“Italy isn’t a Country. It’s an emotion.”

“Italy isn’t a country, it’s an emotion.” Only those who have been to Italy can truly understand and relate to these words. There are many people who have been here longer than my four-month semester, however, it doesn’t take long to realize that that statement holds very true.

To pinpoint exactly what emotion Italy is would be impossible; it isn’t just one, it’s thousands of years of work that have lead up to this point right now, of me sitting on my bed in my Rome apartment procrastinating studying for the two finals I have left. The emotions that Italy is giving me right now are fatigue from studying all night, nostalgia for those first few weeks in Rome when we were clueless and would get lost walking to the Trevi Fountain and contentment, such contentment, in the rare moments of silence, in this exact moment. But Italy has so many more emotions. Last night, at one of the last dinners my friends and I will have in Italy, my emotions were happy, giggly, sad that we had to leave and very very full.

Not every moment spent here is full of such emotions though. If you had asked me my emotions a few days ago I would have said frustration that the public transportation isn’t reliable, annoyance from being cat called and having creepy Italian men say things in Italian that unfortunately I can understand and an aching for America. Italy is so full of so many different emotions and it brings out a wide array in a person. If I had to describe the over all feel that I have gotten from Italy over the past four months I would explain it in a way that I have come to find is truly Italian- if the laid back mammoni (Italian for mama’s boy) married the sassy Italian women who drives too fast on her vespa and then cheated on her with a younger fun-loving 20-something who drinks too much wine during the day but still makes it home for Sunday dinner- I told you it was hard to explain. I have just skimmed the surface of Italy, so of course many more people have a greater perspective on Italy and its emotions, but from a 21-year-old living and studying in Rome, I think I hit the nail on the head.

Don’t get me wrong, I have loved (almost) every moment here, but of course there are those moments when one misses her home country. I am excited to be going home, to see my family, my friends, my dog and my kitty, but I am sad to leave. I am sad to leave the place where 10 minutes late is on time, the place where the people actually stop and take the time to sit and drink wine and eat gelato and celebrate, even if it is only celebrating the four-hour lunch break that every one takes. Italians, and many Europeans, have mastered the art of “dolce far niente,” which translated means the sweetness of doing nothing. In America we work and we work and if we are lucky we have family dinners once a week or take a few days off for vacation. We have it all wrong. Having these four months go by in the blink of an eye has made me realize that Italians do life right. They enjoy the moment and drink too much wine during lunch because every moment is magical, but every moment is fleeting, and if you don’t take the time to cherish these moments, they will be gone all too quickly.

To say goodbye to the place I have called home for the past four months will not be easy. Rachel and I have already decided that we will cry on the plane home and probably in the van on the way to the airport. But I know that Tuesday night, when Rachel, Kate, Jasmine and I drink our last bottles of wine in Italy, it will not be a goodbye, rather, it will be a see you later to Italy, a place that seems like an old friend. You can never say goodbye to something that has left such an impact on your life and that has planted a seed in your soul to explore, meet new people and enjoy the dolce far niente in life. So until next time Italy. Ciao.

“Don’t be dismayed at goodbyes. A farewell is necessary before you can meet again. And meeting again, after a moment or a lifetime, is certain for those who are friends. 

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The Last Supper

After our long day in Florence, the family and I grabbed a very late dinner where we ordered far too much food and stuffed ourselves- I had my new favorite dish that I recently discovered- cacio e pepe, which is pecorino cheese and pepper, it sounds simple but it is fabulous. We finally called it a night and went back to the hotel to go to sleep.

The next day was the last day my family was in Rome so we took full advantage of the beautiful weather and took a nice long stroll down Via del Corso- a main street starting in Piazza Venezia and running all the way to Piazza del Popolo with great stores for shopping and eating. Once again, Nicky and dad were awesome and put up with us girls stopping in literally (yes dad, literally) every store. Renee was awesome enough to treat me to a few things and I think my arm muscles grew just from carrying all of my bags around. We did make a few stops for my dad and Nicky though; dad got an awesome new pair of shoes from Timberland and Nicky stopped in a Footlocker.

Along our travels we ran into some talented street performers dancing and even a perverted clown who made balloons and hugged Renee and me just a little too tight. One store in particular caught all of our eyes- the Perugia chocolate store. Perugia is known for their chocolate and it is where Bacio chocolate has its factory- you can even tour the factory like a real-life Italian Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. We were drawn in by the seven-tiered chocolate fountain in the window and we all stocked up to get our chocolate fix- I indulged in my new chocolate obsession- white chocolate.

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After satisfying our sweet tooth we continued on our walk, stopped in a few more stores and finally made it to Piazza del Popolo. I had never been to this Piazza but I discovered that it is definitely the prettiest I have been to in Rome. There were the usual crowds and we somehow ran into two tourists from London and got into a 20 minute conversation with them about New York, New Jersey and England. They asked us what we call sandwiches around where we live (heroes never hoagies and sometimes subs) and ranted about how expensive everything is in England- they were definitely an interesting couple.

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Piazza del Popolo

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We sat on the steps of the fountain in the Piazza in the sun while Nicky and Maddie stared at the street performers who seem to float in mid-air. As their vacation was coming to a close we all just took a moment to take in our surroundings and appreciate how lucky we are and I thought how lucky I am to have such great parents and a great family. Then, of course, it was off to lunch. I feel like most of the time here is spent just killing time between meals; our schedules definitely revolve around eating. The tiny restaurant we decided to eat at was delicious; the pizza I had, the gnocchi Nicky had and the veal my dad had were all so full of flavor and it definitely proved that the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants often have some of the best food.

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Following our lunch we absolutely needed Gelato. So I took the fam to Giolitti, a very well-known gelateria. The gelato there is unbelievable and I always get white chocolate and Oreo or white chocolate and milk chocolate. Everyone got their favorite flavors and it got my dad’s seal of approval when he said it was “stupid” -which is dad talk for something is so good that there are no words to describe it. We waddled our stuffed selves to the hotel to take a breather before we went to my apartment so they could see where I live and then go to dinner.

When we got to my apartment my dad joked that he wanted to go back to the hotel where they have bell boys. My apartment is one of the nicer ones students live in here so I consider myself lucky, but after coming from the hotels we had been staying in, I agree with him. I gave them the tour, which takes all of two minutes, and we hung out for a while to pass the time until we were hungry enough again for dinner. Like clockwork, we were ready pretty soon. I took them to Trastevere, a very cute area in Rome with winding streets that are very easy to get lost on, restaurants, shops and cobblestone streets with wine corks in the cracks, my personal favorite characteristic of the area. For dinner we had a little bit of everything- suppli (rice balls), artichokes, bruschetta and prosciutto. My dad once again had ox tail and I once again had cacio e pepe. For dessert I took them to an unbelievable crepe place where we enjoyed a crepe with Nutella, white chocolate, caramel and bananas- and yes it is as good as it sounds and yes my mouth is currently watering. 

Feeling stuffed yet again, it was time for goodbyes as my family went back to the hotel to pack for their flight the next day and I went back to apartment to reenter the real world. It was sad to see them go but it was comforting to know that at that time I would see them in just two and a half weeks and as I am writing this now (very delayed) I only have eight more days in paradise. Time flies.

“Time is free, but it is priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”- Harvey MacKay

Family reunion in Sorrento, Positano and Capri!

After going back and forth for days with a countdown with my dad, the day finally arrived- my family was coming to Italy! My dad, stepmom Renee, 10-year-old brother Nicky and seven-year-old sister Maddie were meeting me in the airport and we were flying to Naples where we would take a car to our hotel in beautiful Sorrento! I could hardly contain my excitement on my way to the airport, only to come to the check-in counter of Alitalia and be confronted with an issue. I was beginning to get nervous after the woman at the desk couldn’t find my reservation for 20 minutes. Finally, with a few dozen phone calls later, everything worked out and I ran through security to the gate. I was greeted with kisses and lots of hugs and I was so excited to be with everyone. Immediately my little siblings were asking me how to say various things in Italian and my dad and Renee were asking me details of my life in Italy lately. We chatted and caught up then caught our short flight to Naples!

Upon our arrival in the Naples airport we were greeted with a driver who took our bags and drove us to our hotel. After travelling on a college student budget all semester and being used to fighting with my bags on public transportation in foreign cities, the luxuries of travelling with my family and indulging in the luxuries such as private cars were very welcomed. The other plus side of travelling with my wonderful family- besides them being amazing (I know you are reading this Renee!)- are the amazing hotels we get to stay in and the amazing dinners we get to eat. When they were here I no longer had to look at every price on every menu and stick to one bottle of water and the cheapest entrée available. Now, I indulged in wine, an appetizer, an entrée and even gelato or a crepe after. Safe to say I was in a food coma all eight days they were here.

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We arrived at our gorgeous hotel, Grand Hotel Cocumella, in Sorrento and were greeted by the very friendly staff that worked there. The hotel is family-run and very attentive and you feel as though they are old friends. They knew all of our names and plans and helped us make all of our arrangements. The hotel used to be a monastery and has been around since the 1800s and was decorated in beautiful whites and bright colors. The light colors of the hotel matched the crystal clear blue of the sea visible from the windows. There were also rows of orange and lemon trees and the scent of the purple lilacs was noticeable as soon as you stepped outside onto the grounds and was a soothing element at the end of a long day. We checked in, unpacked a bit and then went to explore the hotel and its grounds. We took in the surroundings and captured many scenic photos.

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After that we walked towards town to a restaurant recommended by both our driver and the concierge. On our way we stopped in a limoncello factory- I Giardini di Cataldo. We were able to taste all of the different flavors- lemon, melon, orange and walnut (which was surprisingly strong) and of course had to buy a bottle- or two. Then we continued on our way to dinner. We all satisfied our hunger with gnocchi, seafood, linguini, panna cotta and cheesecake. Exhausted after our delicious dinner we got in a cab and headed to the hotel. We were greeted with chocolates on our pillow and I took advantage of the huge shower and hot water and took a long-overdue bubble bath.

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The next morning, Easter Sunday, we woke up and when Renee returned from mass, we were met with an impressive breakfast spread complete with cereals, yogurts, fruits, omelets, pastries galore, cheeses and of course Italian meats, which they eat during breakfast. That day we planned to go to Positano so we hopped in a car and took the scenic route to Positano, about a 30-minute drive. On the way we had to stop at a mini truck fruit stand on the side of the road- Nicky and Maddie never stopped being amazed by how small the trucks are here.

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Being in Positano once again reaasured me that Italian weather people drink too much wine on the job because the forecast called for clouds and rain and it was at least 70 degrees and sunny with no clouds in sight. The town was so cute and just what I thought of when I think of tiny Italian seaside towns. You couldn’t even drive down to the town or the beach. It was all small alleys and steps leading you to the beach. The sidewalks were lined with vendors and shops that we had to stop in. Renee treated me to a spectacular blue ring from shells found in the sea to replace a ring I had worn for over five and a half years but no longer wear, resulting in my finger feeling a bit naked. I had been searching all semester for the perfect ring to replace one that had meant so much to me for so long and this one seemed to be the perfect fit. We then continued down the streets covered in lilacs and vines crawling along the walls.

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We stopped a few more times, once for an extremely floppy hat that jumped out at me and of course was a necessary purchase. We finally reached the beach and sunk our toes into the sand and dipped them into the cold water. My dad, Nicky and Maddie went on an adventure and walked to some jetties in the water while Renee and I enjoyed some mojitos in the sun by the beach. When my dad and the kiddies rejoined us we rehydrated with a few more mojitos before heading to dinner at Le Tre Sorrelle (The Three Sisters) a restaurant recommended to us by our driver. It was seemingly meant to be seeing as how I am one of three sisters and so is Renee. The restaurant was founded by three sisters many many years ago and was fabulous. We all enjoyed seafood dishes and took a few moments to look out onto the beach and the clear-blue sea to appreciate where we were and to bask in the present moment.

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The nuggets enjoying the cold water
The nuggets enjoying the cold water

We then made the walk all the way back up to where we would meet our driver Reno, who drove us to many places all weekend and became a regular person in our vacation. Reno was awesome and was so helpful, once again proving that the people you meet around the world can definitely enhance your time in a certain place. We grabbed a quick dinner in town and strolled along its quaint streets. We ended the night with gelato where I ran into some friends who were also in Sorrento for the weekend. Then it was back to the hotel for another hot bubble bath and a pleasant sleep on pillows almost as soft as the ones Rachel and I slept on in Amsterdam (read about those here).

The next day we awoke with high hopes- we were going to Capri and were hoping that the weather would hold up so we could go to the world-famous and absolutely breathtaking blue grotto. Once again we filled ourselves with the delicious breakfast and then caught a ride from Reno to the dock where we took a hydrofoil to Capri. I dozed off for the 30-minute ride and was woken up to the bluest waters I’d ever seen, enhanced by the rays of sunshine that sparkled on the surface.

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We immediately checked with the tour group that takes people to the grotto only to be disappointed that at the moment they were closed and we had to check back later. We were a little nervous that they wouldn’t be open and were feeling disappointed, however, we went into the adorable little town to explore. The first thing we noticed were the taxis, which were convertibles and of course super cool. Then we climbed up some hills to get a better view. We walked through a residential area tucked behind hills and a lot of steps to climb. Each house had its own name and we passed an elderly man weeding his garden behind his blue and white door and walls. It gave us a snap shot into these people’s lives and how they live out their daily routines.

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We made the trek back down and stopped for a quick snack to pass the time until we could see if the grotto was open. We had two huge crepes with Nutella and bananas while Nicky and Renee went back to the guides to see if we could get tickets for a tour around the island and a trip inside the grotto. Nicky returned with a frown and ran into my dad’s arms crying that they still weren’t open and his vacation was ruined. We were all about to get very upset when he lifted his head with an evil smile on his face. Turns out that they were open and our boat was leaving in about 30 minutes!

We boarded the boat with about 20 others and we were off for a tour of the island and then the grotto. Our guide took us on about an hour-long boat ride, showing us the white and green grottoes and several other sights around the island including, villas, a mountain where goats go to hang out and the arch of love. We finally arrived at the highly anticipated blue grotto only to find out it was about a two hour wait because it was very crowded. A few of us on the boat voted to stay and wait so we were transferred to another boat so we could wait and the others could return to town.

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The boat swayed in the waves and drifted in the water under the blue sky and warm sun. I laid down at the front of the boat and drifted to sleep as I rocked back and forth and up and down. Usually having to wait over an hour for anything is almost unbearable but I was waiting for the internationally admired blue grotto and I was floating in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, so safe to say I would have waited all day. Renee finally woke me from my nap in the sun and said it was our turn to head in. We drove around to the main entrance of the grotto and were greeted by a dozen boats with dozens of people coming and going. We noticed how small the boats were that we needed to transfer to in order to get into the small opening of the grotto. We also noticed all of the drivers of these very small boats- standing straight up as if they were on solid ground. They were also yelling back and forth and making the typical Italian hand gestures and we all observed and took in this side of their culture. It reminded me of a family gathering- everyone has their opinions, it is very loud and there is always a lot of swinging and gesturing of hands.

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Our turn finally came and we all cautiously climbing into the small row boat. Dad went in the front, Renee and I went in the back and Nicky and Maddie squished in between our legs. We needed to make sure that there was enough room for all of us to duck our bodies, especially our heads, deep down into the row boat so they didn’t hit the top of the opening of the grotto, which was much smaller than I expected.

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After paying our admission fee we waited to enter and Renee was already getting as low as she could in the boat. When it was our time to go our driver pulled on a chain rope attached from the outside of the grotto to the inside and pulled us very quickly inside. Once over the initial rush we pulled ourselves up and took in the wonder that was in front of us. The water was the most vibrant blue color I had ever seen and the grotto itself was beautiful, with its own little out coves and hidden corners. Our driver started singing to us as he rowed us around and we couldn’t stop marveling at the beauty. Unfortunately it was time to leave and the panic of course started to set in for Renee again- squishing us all and telling my dad to get down further into the boat. Once again our driver quickly pulled on the chain and pulled us out through the tiny hole, almost hitting his head and almost giving us all a heart attack.

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We boarded our bigger boat again and it was time to head back to town because our hydrofoil was leaving in 45 minutes and if we didn’t catch it we’d be stuck in Capri for the night- not the most terrible thing. Once back in town we grabbed a quick pizza and gelato and boarded the boat back to Sorrento. Once there we were greeted by our favorite driver, Reno, and went to the hotel to relax. Our fabulous concierge, Guiseppe, who was amazing the whole time we stayed at the Cocumella and felt more like family than a concierge, had champagne sent to our room that we sipped on before going to one of his recommended restaurants for dinner.

After we ate it was back to the hotel to repack and get ready to leave for Rome the next day-which proved to be quite an adventure. Stay tuned for my next post to read all about it!

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”- Omar Khayyam

The Journey through Five Lands- Cinque Terre

The day after our adventure to Tivoli, Jenny and I joined some more friends from UMD to hike through the towns of Cinque Terre. The towns that make up Cinque Terre are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Unfortunately Vernazza was closed due to flooding so we visited the other four.

After an early morning and a train ride we arrived in La Spezia and took another short train into Riomaggiore, the first town we would hike. As we started to hike we realized that the easy trail along the coastline, Via dell’amore, was closed so we were forced to take the more grueling path with hundreds of steps. The hike was intense and at some points very difficult due to the terrain, but the views were amazing and were definitely worth taking the more strenuous trail. We took many breaks to catch our breath and rehydrate but we finally made it to the top. We sat for a little to recover and take in the beauty that was around us.

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We still have a lot more hiking to go!

We arrived in the second town, Manarola, which was small and very quaint. We walked through the rows of houses where the residents were chatting, cleaning and cooking. It gave us a very inside view into the lives of the people that inhabit the small town that so many people come to see. After taking in the views for a little we continued to hike and make our way to the third town, Corniglia. This hike started off with climbing over a fence that was locked and blocking our path. We didn’t let that stop us though because after we climbed over it we continued on our way.

This hike wasn’t as intense as the first in regards to the incline or number of steps we had to climb, but it was still strenuous. We found out that there was a landslide in the previous months and it wiped away much of the path so we were forced to climb over hills of rocks instead of carved away paths.

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After our treacherous journey we came to several bridges suspended over rocks and water. I have a very intense fear of bridges and immediately started freaking out. Everyone went ahead of me and I made sure the bridge stopped swinging before I closed my eyes and ran over the it to get off as quickly as possible. After more rocks and more scary bridges, we finally arrived at a more level path along the coast. We walked for a little until we came to more steps. My legs felt like jello but I persevered and climbed them to make it to the town where pizza and gelato waited for us.

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Almost conquered my fear of bridges

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We've come a long way
We’ve come a long way

After a quick break and some snacks we hopped on a train to the last town because we couldn’t hike through the fourth. The train ride was very welcomed and it gave our bodies a much needed rest. We arrived in the town of Monterosso al Mare, which has beautiful beaches and took this opportunity to sit back and relax in the sand. Our efforts of climbing over rocks, bridges, up steps and through shrubbery paid off as we laid on the beach and watched the waves come in and out. We climbed a large rock and sat on it as we stared into the crystal clear blue water below. Jenny and I indulged in some margaritas and then we feasted on the freshest seafood around.

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Needless to say that we all fell right to sleep on the way home and were feeling the aftermath of our demanding day long after we went to bed that night.

Our reward after a long day
Our reward after a long day

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”- Eleanor Roosevelt

Living the High Life in the French Riviera

It seems as if I spend half of my time abroad packing and unpacking. I have even stopped fully unpacking because as soon as I unpack I have to pack all over again. Even though living out of a suitcase isn’t an ideal situation, I can’t complain because I am traveling the world every weekend and would rather live out of a suitcase than stay in one place for too long.

This weekend it was off to the French Riviera to visit Nice, Monaco and Cannes. We left late Thursday night and after a long bus ride arrived at our hostel in Nice. We immediately checked in and passed out. We woke up Friday morning and dressed to the nines to go to Monaco and the famous Monte-Carlo Casino. Immediately upon arrival I noticed the enormous and elaborate yachts. I also noticed all of the cars, Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, just to name a few. We walked around, took pictures next to the cars and boats and schemed possible ways to get on one. We continued on our way up some hills and saw some gorgeous views of the whole city.

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My new toy
My new toy

As we were walking with our group to get lunch we passed a sushi restaurant and being sushi lovers deprived of our favorite food in Rome there was no argument when we decided to eat there.

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After indulging in too many sushi rolls we made our way over to the Monte-Carlo Casino. It was very elaborate and nothing at all how I imagined. It was very fancy and upscale but very low key and nothing like any other casino I have been in. We played some roulette and watched people do really well and others do not so well. We also saw some famous French basketball players. After some of us losing and others winning we decided to call it a night and head back to Nice to get ready to go out.

DSC03008DSC03014We started the night with a champagne pre game and proceeded to dance the night away. There were a lot of people from UMD’s study abroad program and it was so much fun all being together; it was a little taste of College Park and that was very much welcomed. We then went out to a bar called Wayne’s. I ran into several people here, the first of which were two of my friends from high school who study abroad in Florence but were in Nice for the weekend. I then ran into my best friend from UMD, Kat, and attacked her with so much excitement that she fell over and we were yelled at by the bouncer. We retreated to the bathroom and hugged it out for about 20 minutes before rejoining society.

There was more dancing and hugging until we finally called it a night and all went home. The next day we woke up early to go to Cannes and lay out in the sun on the beach, something very welcomed after rainy weather yet again in Rome. The town was a very cute beach town, which reminded me of my beach house at home, except a more posh French version. We laid in the sun and attempted to go in the water but it was too cold to even dip our toes in so we chatted and people watched and came to realize that we were on a nude beach. After seeing way too much nudity for one day we went for an early dinner and then headed home.

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Our voyage home was not easy though. We had gotten on the train in the wrong direction and had no idea. We were just sitting and all talking when finally we noticed that we were stopped, and had been for about thirty minutes. We then realized that we were the only people on the train and that there wasn’t even a driver. Being a huge scary movie fan, this seemed like the perfect plot for a horror film. After many people freaked out and we attempted to figure out how to get off the train, over the tracks and onto the platform on the other side of the road we were finally greeted by the driver who told us the train would be heading back in the direction we needed in about ten minutes. Crisis averted. We eventually made it home.

Again we started the night off we more champagne and more dancing and made our way back to Wayne’s. We met up with Kat again and I met some pretty interesting people. I met everyone from a French man, an English man, an Egyptian man and an American, all within ten minutes and ten feet from each other. I always say that one of my favorite parts of traveling is meeting new people and this trip definitely fulfilled that. Not only did I meet people out in Nice but I also met other study abroad students from Florence who were on the trip with us and am actually seeing them again this weekend. It’s nice to have friends in every corner of the world.

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My favorite ladies in Nice

Our last day was very relaxing as we went to a nearby beach in Nice and did some more sunning. Before going home we went on one last adventure up some hills to a beautiful waterfall with amazing panoramic views of Nice. We let the water from the falls splash and cool us off before making the trip back down the hill and to our hostel to get on the bus and make the journey home.

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On our way home we took a little detour to the Fragonard Perfume factory in Èze. We learned how they make there fragrances and body washes and lotions then sampled their amazing perfumes and picked up some souvenirs for the family. After a quick walk to the local town and a sugar crepe it was back on the bus until 4 a.m. when we finally arrived back in Rome.

I especially enjoyed this trip because it was so much more relaxing than the others we have been on. Going to all of these different cities every weekend we are constantly on the go and doing all of the touristy things and seeing all of the sights. It was nice to do a little sightseeing but get to relax during the day and not feel rushed to get a million things done at once. It was definitely an enjoyable weekend with some necessary downtime, and the tan lines and freckles I came home with are definitely a plus.

Delta Love all over the world
Delta Love all over the world

 

“We wander for distraction but we travel for fulfillment.”- Hilaire Belloc

Spring Break Part 3: Dublin

After a few days in London we headed to the airport for our flight to Dublin. We had a few technical difficulties but Rachel and I finally arrived at the airport with Jasmine and Kate not too far behind. Fearing that we were late for our flight Rachel and I rushed through security and were heading to our gate when we were stopped by a man giving out free samples. Assuming it was just another annoyance we brushed him off until we realized he was giving out vodka samples. Being the broke college students that we are, it is almost illegal to pass up free alcohol. So we indulged in a taste and were quite pleased. As we were walking away we realized that there were multiple people with multiple types of alcohol giving out free samples so our indulgence continued. We moved on to the Jameson tasting station, followed by the rum station and finally finished with a shot of coffee Patron and classic Patron. As we were on our marathon of alcohol sampling we kept running into the same two older women who we finally found out were doing a weekend girls trip to Dublin. They insisted that we go out to Temple Bar later in an effort to find them so they could buy us some drinks- and people say airports are boring.

Despite being a little dazed by our previous sampling binge we definitely felt all of the turbulence that our plane experienced and after a rough flight and a few panic attacks later, we arrived in Dublin- a place I have always wanted to go. I’ve always wanted to travel to Ireland and explore the gorgeous countryside but at the moment Dublin was where I would begin. I came to realize that despite the crappy weather I completely loved Dublin. The people and the culture are so different from anything I have experienced and I love their carefree attitudes (the accents on the cute guys don’t hurt either). Ireland is definitely a place I will return to so I can explore more.

We arrived at our hostel, checked in and immediately wanted to eat at an authentic Irish pub. We wandered around the area by our hostel, the infamous Temple Bar- known for drunken tourists but still so much fun nonetheless. We ended up at O’Sullivans and enjoyed some warm tomato soup, a welcoming meal on a rather chilly and rainy day, and a nice glass of Harp beer. Then we unanimously decided it was time for a nap. After sleeping the rest of the day away (it was very much needed) we got ready for dinner. We ended up at Merchant’s Arch, an adorable little restaurant/pub near our hostel and enjoyed some more Harp, Irish stews- I stuck to my vegetarian options of mushrooms and spring rolls- and live music, which we quickly realized was everywhere in Dublin. The live music at all of the venues was so nice and I thoroughly enjoyed eating my meals to the sound of a guitar.

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Then it was time to hit the town in Temple bar. We went to all the places our friends had recommended and bar hopped the whole night. It was a mixture of Irish jigging, house music and at one point a song from The Jungle Book even came on. Needless to say it was quite an interesting night but still very fun.

Friday morning we had our last Sandeman’s tour of the week. Our guide took us around Dublin and shared its colorful history with us. Not having a lot of knowledge about Dublin it was very nice to get an insider’s perspective into this quirky little city, apparently with quite a few jokesters who have played pranks on the city, which include erecting a monument to a fake war hero who never actually existed. We saw some castles, churches and Trinity College, which, for all of you Game of Thrones fanatics like myself, is where Joffrey goes to school. I was surprised to find out that despite how his character comes off on the show he is actually one of the sweetest people out there and very very smart as well. We ended our tour with stories of Ireland’s sadder history and how the people have rebuilt it and have intense pride for their homeland.

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One of the most interesting parts of the tour for me was the bust of a famous Irish journalist, Veronica Guerin. She was a crime reporter in Ireland and reported on many dangerous stories about crime and drugs. She was more interested in getting the facts straight from the source and exposing the truth than she was in her own safety, risking her life in order to get to the bottom of things.  She faced numerous death threats and attempts on her life from the criminals she was exposing but she did not give in to their intimidation. Unfortunately, she was murdered on June 26, 1996 by drug gang members. However, some good did come her death; it caused an outrage among the people of Ireland and within a week of her murder the Irish Parliament enacted the Proceeds of Crime Act 1996 and the Criminal Assets Bureau Act 1996, so that assets purchased with money obtained through crime could be seized by the government. This led to the formation of the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB). Members from the drug gang that killed her were arrested and the investigation into Guerin’s death resulted in over 150 other arrests and convictions, as well as seizures of drugs and arms. Drug crime in Ireland dropped 15 percent in the following 12 months. This made a special impact on me because as a journalism student it showed me that one journalist can make a difference and make a change in the world.

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After taking in all of the knowledge from our tour guide it was time to eat and we were lucky enough to stumble upon a buffet place that served all of our favorite American dishes. Needless to say we piled our plates high and stuffed ourselves. Feeling just a tad bit weighed down from all of our food we strolled along the roads and did some serious souvenir shopping, picking up gifts for the dozens of people in my family. Later that night we did a pub crawl and unfortunately were disappointed. So Rachel and I hopped off of it in search for some real Irish pubs not crawling with tourists. We asked the man working at our hostel for suggestions and walked far away from the touristy area of Temple bar in the search for some real Irish culture (and men). After roaming and popping in and out of numerous bars we finally surrendered and went to bed.

Our last full day in Ireland was dedicated to a trip to the small town of Howth about 30 minutes outside of the city. Here we had some crazy weather, with it clearing up just in time for us to embark on our hike up mountains and then hailing on us as soon as we finished lunch and continued our hike. Despite the freaky weather it was a gorgeous hike and the views were unbelievable. We saw more castles, learned about the family that has lived in it for decades and then ate lunch in a small, but apparently very coveted town at the top of the cliffs.

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Pictures definitely do not do these views justice, as they were some of the most amazing I have ever seen. This trip reassured me of the interest I have always had in Ireland and convinced me that my next trip here will be to a more country-side type of town.

Feeling exhausted and thoroughly worked out from all the climbing, we went home and had our last meal in Dublin at a place many people raved about. I had an amazing goat cheese (obviously), onion, mushroom and sautéed vegetable sandwich on fresh toasted bread and was feeling especially satisfied. We sat and chatted for a while and reflected upon the past ten days and all of the adventures we had had. I was sad that our fabulous break was over but was excited to go back home to Rome (I still can’t get over the fact that I can call Rome my home) and continue our European adventures. Dublin definitely left its mark on my heart and was the perfect way to end our trip.

 

“Ireland is where Strange tales begin and happy endings are possible.”- Charles Haughey

Spring Break Part 2: London

After a busy couple of days in Paris, we were off to London to see some friends and do some more exploring. The flight seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and when we arrived we were ecstatic to be in a place where we could finally understand everyone and everything. We thought the trip was off to a good start. However… when I went to baggage claim to pick up my bag I noticed that there was only one lone red bag circling the belt, but it wasn’t my red bag. I immediately started to freak out and ran to the customer service desk. Thank goodness I was greeted by the nicest older English woman. She immediately went about fixing my problem and personally called Jonathan, the bag thief, and told him I was flying home to JFK in a little and desperately needed my bag and that he could not leave the airport yet. She apologized to me for lying but said it was necessary so he didn’t leave the airport and go into the city before he returned my bag to me. I told her it was of course okay and thanked her many times over. It is people like this that make a bad situation into something to laugh at. Instead of this ruining my vacation it made it better because I was lucky enough to meet, even if only for a brief period of time, someone so sweet and genuine.

So then it was time to wait for Jonathan, for what seemed like forever. We searched the area around the decided meeting point and found nothing. Once again, I was lucky enough to meet the funniest English man who worked at the airport. He kept asking where Jonathan was and if I wanted him to beat Jonathan up for me. I quickly learned that people in London are some of the friendliest around. We then started harassing strangers with red bags and finally Jonathan arrived. Unfortunately he wasn’t the extremely attractive future husband my friends and I conjured up in our minds that I was going to meet in a romantic, it-must-have-been fate scenario but he came with my bag so it wasn’t terrible after all. He apologized and said he was picking up a friend’s bag and didn’t look at the tag when he took it. A short while later while we were driving to our friends’ apartment, we saw Jonathan fighting with his rental car on the side of the road and it was clear that today was just not his day.

When we finally arrived at Dani and Megan’s apartment, my friend and roommate from freshman year, we dropped our stuff off and immediately went to Sainsbury’s, a place we would soon become obsessed with. This is the general grocery store in London and seeing as how London is one of the most expensive cities in the world we were trying to eat on a budget, AKA eat grocery store sandwiches, which were actually the most amazing things I have ever tasted. For the next four mornings I woke up looking forward to my cheese and red onion sandwich, salt and vinegar chips and chocolate milk or a Naked Juice. I love Naked Juices and drink them all the time at home so it was a welcoming sight to see them in the store. After consuming a lot of things we can’t find in Rome it was off to Oxford Circus, an area in London with tons of shops, to find something green for our St. Patty’s day celebrations later. After striking out in every store, I finally gave up and decided to wear a black shirt because I was too tired to keep searching. It seemed as if London completely banned everything Green in an effort to stop the drunken celebrations that accompany this holiday. I was not too tired however, to have one of London’s famous and actually to-die-for Ben’s cookies. Because of the intense sweet tooth I have (thanks Dad) I can never resist anything sugary and especially love my chocolate chip cookies. I was overwhelmed by the choices but finally settled on a triple chocolate cookie- a chocolate cookie with chocolate chips and chunks of soft white chocolate in the middle. I am actually drooling just typing that.

We went home got ready and met up with a lot of people from the University of Maryland and it was especially nice seeing Dani and Megan again. We celebrated St. Patty’s day like any other Americans: we drank, went to an Irish pub and did some version of an Irish Jig all night. It was a blast. Then it was off to bed to prepare for another jam packed day of sightseeing.

Roommates reunite in London!
Roommates reunite in London!

First thing on our to-do list was of course platform 9 3/4. We all chose our houses and took silly pictures then went to do some souvenir shopping in the Harry Potter store.

On my way to Hogwarts!
On my way to Hogwarts!

We then made our way over to the area where we were meeting our Sandeman’s tour guide for another one of Sandeman’s free walking tours. On our way we stopped for traditional fish and chips, which I surprisingly really liked.

Fish and chips
Fish and chips

After that it was three hours of walking and history and sights. I learned a lot of the history of London and England as whole and of course saw some amazing things. We took lots of pictures with the guards in funny hats in front of St. James’ Palace and took the iconic pictures of us in phone booths with Big Ben in the background. Fun fact: Big Ben isn’t actually the name of the entire building, it is just the name of the bell.

Me and the new boyfriend!
Me and the new boyfriend!

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After the tour we followed our guide to a traditional English pub where we had an authentic English beer. Being in a place that has more than pasta and pizza, we desperately wanted Indian food. So we wandered around until we found a street filled with  international cuisine and enjoyed some delicious Thai food; we were sure to steer very clear of anything resembling Italian food all Spring break. Later we went out to a club where I ran into a friend from high school while waiting in line. Just another example of how small the world is. It was in this club that my assumption from the night before was correct.

Let me explain- At O’Neil’s, the place we went to for St. Patty’s day the night before, there was the most beautiful security guard I had ever seen. Then at Whiskey Mist, the club we went to the second night, there was the most beautiful security guard I had ever seen, leading me to the conclusion that they only hire extremely attractive security guards in London. After I came to my very insightful and wise conclusion we partied the night away and I had so much fun just dancing with my friends.

Wednesday brought more sightseeing, this time with my friend Laura from high school who had just visited me in Rome the weekend before. It was funny seeing her in all of these foreign places because we don’t even see each other this much during the semester when we are in the same country. First stop was Abbey Road, made famous by the Beatles and used by hundreds of angry people trying to drive in London. All this road has is a stop sign in an effort to stop cars from running over the dozens of tourists that visit it on a daily basis. Needless to say we almost died about 100 times but it was worth it to get that perfect picture.

Epic Abbey Road picture
Epic Abbey Road picture

We then went to the underwhelming London Bridge. I am confused as to why this bridge is so famous but it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It was just a plain old bridge where tourists felt the need to take pictures because of its famous name. After the bridge it was time for the best part of any new city- exploring the local markets. First was Borough market where we had some amazing paella, fresh fruit juices and of course I had a giant chocolate chip cookie. Second stop was the Camden Lock market, which has food, clothes and other items. We walked around and went into every store with a t-shirt in it so Rachel could find one of Abbey Road. After many hours and failed attempts we finally called it quits and headed over to Harrods where we looked at stuff we couldn’t afford, got very very lost and indulged in “high tea.”

Slowly eating a chocolate chip in every country I visit
Slowly eating a chocolate chip cookie in every country I visit
Harrod's
Harrods

Rachel and I split an amazing rose tea (rose is apparently a flavor I fell in love with during Spring break following my rose macaroon in Paris) and we all felt very English-Posh as we sipped on our teas and attempted to discuss things  of importance. However, when it comes to four college women sitting around a table the conversation always steers away from serious and towards more entertaining topics, but hey, we tried.

Fresh rose tea
Fresh rose tea

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Rachel and I left a little early so we could head over to Buckingham Palace to be super touristy and try and make the guards laugh. We showed up as the sun was setting and were disappointed to find that there were no guards. We figured it was because it was getting late out so we walked around the building and saw them behind it having what looked like a very stern meeting with their superior. We then found a nice police officer, went up to him and said “I have a question.” He replied with an adorable answer- “Only one? But you’re so young.” Truer words have never been spoken but in this instance we really did have only one question- where are the guards in the red jackets and fluffy hats? He informed us that because the guards often get harassed, sometimes they stand within the large gate of the palace, closer to the building and out of the pesky tourists’ reaches. He also told us the guards we saw in front of St. James’ Palace were the same iconic ones everyone comes to see just in different jackets. So we left to go to Picadilly Circus, which my friend Laura described as the Times Square of London.

Indeed it was a less-crowded version of Times Square, which of course made me miss my favorite city, Manhattan. We decided that we had done enough walking for the day and headed home for some dinner. The dinner Kate, Rachel and I had was good but it was a good thing we didn’t come hungry because the portions were miniscule. So we ate quickly and of course went to Sainsbury’s one last time to get our signature breakfasts for the morning before our flight. It was early to bed because the next day was the last leg of our trip. It came all too soon but I was excited to get to Dublin!

 

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.”- Maya Angelou