Archive for March, 2014

I don’t know what to title this.

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Basically because this post isn’t anything special – I’m not recounting a specific trip I’ve been on or relaying any noteworthy story. I just thought I’d post a bunch of pictures from my time here so far. Here we go:

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Waiting in line to buy tickets for an ISC trip.

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View walking down Princes Street.

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My friends and I had tea late one Sunday morning at this cute place called Anteaques. Half antique shop, half tea room. Anyone who knows me knows this is a combination of two of my favorite things.

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Rainbow over campus!

View from my window one evening, when the sky was especially pretty.

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This is “Library Cat”. He hangs around campus a lot, particularly the library. He looks a little demonic here but trust me he/she is a sweetie!!

Some friends and I went pony trekking in the Pentlands not too long ago. Such a lovely place to ride!

The ponies we rode through the Pentlands were Exmoor Ponies. They’re the cutes (and smallest) things! I rode the sweetheart on the right.

The Royal Mile in Edinburgh

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The Meadows on my way home from class one evening. This was the day it was especially sunny and everyone thought it was suddenly summer even thought it was only in the upper 40s. The smoke in the picture is from a grill. Yes. One day of sun and they come out with flip-flops and start to barbeque.

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Another view from my window. Such lovely weather we are having here in Edinburgh lately.

 

 

First Impressions

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Well I made it.  And let me be clear, I made it like…  a week and a half about at this point.  I’ve mostly been trying to get used to the whole “Being in Germany,” thing that I really didn’t take the time to keep up, or even make, a blog.  So for all intents and purposes, it would appear that I have some making up to do.  But fear not: I shall stride forward as though nothing was the matter.

To begin, my time here has been not easy.  And not easy in the way that I didn’t really expect it to be difficult.  As I arrived at Frankfurt Airport, it took me more time than I feel it should to navigate to the train station, and seeing as I was too proud (nervous/embarrassed) to ask for any help, it took me longer it probably needed to, to get there.  From there, I managed to get my ticket to Erfurt and due to a reading error most likely due to sleep deprivation (at that point I’d probably been up for 20 hours), I didn’t realize the train that I needed to get on was literally in the station for 7 minutes and a minute away from leaving.  I snuck on the train to avoid further embarrassment, and made my way to my destination.  Staying awake on the train was difficult because I hadn’t slept in so long, but due to an ultimate fear of missing the stop for the Erfurt Central Station, I forced myself to stay up for the two and a half hour ride to Erfurt.  And a last stitch effort to inspire confidence in my abilities, I even re-read Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” for the fiftieth time (let’s ignore how he calls travel a “Fool’s Paradise,” for now).  I got off at my stop after being terrified for 15 minutes prior to my arrival that I had been right all along in not getting onto the train originally, only to find my tutor had not arrived at our designated meeting area.  So I waited.  I waited for about 45 minutes, and just as I was about to say, “Screw this,” and leave, there Marius arrives.

Marius is a nice guy.  Nice enough, but we don’t sincerely connect.  But he really does try.  He took me to my dorm, and seeing as we hadn’t gotten the pillow, sheets, comforter, etc., that I had put down I was going to pay for, we went on this grand journey from there to Michael Friedrich, to Frau Linder (Who was taking the day off), to the head janitor in the basement who ultimately wasn’t there, to calling the  janitor on the emergency number he provided and having him, quite begrudgingly, come to my room in about 45 minutes with the sheets and such.

The next day, Marius and I did a lot of other errands.  The first major thing I’m surprised by is how God awful I didn’t realize I am at German.  And that’s not to say I don’t think I’ll get better, and that’s not to say that I didn’t have a wonderful teacher, because I did (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).  It’s just to say that I was a student of an American University’s class of German for merely a year, and that’s nowhere NEAR enough experience to actually understand what the Hell is going on around you.  I mean seriously, even that only means I have been studying German on and off for about 8-9 months in a year, only 2 1/2 hours of every week, give or take another hour or two for homework.  It’s just not enough to really be prepared for what you experience when you first arrive.  When we got my phone that day, I remember we had to go back 1986315 times because first we couldn’t make any calls/text, then the internet wouldn’t turn on, then the internet that had been turned on wasn’t the internet for my phone itself, but the ability to just connect to the internet.  And the last time we went, we did not manage to catch the sweet, young woman that we had the first million times we visited.  Instead we got a very curt, angry, little man, that spoke a million miles a minute, and clearly had no desire to help us, or do anything at all, really.  And in that moment it hit me: I’d be so completely and entirely lost if Marius wasn’t here holding my hand, getting all of this done for me.

Because I guess that’s what I feel like a lot of people studying in Germany sort of assume.  We think that everyone speaks English, and even if you can’t speak German, it’s cool, because they’re dying to learn English.  I’ve heard from other friends abroad that that’s the case in a lot of foreign countries, and one of the main reasons that they didn’t actually learn the language of the country they visited.  Everyone just wanted to talk to them in English.  But as the man threw my phone back at me and said something that I could tell meant, “Change the phone’s settings to German,” I immediately knew this man did not speak a word of English, or perhaps, more to the point, had no desire to help out some stupid American fix his phone troubles.

So that’s the main thing I realized.  And you know, it was really terrifying before I came, and even more depressing once I got here and found myself unable to understand a good portion of what happened in the conversations going on around me.  I was afraid I would never learn German or be decent at it, and I was overwhelmed at how ill-equipped I was.  And I think that was the biggest thing that hurt.  It really wasn’t that I couldn’t, because I had that idea going in that it would be difficult.  It was just HOW difficult it really was going to be going forward.

But since then, things have looked up.  I’m in the same Deutschkurs as my fellow American, Anneka, which is nice because we’re always there to fall back on each other when the anxiety of meeting lots of new people becomes too mentally exhausting.  The Deutschkurs, while not particularly difficult, is challenging in that it’s really helping solidify foundational German language concepts that we have had to spend not as much time on in class back in the States, due to time constraints.  For instance, I can honestly tell you right now that I FINALLY get when to use, “bei,” and when to use, “zu,” and when to use, “in,” or any other preposition of those annoyingly exception ridden two way prepositions.  Our professor is certainly no Herr Rotter, aber Frau Völz is a nice professor and even if her stalwart refusal to speak English may be make it difficult to understand what’s going on at all times, which is all the more confusing since everyone in the class save one Italian is much better at English than they are at German, she still is imparting useful and important information.  I plan to finish the class, and then take a few more German courses during the semester proper to make sure I’m consistently speaking German while I’m here.

Anyways, I shall close with this: I don’t really know how this is supposed to go.  Like, I don’t know what I’m really supposed to talk about, how often I need to write (clearly, as evinced by this being my first post since I’ve been here), or how much I need to write.  But I’ll do my best to write two more times this week to make up for the time I haven’t written while here, and I’ll do my best to write about something that I genuinely find interesting, or worthwhile to write about to make sure I’m not just writing down thought fragments and passing it off as an entry.  It’s been difficult settling in.  But I think I’ve finally made it to the comfortable stage.  We’ll see.

Tschüss!

Jordan William Reece

Cliches in Paris

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Our arrival in Paris was less than smooth.  Catching our plane was in itself a rough task, as we arrived at the airport fifty-five minutes before take-off.  Once we arrived, we realized that the airport we flew into, Beauvais, is actually an hour and a half outside of the city of Paris.  Unfazed, we bought bus tickets from a rude frenchman who informed me that “Not everyone speaks English.  You need to learn French; you’re in France.”  I mumbled something about learning Italian, embarrassed and angry that I didn’t remember more French from my high school classes.  I slept on the bus ride in, and Haley was kind enough to gently wake me up as we entered the city so I could catch my first glimpse of Paris.

All smiles on the bus from the airport

All smiles on the bus from the airport

After our lengthy bus ride, we needed to locate the metro.  Luckily, I remembered enough French to ask “Ou est il metro?” and we were directed towards the nearest station.  From there, we were fairly confident that our journey was fairly close to over.  We were wrong.

We exited the metro station at the stop we had been told and immediately bought some crepes, because our Paris trip was fraught with cliches.  From there, we attempted to locate the correct street.  We were at an enormous roundabout, so we figured we’d just start walking in a circle and eventually we would find it.  We were wrong.

The first crepe in Paris!

The first crepe in Paris!

Once we made a full circle around the roundabout, we consulted a map and asked the crepe man, who told us to get back on the metro and get off at a different stop.  We followed his advice, switching trains twice, and exited the station. From there, we thought the street would be immediately obvious.  We were wrong.

After a few moments of all three of us staring confusedly at the map, a nice Parisian man came over to ask if we were lost.  We said yes, and told him the street that we were trying to find.  he told us to go back to the first metro stop we were at, and take a different line to a different stop, and from there we would see the street right away.  We all laughed at our pointless trip halfway across Paris, and got back on the metro, assuming that we were finally almost to our B&B.  We were wrong.

Once we exited the metro, we consulted the map.  Unfortunately, it was quite confusing and we chose a direction and started walking.  After a block or two, there didn’t appear to be anything ahead, so we once again looked to our map.  Just then, Morgan realized that there were two streets with the same name that intersected each other, and we had chosen the wrong one.  We headed back in the opposite direction to get on the right street.  From there, we turned left, assuming we would arrive in a few blocks.  After eight blocks, we realized that, once again, we were wrong.

Morgan went into a cafe, got new directions, and we walked all the way back the way we had come, plus two blocks, before finally finding the right street.  We almost cried from relief.  We finally reached our B&B and the sweet owner, named Maria, greeted us.  She insisted on making us something to eat, as we hadn’t had dinner yet and it was ten o’clock at night.  After a good meal and a cup of tea we headed to bed, exhausted from our evening lost if Paris.

This is what our faces looked like after being lost in Paris for six hours.

This is what our faces looked like after being lost in Paris for six hours.

In the Louvre!

In the Louvre!

The next morning was drizzly and overcast as we ate an entire loaf of bread for breakfast.  We headed out and took the metro to the Louvre.  The best part of traveling with close friends with similar personalities is that you can spend equal amounts of time enjoying the actual cultural and artistic beauty and being silly.  We appreciated the Mona Lisa (cliche!) along with the thousands of other works of art as we wandered the enormous building.  We may have also reenacted some priceless pieces of artwork and laughed hysterically in the process.

Reenacting famous art.  We're definitely adults.

Reenacting famous art. We’re definitely adults.

Along the river Seine

Along the river Seine

 

After a long morning the Louvre, the sun was out and we wandered down the Seine to find a spot for lunch.  As we were walking we stumbled across the lock bridge and walked across it.  We found some to-go sandwiches and desserts and sat on a bridge over the river for a picnic lunch.  Sometimes the things that you dream of doing seem better in your mind than in actual practice.  This was not one of them.  It was absolutely wonderful to sit with two of my favorite travel buddies and enjoy our enormous sandwiches in the Paris sunshine.

On the lock bridge!

On the lock bridge!

A picnic on the river

A picnic on the river

 

After lunch, we walked back along the Seine and headed toward the Arc di Triumph.  Along the way, I bought a red beret (cliche!), which I immediately wore.  We saw the Arc, and then headed to the Eiffel Tower as the day waned towards a close.  We navigated our way over, and arrived just before sunset.  We watched the sun set on the Eiffel Tower, and took way more pictures than we should have (cliche!).

A red beret and the Arc di Triumph (cliche!)

A red beret and the Arc di Triumph (cliche!)

Three friends in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Three friends in front of the Eiffel Tower.

 

We bought some crepes (cliche!) and watched as the lights came on on the tower.  We, being the children that we are, rode a carousel in front of the Eiffel Tower.  We remembered as we got off the carousel, that the Eiffel Tower lights up every hour starting at eight p.m.  As it was 7:45, we stayed in front of the tower and watched it sparkle.  It was unbelievably beautiful to see.  Afterwards, we went under the tower and I bought Haley and Morgan a rose, and we danced in the cool Paris night.

Morgan and Haley on the carousel.

Morgan and Haley on the carousel.

We walked back towards the B&B as the night grew colder, stopping for a quick dinner in a cafe near the place we were staying.  We were exhausted and our feet hurt, but we were happy.

The next morning was drizzly again, as we ate another loaf of bread for breakfast.  After leaving Maria at the B&B, we went to the Notre Dame and admired the stained glass windows before dashing off to a free tour of the city.  There we met up with Becky and Nick, two of the other students from Sorrento who were also in Paris at the time, and followed the tour for a bit down the Seine.

The stained glass in the Notre Dame is unbelievable.

The stained glass in the Notre Dame is unbelievable.

Late in the afternoon, we bought some Madeleine cookies and sat in front of the Eiffel Tower eating them (cliche!).  We mustered our courage and got our walking feet ready and prepared the climb to the top.  The walk was long, but the view was unbelievable.  I almost cried when I saw Paris from above.  We watched the sunset from the top of the Eiffel Tower (cliche!) and made fun of the couples getting blown around in the wind, trying to make messy hair and tired feet romantic (not so cliche).  As we reached the bottom of the tower once again, it began to sparkle.  We ran out to see it one last time.

Hanging out in front of the Eiffel Tower (cliche!)

Hanging out in front of the Eiffel Tower (cliche!)

Admiring the city from above.

Admiring the city from above.

At dinner, I insisted on getting a Croque Madame because Paris (cliche!) while my friends all got ravioli.  I guess we were all staring to miss Italy, and were excited to head home the next day, even if we were sad to leave Paris.  After dinner, we all got crepes and headed home to get one last night’s sleep before our flight home.

The Eiffel Tower is beautiful when it sparkles at nighttime.

The Eiffel Tower is beautiful when it sparkles at nighttime.

During spring break, we had spent so much time at airports and getting on planes, that we weren’t overly worried about getting to the airport early.  Unfortunately, this left us on a train, headed to the airport forty minutes before take-off.  We ran straight to the desk when we arrived, twenty minutes prior to departure, only to be informed that we were too late to check in and we would not be able to make our flight.

At this point, pre-Italy Caroline would’ve freaked out.  However, present-day Caroline got on the free wi-fi and started looking for flights while Haley and Morgan ran around the airport asking every company how we could get home.  After a while, Morgan came back downstairs with a mischievous smile on her face, Haley trailing behind looking apprehensive.

“What?” I asked, concerned.

“What if we didn’t go home?” Morgan asked, “We’re single.  We’re twenty.  We’re in Europe.  We’re taking pass-fail classes.  What if we just…go somewhere else?”

I closed my laptop.  “YES.”

French Riviera

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

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Suzy and I decided to go to the French Riviera after finding out that tickets to Rome were around 85 Euros a person. So, we took a train late Thursday evening and arrived in Nice around 8 pm, and checked into our hostel. We were the only ones in a 6 person mixed room, so we thought that was nice……

 Around 2 am, a homeless man woke Suzy and I up and told us that we had to talk to him. He wasn’t mentally there, so the conversation was a mix between babble and finding work in the US?Then, he came over to Suzy’s bed and was showing her an interesting hole in the wall?? WHAT?When he got close to her, I was like OMG, Suzy, he’s gonna pull out a knife or something. Not shorty after, I guess, he got angry because we didn’t want to talk,(GO FIGURE) and was like, “what do you want me to leave or something? There are plenty of beds here, but you want me to leave??” So I said, “Maybe you would prefer a room with more talkative people…” After about five minutes of persuasion he finally left…. For the rest of the night, I literally slept on my pepper spray, because I was so afraid he was going to come back.

 Amazed to have woken up the next morning…alive…, Suzy and I went downstairs and talked to the owner of the hostel about what happened that night. He explained that this man stayed one night and got a copy of the key somehow, and had been coming back each night. So, we asked if they had any female only rooms because we would feel much more comfortable in a different room. Then the owner got mad and said that was discriminatory, and that he would MAKE SURE the guy wouldn’t come again?? Like WTF….Rude….and this guy has been coming every night AND still has a key, what’s going to be different this time…ughh. So we just were like ‘the hell with that’ and left

 So after that traumatic night, Suzy and I decided to explore Nice! YAY! We checked out the beach and the old town, before heading to a viewing platform high above the city. The walk up was a bit arduous, but when we finally got there, the views of Nice were spectacular. After that, we got a train to Menton….

 In the south of France, no one pays for tickets on the train because people get off and on so often that it’s impossible to track who got checked for a ticket and who didn’t. So to save a buck, Suzy and I decided not to get one, and if we got caught we could just buy one on the train for a little extra. (That’s how it usually is)So when we were just about to get off at Menton, a train employee decided to be a real asshole and made a huge deal about not having a ticket. We tried to reason with him, saying that the machines at Nice wouldn’t take our card…WHICH THEY WOULDN’T(because we didn’t have the card with the microchip)..and that we were going to buy them on the train for a little more. He just started screaming at us, saying that we owed 35 euors each, and that we were being thieves. We refused to give him the money, so he called the police.When we got off the train and I finally gave him my credit card, he refused to give it back until I signed it. He was the biggest effing asshole I have ever met in my life.

 So after a nice cry session, we made our way into Menton to try and enjoy some of the day. The town was beautiful, but I was so preoccupied about what happened, I wasn’t able to think of anything else. After Menton, we visited Eze. By now, I had begun to feel a little better, so I was able to appreciate this town more. It is situated on a hill overlooking the beautiful, blue water of the Mediterranean. The beach was very pretty, being made up of small stones. Suzy and I collected pretty rocks for a good hour before heading back to our different hostel in Nice.

 The next day, was pretty rainy, so we decided to hang around Nice and plan cheaper travel to our next destination…Cassis(about 2 hours away). We decided to try out Bla Bla Bla Car Rides, which is a site that allows you to book car pool rides with other people who are going to the same destination. We couldn’t find a ride directly to Cassis, so booked the ride that was closest. We got a ride with a French girl from Nice to Toulon, but she then offered to drive us another 45 minutes to Cassis because it was getting late! She was so helpful and sweet…it was really was such a nice change…I had begun to think all French people were jerks!

 The next morning, we woke up to blue skies, and to an amazing view of the ocean.I was so excited to begin hiking the calanques(very narrow, limestone peninsulas that jut out into the ocean) that I could barely stand to be in the breakfast room for much longer. We left and walked about 20 minutes to the beginning of the trail, which was located next to a small port. The water was so clear, I could easily see the bottom, which must have been at least 15 feet deep. We hiked up to our first calanque, which was beyond beautiful. At the top, you could see many small islands in the distance and a teal inlet below. I took many pictures, but was too afraid to get any closer to the edge because it was extremely windy up that high. After, we made our way down in the gorge and to the inlet, then back up to the second calanque. The views were pretty spectacular from here as well because you could see a huge red cliff far off that wasn’t visible from the first calanque. We slowly made our way down into the second gorge and up to the third calanque, but by this time I was getting very tired lol. After a good sit at the top, we hiked back into Cassis. When we eventually got into town, my feet felt like they were going to fall off…We had hiked for about 7 hours, so just a few stairs left me winded. That’s why getting back to the hostel felt like an eternity!

 The next day, we caught a bus to the train station( which was beautiful btw) and headed home. It took about 8 hours to finally reach Milan, but all in all the trip was definitely worth it.There were some flaws, but the hiking made up for all that had happened, and more some. Cassis was one of the prettiest places Ive ever been and I am glad that I will be going back in April with my parents. Yes, I convinced them that they HAVE to see Cassis when they come over. HEHE

 

French Riviera and Taormina, Sicily

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Last weekend sabrina and i were suppose to travel to Rome, although when we arrived at central station and saw that the prices had escalated to like 85 euros/ person, we decided to ditch that idea. While we were scrolling around we saw that a ticket to nice, france was 30 euros ..and so instead of spending the weekend without plans, we jumped at this idea. A couple hours later we were on the train to france! The first day in the french riviera was overcast as with the next…actually in general the beginning of the trip didnt start out very good. The first night we were in a hostel…and we were happy to have the 6 bed room to ourselves. Around 1 or 2 in the morning some creepy ass dude comes in, and wakes us up and starts asking Sabrina and I about moving to America. At first i was like, oh he has a key, he must be a resident coming in late…but the more he kept talking the creepier and weirder he seemed. I was actually seriously scared, because it was just me and bree and this creepy dude. He kept asking sabrina and I if we would like him to stay in one of the beds in the room…and because obviously we knew there was something wrong with him we were like ” oh you might wwant to go to a different room where there’s more people to talk  to” . Also, we didnt want to get him mad by saying something like “please leave, because i’m scared youre going to murder us”so we tried to convince him to leave as smoothly as possibly. Finally he did leave, and i barely got any sleep that night because I thought he would come back, and i didnt know an y number to call in case he did. The next day we found out he wasnt a resident and he had made a copy of the key days ago when he had stayed there…0.0 (are you kidding me) and then the hostel owner was like “so, do you wanna stay  another night?” …………………………………………..yeah no, thanks.

So the next day i dont really feel like talking about…in summation we had to pay a terd of a train ticket douchebag man 70 euros because we didnt have a ticket…which we couldnt buy at the machine in teh station. “i dont know lloyd the french are assholes”

…lol i shouldnt say this because the next day we caught a ride-share to cassis, france from a really sweet woman who offered to bring us all the way to our hostel.

 

Cassis was really cool. we hiked the calanques, which are amost a white looking canyon lands, located on a bright blue sea. It really was a gorgeous place to hike. I’m hoping on bringing my parents back there and maybe seeing the french riviera again, because I dont think it was done justice with the few cloudy and rainy days with which we saw it.

cassis, france!IMG_1426 IMG_1429

Sicily

I really, really, really liked sicily. The area isnt (in general) very touristy and it just seems like old italian. We probably went to the most touristy area, which still seemed like it had so much of it’s history and charm from decades past. The first day there we spend visitng isola bella, the little island right off the shore. Later that day we hiked to the top of the castle on the cliff overlooking the twon and sea. The views were spectacular. The next day we went up with a guide and 3 other women, and we hiked parts of mount etna (which is the second most active volcano in the world). This was a really cool experience. For lunch we went to a vinyard on the mountain and had apertivo (like olives, bread, sundried tomatoes, and cheeses) and wine tastings with about 5 differnt types of wine. I particularly liked a red sicilian wine made from teh grapes on mount etna…it was one of the later wines, and you know they all start tasting better the more you drink;) We finished the day by going to a cave…which was actually a giant lave tube. This too was also really cool.

When we got back to taormina, we walked to the grocery store, and on our way we stopped in the main piazza. from there you could see a small little patch off bright red lavaon the volcano!

The next day we spent chilling in taormina. We went swimming and exploring the beautiful waters right off the beach, which are very rocky and fully of colorfully striped fish. The water itself was still pretty cold so we didnt stay in too long, and for a good part of the afertoon we spend sunbathing on the beach.

In the end, i was sad to leave Sicily…there’s just something really special about this beautiful island with it’s volcano and sea and rolling green hills…

 

taormina, sicily…and hiking mount etna!

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At Home in Madrid

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

After a quick nap on the short plane ride from Barcelona to Madrid, my Dad’s friend from college, Elena, picked us up at the airport to take us to her house where we were staying.  On the way, we stopped at an enormous art museum called the Prado.  After a whirlwind tour of the majority of the enormous building, led by the ever-moving Elena, we gratefully followed her to a bar near the museum where we enjoyed a beer and some tapas.

Haley, Morgan, and I in a bar in central Madrid.

Haley, Morgan, and I in a bar in central Madrid.

Finally, we reached our destination, and were greeted by Pedro (Elena’s husband, and another friend of my Dad’s), and their children.  Jaime, the eldest, had come to America years ago and stayed with my family for two weeks.  Alex, the second oldest, did the same a few years later.  Elena, the youngest and only girl, hasn’t come to the U.S. yet.  She’s named after her mother and it’s actually pretty confusing to figure out which person they’re referring to when they say “Elena.”

Me with our host family for the week (from left) Me, Elena, Jaime, Alex, and Pedro, with Mocha, the dog

Me with our host family for the week (from left) Me, Elena, Jaime, Alex, and Pedro, with Mocha, the dog

After a delicious tortilla espanola (a type of quiche made with eggs and potatoes) we went to the park with Alex and his dog, Mocha, to meet some of his friends.  It was rather entertaining attempting to communicate between their broken English, Morgan and Haley’s broken spanish, and my Italian.  After a long day, we returned home to rest up before a full day in Madrid.

In the morning, after a big breakfast, Elena took us to the big park in Madrid so that we could work our way back across the city.  We all commented on what a luxury it was to be driven around in a car. At this point, we’re so used to getting to a city and having to figure out the bus or metro system to get anywhere.

The pond in front the Crystal Palace was amazing in the sunshine.

The pond in front the Crystal Palace was amazing in the sunshine.

In the park, there was a crystal palace that was absolutely amazing.  There were a lot of elderly people sitting in rocking chairs and reading in the bright Madrid sunshine inside the palace, which looks out on a pond that’s full of turtles.  The turtles pull themselves up on to the sides and sun themselves. showing off for the tourists.

Haley and I in front of the Crystal Palace.

Haley and I in front of the Crystal Palace.

As we walked across the city, we stopped for coffees and enjoyed the external beauty of the buildings all around old Madrid.  After some confusion and getting a bit off course, I finally relinquished my map to Morgan, and promised to actually enjoy the city instead of navigating constantly.  We eventually found our way to the market (with a few stops in the local shops for a bit of shopping) and wandered around all the different stalls to find some lunch.  We all ate a delicious hodge-podge of sweets and tapas along with fresh juice.

Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

As the day ended, we went to see the Royal Palace and the Cathedral, before heading back to Elena’s brother’s bar to be picked up.   Elena made a delicious potato salad for dinner, along with bread and sausage, and we were extremely grateful to have food to eat at home.  After a quick rest, Alex’s friends came over, and we joined them in watching the soccer match between Madrid and Germany.  We all laughed as Alex heated up a frozen pizza and brought out beers.  It felt just like hanging out with college boys in America.

The Royal Palace in Madrid.

The Royal Palace in Madrid.

The next day, we wanted to see something a bit different, so Elena helped us plan a trip to Toledo, a small town outside Madrid.  Toledo is known for its vast array of religions, and we were able to see a synagogue, a mosque, and a monastery, all of which were beautiful, before racing back to the train station to avoid missing our train home.

The view from the Mosque in Toledo

The view from the Mosque in Toledo.

The courtyard of the monastery in Toledo was beautiful.

The courtyard of the monastery in Toledo was beautiful.

That night, Pedro and Elena prepared an enormous dinner of two different kinds of Paella, chicken and seafood, along with guacamole and salad.  We all stuffed ourselves with delicious food and contentedly discussed our plans for the rest of the semester.  Alex announced that he was going to meet his friends, and invited us along.  We went with him for a bit, but it got quite cold.  Morgan, between her broken Spanish and Italian, tried to say that she was cold, but somehow ended up announcing that she “fried too many eggs.”  On that note, we headed home for one last good night’s rest before our flight to Paris.

The morning was hectic as Elena gave us one last tour of the city before we caught our flight.  We exchanged hugs and farewells at the airport, with a promise to return some time, and headed off to our final destination: Paris!

First Weekend Out on the Town

Sunday, March 30th, 2014

On Friday we finished the first week of the prep course. I’m definitely glad that I signed up for it! I’ve met a handful of the international students. There are people here from the USA, Korea, Russia, Slovakia, Finland, Ukraine, Czech republic, Argentina, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Japan, and Poland. There’s probably a few others, but I haven’t met them yet. :)

One of the Russian girls, Veronika, wore a Sochi Olympics jacket to class one day this past week, so during the break, I asked her did she go see the Olympics, and as it turns out, she actually worked at the Olympics as a volunteer! How awesome is that! She said that she helped out with the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and during the games she worked in the ice rink (figure skating & speed skating) helping with delegations from other countries. (I’m so jealous!!) Since she volunteered, she got a package of spirit gear, including one of the multi-color pullover jackets, with the Olympic rings on the back. What a cool experience for someone our age!

Having a limited kitchen and no meal plan really forces you to be creative when it comes to meals. No microwave and only one pot also limits what you can create. Saturday I made pasta with chicken and oven-roasted vegetables and Brötchen (bread roll) mit Butter. It’s times like these when being a Girl Scout really comes in handy — I sliced up carrots, potatoes, cucumber, and green beans and wrapped it all up in foil, like a potato pocket for campfires, but just stuck it in the oven instead!

Saturday Dinner 29-03-2014
Saturday Dinner 29-03-2014

Since classes don’t start until the end of April, two of my flatmates went home for Easter and the third girl moved out completely. With everyone leaving, they took all of their stuff with them, including kitchenware, leaving me without a hot pot, paring knife, and skillet. I ended up buying another hot pot, because I can’t go 3 weeks without tea or cappuccino! With no one here to say otherwise, I monopolized the fridge, moving a shelf to make my shelf twice the size. I am also taking up a second shelf, and two door racks. What can I say, I love to cook lots of food…

Fridge Monopoly
Fridge Monopoly

***UPDATE – SUNDAY 21:00: One girl was still here when I came back home this evening– I think she might be one of “those people” that goes home every weekend. If so, I’m already not a fan of it..***

 

This next section is what I journaled during my Saturday night outings:

This evening a lot of the exchange students are meeting for a ‘pub crawl.’ I think tonight is going to be a lot of fun! We started out at Cafe Nerly, and then half of us went to a night club and the other half of us went to the Dubliner, a popular Irish pub. I went to the Dubliner because it cost 8 Euro to go to the club. It was karaoke night at the Dubliner and it was hilarious! Someone sang Barbie Girl, and others sang 99 Luftballoons, and sang Enter Sandman. Jordan thought about singing Karaoke, but didn’t. Instead, we were “those people” that were loud, and belting out the words to all of the songs that were sang in English. We fit right in. :)

Jordan looking for the perfect song-- "Take on Me"
Jordan looking for the perfect song– “Take on Me”

The Dubliner was so much fun that we reserved a table for every Saturday next month, in case people want to go out, we have a place to meet up and decide what we want to do for the night. It was around 1am when we decided to leave. The Straßenbahn only runs once per hour that late and we missed it by 5 minutes! We ended up walking home instead of waiting an hour for the next train. It wasn’t a very lengthy walk but by the time we got back to the apartments it was just before 2 am. After showering and getting ready for bed, it was already 4:30, but technically only 3:30 because of daylight savings. Germany time went forward one hour so now I am 6 hours ahead of the USA.

 

What a beaUtiful Sunday morning/ afternoon! I sat on my balcony and enjoyed my breakfast: Stracciatella Cappuccino, Johgurt mit der Ecke, und Toast mit Erdbeere Frucht und mit Nusspli.. yum :P

 

Typical relaxation picture with feet and scenic view..
Typical relaxation picture with feet and scenic view..

 

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The perks about a balcony? Your can air out your smoky clothes from last night. ;)

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Buenos Dias, Barcelona

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

For spring break, I decided to travel to Barcelona, Madrid and Paris with two of my friends from Italy, Morgan and Haley.  It’s funny how once you travel around a bit, everything about it seems far easier and way less intimidating.  As we packed to leave, we were massively excited but not at all nervous.  We caught the bus from Sorrento to the Napoli airport, and managed to get on our flight to Barcelona with no problems.  A few hours later, we landed in Barcelona, ready to relax and enjoy the sunshine.

At the beach in Barcelona with Morgan and Haley.

At the beach in Barcelona with Morgan and Haley.

One of the things we were most excited for was exploring two different sides of Spain.  We learned from Haley’s friend, Hailey, who’s studying abroad this semester in Barcelona, and Morgan’s friend, Queralt, who lives just outside Barcelona, about the tension between the Catalonia region and the rest of Spain.  The Catalonian region has a different culture from the rest of Spain, with its own holidays, traditions, foods, and even a different language.  I’ve never taken Spanish, but Haley and Morgan, who had, couldn’t understand most of the signs around Barcelona.  Hailey explained to us that most of the signs are written in Catalan, which, while similar to Spanish, is a separate language.  This is similar to Italy, in that the people living in and around Napoli speak Napoletan, which has many similarities to Italian, but is its own language.

The issue, in a very simplified summary, is that Catalonia feels that it is separate from Spain, and wishes to be its own country.  It was interesting to listen to the perspective of both a native Catalonian and an American student abroad in Barcelona for the semester.  I, for one, am very excited to hear the perspective of the people in Madrid, and see how it differs (as I’m sure it will) from the people of Barcelona.

Getting a fish pedicure in Barcelona.

Getting a fish pedicure in Barcelona.

While we were in Barcelona, in between beach days lazing on the sand and strolling along the open market by the port, we visited a beautiful art museum that we refurbished for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.  There was an amazing light and fountain show as the sun set that we were able to catch.  Barcelona is beautiful in the evening, and we were lucky enough to look over the whole of the massive city from up on the hill as the lights began to come on for the evening.

On top of the city!

On top of the city!

We were not so lucky, however, when it came to seeing the Sagrada Familia.  It’s a cathedral that’s still under construction that was designed by the architect Gaudi.  It has a unique design and is very beautiful.  Unfortunately, the day we went there was a special mass and we were unable to enter.  After our many thwarted attempts to see the Sistine chapel and this bad luck with the Sagrada Familia, Morgan and I are starting to think we’re cursed!

One of the best parts of any trip is the food, and Barcelona did not disappoint.  While we did break down and get a Starbucks coffee one morning (a girl can only drink so much espresso), we also experienced the classic Spanish foods.  The first night, we had massive pans of paella at a local restaurant.  The second night, we stuck with sandwiches, because broke college girls can only eat out so many nights without breaking the bank.  Luckily, Hailey pointed us in the direction of good Catalonian options, and we enjoyed fresh crusty bread spread with tomatoes and topped with fresh ham.  The last night had to be my favorite, though, as we shared a bunch of different tapas between the three of us.  Croquettes, potatoes, chicken wings, calamari, shrimp, tortilla Espanola, and eggs and potatoes; I can’t decide which was my favorite, but they were all delicious.

Beef paella at dinner.

Beef paella at dinner.

As I write this, we’re hanging around the airport waiting for a flight to Madrid where we’ll visit my dad’s friends from college, Pedro and Elena, and their kids, Jaime, Alex, and Elena.  I’m excited to see what the rest of spring break will bring, but if nothing else, Barcelona was a dream come true.

Looking over the water in Barcelona.

Looking over the water in Barcelona.

Foppolo

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

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Ski Trip to Foppolo!

 

On Saturday, Suzy and I had to catch an ESN group bus at 6.30 am to get to the Foppolo ski resort. We had to leave the house an hour earlier to catch the tram, and then metro to get to the stop Romolo, where the bus was located. However, I had no idea that the metro in Milan doesn’t run until 6 am. Sooooooooo, when we got off the tram and realized that the metro was closed, and that there was no possibility of walking to Romolo, we decided to get a taxi .It took about 15 minutes to get there by car, so I was able to check out Milan from the safety of the vehicle..and lemme tell ya…Milan at 5.30 am is not the place you want to be if you are a sane person! Everyone that was out on the streets was creepy as hell. For one thing, there wasn’t a woman to be found, only creepy men in leather jackets…ahhh! And most of them were either still consuming alcohol, or throwing it up. So when we arrived at Romolo, the last thing I wanted to do was wait in the dark until sunrise, but I forced myself to get out of the safe, comforting taxi and sit in the shadows….. Suzy and I sat on a curb for a good forty five minutes, with a pepper spray bottle in out hands until people from the ski trip started arriving. Oh, I couldn’t tell you have relieved I was when I saw them carrying ski equipment and knew I was going to live to see another day !Also, It was great to not have to sit on cement any longer …my butt must have been as flat as a pancake. So, around 7, with everyone on the bus, we took off for the mountains of Foppolo!

 

When we got to the resort, we dropped off our stuff in our quaint, little rooms, got our rental ski equipment, and hit the slopes.Foppolo is a pretty small resort, with only about 2 dozen trails. So after just a few hours, we had skied about half the mountain. Suzy and I, and a couple friends who we skied with decided to get a lunch around 1.

 

 

Compared to Zermatt, Fopplo was dirt cheap…with a beer and pizza coming to a grand total of 5 euros..yayyy! Hmm,oh, ’tis a beautiful thing to buy alcohol legally abroad, when you are still underage in the states ;) I’m gonna miss that :’ ) After lunch, we skied for another two hours in pretty slushy snow before cutting out.

 

 

Later, after getting all cleaned up, the snow cat picked us all up from the hotel on the mountain and drove(?) lol us to a ski restaurant on the slopes for apertivo/happy hour. We ate good finger food while we listened to American pop music haha. The bathroom here was also Turkish style. Yay more practice -__- But after a while it was getting a lil lame, so we got the snow cat back to the hotel. We decided to go to the local club, Club Grizzly(?), after a short nap. So when I woke up, and was ready to party, I looked at the clock and it was 3.30 am haha.

 

 

The next morning, we went downstairs and got breakfast, which consisted of hollow bread and cornflakes. Literally every baguette we had, the ones at breakfast and the ones we stashed for later, all of them were hollow!! I must have eaten about 5 hollow baguettes during the course of the day haha. After breakfast and cleaning up, we hit the slopes again for another day of skiing. The views from the top of the mountain were excellent because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which allowed for great visibility. Around noon, we took a break down by the hotel and sat on beach/ bean bag chairs in the sun for about two and a half hours. I might have made a little/ huge mistake…My face is still swollen from the sunburn after two days. I even got laughed at when I was walking on a street in Milan…mehhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!! The sun was so warm and inviting it was so hard to leave my soft, waterproof bean bag chair! But after getting fried, we skiied for another 2 hours and then cut out to get dinner. Soon thereafter, we gathered our stuff, boarded the bus, and drove back to Milano.

 

 

All in all, I thought the Foppolo trip was a lot of fun! It was great to be able to ski again before Spring came around. I loved skiing with my friends and soakin up the winter sun, even if I do have a tomato for a face. I definitely will try and get up to Foppolo again for hiking in May/June!

 

The Sunday Drag

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

So, as I come to realize, almost everywhere is closed on Sundays here, or places close earlier than normal, so since classes have not started yet, this led to a very uneventful slow day. It was cold outside, so I didn’t really feel like going out in it. Today mostly consisted of sleeping in, scrolling through Facebook (which turns out gets boring after a while), checking email and refreshing the page to find that no new messages had come, and watching random videos on Youtube.  Since Netflix and other movie/ tv show websites don’t work here, I ended the evening with a cup of cappuccino and Wired Science videos on Youtube.

On another note, my third roommate/ apartment mate returned today! Her name is the only one of the three that I can remember. (It’s Sophie, by the way..) I had one apt-mate who I thought had moved out yesterday or the day before, but alas, she too returned today, and the kitchen was very busy during dinnertime.  Since it is fairly small, only one person cooked their dinner at a time.  And since there is no dining area, I brought my meal back to my room to eat alone.

Small kitchen
Small kitchen
My shelf in the fridge (the middle one w/ strawberries)
My shelf in the fridge (the middle one w/ strawberries)
The shelf I claimed in one of the cabinets (sad and pretty empty at the moment)
The shelf I claimed in one of the cabinets (sad and pretty empty at the moment)

What did I make you ask? The same thing as last night’s dinner: Möhren, Busch Bohnen, und Spaghetti. We also have no microwave, and currently only one pan/pot and one skillet, so I boiled the veggies, set aside, boiled the pasta, then dumped it all into the skillet to make my favorite pan-fried pasta. YUM! At the moment, I have a limited supply of ingredients: enough to fill my shelf in the fridge. I only have butter (no olive oil), and no spices (no salt, pepper, garlic, etc.), so yesterday I stumbled upon someone else’s olive oil and salt, so SHH! Don’t tell meine Mitbewohnerinnen that I used their food!

The pan is so small, the pasta won't fit even when broken in half!
The pan is so small, the pasta won’t fit even when broken in half!
Veggies set aside
Veggies set aside
Frying the pasta
Frying the pasta
Pan-fried pasta w/ green beans & carrots
Pan-fried pasta w/ green beans & carrots

The living situation is very different over here than what I am used to back at UMW. Meine Mitbewohnerinnen are very quiet and to themselves. It’s like we live alone, and just share a kitchen area, but not food. Everyone leaves their doors closed, so i never know if anyone is around. At UMW, however, Kelly and I are roommates AND best friends! Sally, Salena, Georgeanne, and Jessie were just across the hall, and all of us would leave our doors open, and we would move as we pleased between rooms! UMW residence halls are much more of a community than apartments here. That is one of the things that I am looking forward to getting back, when the fall semester starts at UMW.

 

 

PS – sorry the videos are sideways! I couldn’t figure out how to rotate them. :)