiculous. Everyone is in such a good mood so you can’t be anything but happy at Oktoberfest. It was so much fun and I wish I could have spent more than just one day there.

Just a small sample of the ridiculousness in Hofbrau tent

On Monday, the girls had school and Inga had work so Harald took us to Bamberg, a historical city on the way to the airport to do some more sightseeing. The city is modeled after Rome so it has churches on seven hills.

View of Bamberg and the Cathedral we visited

We climbed 9 flights of spiral stairs to a tower overlooking the city, went in a Gothic Cathedral and then had cake in a gorgeous rose garden behind a palace. Just a normal day in Germany.

My favorite rose in the rose garden

After our afternoon in Bamberg, Harald dropped us off at the airport and we had to say goodbye 😦

In one of my previous blog posts I mentioned that I had a separate flight home than Sarah and Clinton. I was a bit worried about this because it flew into an airport I’d never been to and I didn’t know how to get home. But luckily, I sat next to this Swiss guy who lives in London part time and he was kind enough to take me from the airport, through customs, on the DLR train and then all the way to my tube station. What a kind man! He also spoke perfect English and German. This weekend has made me realize that Europeans are so much more intelligent than us. Almost every person can speak 2 languages well enough to communicate. Even Lea, who is 12 years old is fluent in both English and German. I feel embarrassed to admit I can barely say 2 sentences in Spanish…

Anyway, I apologize this post is so long, there was just so much I wanted to talk about! There’s even more but I had to cut it down a bit so I wouldn’t lose your attention.