Reverse Culture Shock

I’ve been in America for a little over a week now, even though it feels like I’ve been back for about two months already, and I’ve noticed some things I never have before and am learning to appreciate things I took for granted without even realizing it. I am missing Italy so much it hurts and laying around my house all day catching up on movies and TV shows can only satisfy me for so long until it gets old. I’m at that point now and am more than ready to go back to Italy.

Leaving the place you’ve lived your whole life opens your eyes and teaches you things, not only about the new place but also about the place you left. You learn to appreciate the people around you, the ease with which you can get anything in America (I quickly realized we are a bit spoiled in America) and the luxuries we have that not many other places have- just to name a few.

Things I’m glad I have back:

1. Garbage disposal

2. Clothes dryer

3. Chipotle

4. Driving

5. Not getting whistled at, cat called or having creepy Italians say creepy things to me in Italian

6. The availability of so many different types of food

Things I miss about Italy:

1. Basically everything else

2. The mindset and attitude of “Il dolce far niente” (The sweetness of doing nothing)

3. The Italian food

4. Gelato

5. Not having to pay for public transportation

6. Speaking Italian

I most definitely had some culture shock upon returning to the homeland. I was surprised by quite a few things that were very different from Europe-

1. How huge the portions of food are

2. How quickly they rush you out of restaurants

3. I constantly convert everything to Euros

4. I forget that I have to tip here

5. How unhealthy America and its people are

6. How sloppy we all look compared to the always-fashionable Europeans.

Getting a taste for foreign places has definitely left me wanting more. The travel bug took a big bite and has left me with a desire to travel the world. With so many exotic places and far away lands we forget that America has so many gorgeous places of its own. Because I’m (extremely) short on money and obviously in debt to my parents (thank you!) some friends and I have decided to save up and travel more domestically this summer. The want to travel doesn’t go away just because I’m not in Rome anymore. I have to feed my need for travel and I am excited to discover what hidden treasures lay around the corner right in my own backyard.

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”- Terry Pratchett

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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

You May Never Be This Free Again- Budapest

Hungary was not a place I ever saw myself going to; I never thought anything of it and didn’t know much about it. However, when I got to Rome my friends and people I met in some of my classes were all talking about going to Budapest. So I did some research and asked around and came to find that it was actually a cool place and kind of underrated. I then turned to my new favorite hobby, looking up flights on Kayak, and found that flights there were a little out of my price range; still my friends and I would check in every once in a while to see if anything had changed.

Then, one fateful Friday morning while I was sleeping at my friends’ apartment in Barcelona, Rachel called me and asked me to make a game time decision: roundtrip flights to Budapest, $152 dollars, leaves Thursday night, March 27 and comes home Sunday morning, March 30. Being a little tired and still feeling the effects of my late night, I spontaneously said yes. We booked it immediately and I was heading back to bed when I received yet another phone call from Rachel asking if I wanted to stay in a Retox, a party hostel in Budapest. We read articles and reviews and although it sounded a little crazy, we figured, you only Budapest once so why not?

When March 27 came around I couldn’t believe that our spur-of-the-moment trip was actually here. After stuffing my book bag full of a weekend’s worth of clothing (I am now a pro packer) we headed to the airport. Coincidentally, this weekend was a very popular weekend for Budapest and we ran into several people from my study abroad program on the plane and in the city. After the chaos that is WizzAir we finally boarded the flight and headed to Budapest! We knew that from the way we booked this trip, we would definitely be coming home with quite a few interesting stories.

We arrived later than expected and headed to the parking lot to meet the transfer bus to take us to Wombats, the hostel (or should I say palace compared to other places we have stayed) where we stayed the first night. Deliriously tired, we saw our bus come speeding around the corner blasting house music and we immediately turned to one another slightly confused and a little nervous. We got in the bus and while we were waiting for two other people from our flight to get there we bonded with our driver, with whom we became instant friends.

He showed us pictures of his motorcycles and cars and his outfits that he races them in. We learned that he speaks about seven languages, has a sister that drives a BMW (or a BMV as he called it) and hates his job. He laughed at us as we tried to pronounce funny Hungarian words and taught us some of the basics we needed. Never judge a book by its cover because you never know who you could become instant friends with, even for a short period of time. He dropped us off at our hostel and we immediately went to bed.

We woke up early for yet another walking tour of another new city. First we went to the ATM and felt extremely rich as we took out 20,000 Forints- about 100 USD. We then did our ritualistic grocery store stop for some breakfast and realized that Budapest is extremely inexpensive compared to every other place we had visited; we got a big breakfast for about $1.50 USD. Heading over to our walking tour we ran into some fellow study abroad students from our program and we embarked on our three hour tour of a city I knew nothing about.

Rachel and I overlooking the beautiful city of Budapest
Rachel and I overlooking the beautiful city of Budapest
Chain Bridge
Chain Bridge
Parliament
Parliament

After our very informative tour we followed our guide to get some traditional Hungarian food and I quickly found out that it was going to be very hard being a vegetarian in a place that has an extremely heavy meat-based diet. As our guide was explaining the menu to us Rachel and I noticed a rather large, rather sweaty Hungarian man sticking his fingers in the food, eating it and then sticking his fingers back into the food. We told our friends and we all quickly decided to go else where.

We found the Hungarian version of Chipotle and decided we were in desperate need of a Mexican food fix and had burrito bowls. I then of course sniffed out, with my extremely accurate talent to find anything sweet, a bakery where I got my mandatory chocolate chip cookie and an unbelievable vanilla macaroon.

Satisfied with our lunch and dessert, we headed over to Retox, the party hostel, to check in. Walking over Rachel and I were a little nervous about what to expect because it seemed like a pretty crazy place from all of the reviews full of tales of drinking, partying, hooking up and no sleeping. So we walked up to the front of the building and braced ourselves as we entered. Upon first entering we saw a bar downstairs and I quickly noticed all of the interesting murals on the walls, however, I immediately felt welcomed by both the staff and the other guests we quickly met in the common room. They were all very friendly and the staff was very helpful with things to see and do. We also got a disclaimer that Retox is a party hostel in every sense of the word so we should be prepared for just about anything. A staff member gave us our electronic bracelets used to get into the hostel and into our room and told us they were “waterproof, drunk proof and sex proof” so we wouldn’t lose them. We were then led to our room, nicknamed the hunting lodge (perfect for a vegetarian, right?), which had walls covered with interesting drawings of all different animals.

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Our Retox jewelry. I have yet to take off my orange bracelet.
Our Retox jewelry. I have yet to take off my orange bracelet.

We wanted to continue to explore so we made our way over to Hero’s Square. While we were making the long trek back to our Hostel from the square we saw several beer bike tours happening with loud music and a lot of people that looked like they were having a blast. Someone from the beer bike tour waved at me and as I waved back he hopped off of the bike while it was still in motion and handed me a beer. We then recognized each other and realized we were both guests at Retox and I quickly realized how much I would come to love Retox and its guests. As we sipped on our beer, we searched for a restaurant with mojitos and hummus- two things we had been craving all day. We enjoyed our dinner at a table for two outside and then headed back to Retox. We arrived just in time to leave on a pub crawl with everyone in our hostel. We also ran into two Canadian tourists that we had previously met on our walking tour and they joined us on our adventure.

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We met even more people staying at Retox and instantly became somewhat like a dysfunctional family, full of different characters and a lot of love. There was a person from every walk of life and it was so fun meeting new people from all over the world. A lot of the guys from our hostel were convinced that Rachel and I would not make it to the last bar because things like this get a little crazy sometimes and after all we’re just little sorority girls. However, they underestimated us and we made it to the end. It wasn’t until the way home that we found out why it’s called a Pub Crawl. Along the way to each pub we continued to meet new people and decided that this was one of the most fun nights we have had since being abroad and that our decision to stay at Retox was the best one yet.

We slept in Saturday and finally struggled to get up as we were hurting just a little bit from the night before. Unfortunately, we had to check out of Retox because we had a seven a.m. bus to catch the next day and our other hostel was closer to the bus stop. However, that was not the last time we would see our Retox family. Once we got back to Wombats we took a much needed nap and then went to explore the markets of Budapest. It was especially sunny that day, which was very much welcomed coming from the rainy weather of Rome, so we threw on our tank tops and maxi skirts and walked towards the water. I enjoyed an amazing seafood falafel, some sour candy and finally a much-desired Pina colada overlooking the water as the sun went down at an outdoor restaurant. Although we didn’t want to move from our temporary paradise, we needed to walk home to take another nap in order to prepare for an amazing night at a Sparty.

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After our nap we slipped into our bikinis for a Sparty. Budapest is known for their large heated public baths, something influenced by the Turkish, and on certain Saturday nights these baths become a giant party with dozens of people, drinks and music. Wasn’t it fate that one of these Saturday nights was when we were there? We were going to go with all of our friends from Retox, but were a tad late so we made our way over to the Lukacs baths to meet them.

The events that occurred over the next seven hours were absurd and the most fun I have ever experienced. Being reunited with our Retox friends made the  sparty that much more amazing, reassuring us yet again that Retox was the right decision.

The Sparty
The Sparty
and a more composed Lukacs bath
and a more composed Lukacs bath

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was all over and we sadly said our goodbyes to our new best friends and were sad to leave them and this amazing city. We got back to our hostel around 4:30-5 a.m., slept for about an hour and then attempted to find the bus stop where we were being picked up for the airport. I say attempted because we got lost several times and wound up missing it. Struggling extremely hard, we freaked out and went into a hotel where they thankfully called us a van service to take us to the airport.

After more struggles through security we just about crawled up to a counter at KFC and ordered a big bucket of french fries as the man working there laughed at us. I thoroughly enjoyed the said huge bucket of french fries and then proceeded to fall asleep on a couch in the terminal.

Impromptu nap time before my flight in the airport
Impromptu nap time before my flight in the airport

There was more chaos with WizzAir and I could not wait to get on the plane, take a quick cat nap and get home to my bed for some much-needed sleep. Multiple forms of transportation later I finally plopped down on my bed and slept for the next six hours. My fatigue and long-lasting headache were completely worth it.

This weekend was by far the best one I have had in Europe. Not only were the bars and the city amazing, but the people were what made this trip what it was. The best thing about traveling is meeting new people and learning about their lives. There are so many interesting people out there with their own stories and tales to tell and when you take a minute to realize that and open your heart to them, they can change you and your perspective and opinions. This weekend taught me not to judge a book by its cover, a hostel by its murals or a person by their tattoos. It is the people we meet, even if it is for such a short amount of time, that make things fun, interesting and even a little crazy. The worst thing about traveling is having to say goodbye, especially after only being able to know these people for such short periods of time. They come in and out of your life and impact you in different ways. You are the best of friends for a weekend and then, most likely, you will never see them again. My mind wanders sometimes as I think of what all of the people I have met are doing at this exact moment. Traveling opens your eyes and your heart to the best things in this world, and the best things in this world are the people that make it go round.

I hope to make it back to Budapest one day and stay in my favorite hostel again and meet a new batch of people. I never thought a city or a little hostel could make such an impression on me, but Budapest and Retox have left footprints on my heart- thank you.

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My one and only Budapest
Retox <3
Retox

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” -Anais Nin