28 April 2009

One of those days....

Today has just been one of those days... it rained all day yesterday and today. It's been cold and cloudy (when it's not raining) and I just wish I had hours upon hours to sit in a hot tup, reading a great book, and sipping on a glass or two of wine (you'd be happy for me... alcohol is out of the diet except a glass at dinner!).

I'm listening to Kings of Leon "Sex on Fire" and it's helping me feel a bit better. It's just one of those songs that makes me smile and relax every time I hear it.

I think I'm just going to go to sleep now and wake up early for that run that I wasn't able to do this morning since I set my alarm incorrectly. Oops.

Well... Rennes. It was fantastic, albeit a bit chilly. Walked around the main area on Saturday and proceeded to easily get lost since I did not have a map or anything. It was run to be walking around by myself and just exploring and reflecting on things. Got up in the morning and went on a run, too. What's nice about running is being able to explore new areas faster. I found a cool little park and a moving bridge and a beautiful field. I almost took my little camera with me but decided against it... next time I do exploring I'll bring it so you can get a glimpse of what I see. We walked around the biggest market in france on Saturday and I ate a Galette Saucis, which is a galette (kinda like a pancake) wrapped around a sausage... a typical "dish" in Bretagne. Very tasty and hit the spot on the chilly afternoon! And the STRAWBERRIES! Oh my gosh! I actually didn't eat any... but the people came all the way up from the south of france with the strawberries... and apparently they were the first people to begin growing strawberries in France. They looked delicious!! I even saw a my first manifestation... not quite sure what they were complaining about but regardless, it was interesting.

The family I stayed with was fantastic. I met them probably 4 years ago in OP when I was babysitting for the dads sisters kiddos... and theirs. The dad was visiting his family in Kansas. The mom is french and they have the most beautiful little girls, Asdrid and Adele. HUGE blue eyes. AWW!!


Sunday we hit St.Malo again. It's such a gorgeous beach, and very relaxing. I love just getting lost in the sea and my thoughts.

23 April 2009

Grandkids

My host moms grandkids arrived Tuesday and they are staying until Saturday. They are SO stinking cute! There are twin boys, 9, and a little girl, 7 1/2 (can't forget that 1/2!) Colette asked me to take some photos of the kiddos yesterday, so of course I couldn't say no! They have been pretty shy until today... I think they are finally relaxing a bit. It's been great having them here. We made cookies today (not as good as Grannie's or Kelsey's... but they will work)! It's hard doing the conversions... even though I use a conversion thing, it just doesn't seem the same. Oh well, they're yummy! I tried to convince the kiddos to try peanut butter... but they wouldn't haha. However, I did get the little girl to try the cookie dough, and they all tried Reeses Pieces! They even wanted to add them to the cookies! I was too busy helping mix everything that I didn't get any photos... but it was still so fun!! I even got invited to have dinner with them (it's Thursday, and she's only required to cook us 3 dinners a week). That made me feel good!

Here are some photos from yesterday...








I ran yesterday afternoon and this morning (6:30am, GO ME!). My friend from Montreal, Diana, is going to be my coach for the next 6 weeks. She normally runs an hour 3x a week, but she's going to work with me everyday and so we will both be running an hour... soon :) Today I went 10 minutes without stopping (if you don't know my running habits... that is amazing.) I bought a watch with a stopwatch on it today so I can time myself and push myself. Should be great!

I head off to Rennes, France tomorrow until Sunday. See you when I get back!!

21 April 2009

Rabbit

Ate rabbit for dinner today. Minus the bones, it tasted a lot like the roast beef my family makes in the crocpot. YUUM!

Also had grapefruit for the first time, imagine that. I remember my mom used to eat it for breakfast with some sugar- but I'd never tried it (to my knowledge) before tonight.

My host moms 3 grandkids are here visiting for a few days from the south of France. There are twin boys, 9, and a girl, 6 or so. They are so adorable! I want to take the little girl home with me... she's so cute... even if she doesn't understand me in French. At least the boys do, so I know there is hope for me!

Time for bed. I'm not feeling too well (can i blame it on the rabbit??)

Back to springtime

Well, I've officially made it back through day 1 of classes! The good thing is I believe we only have 2 5-day weeks of class in the remaining 6 weeks.. so that's good!

We arrived yesterday evening to what seemed to be stormy afternoon, that, of course, we missed (like the nasty weather on the rest of the trip. 1/2 day of rain, which we set aside for museums anyways? yes please! thank you!). I headed straight to the laundromat because, after 16 days, 2 pairs of jeans can get pretty dirty!! Anways-- it was great to be back in Angers, and for the first time it REALLY REALLY REALLY felt like "home". We left to spring just beginning, and we came back to it being her full force. It smells like spring, looks like spring, and feels like spring. The cool thing is we have almost completely missed the "april showers" and are jumping straight to the "bring may flowers" verse. It really is amazing how quickly time flies.

In my language class today we were discussing fears, and things we were afraid of as children and even today. It started as fears or thunderstorms and spiders, and turned in to dying. It kind of got me thinking about all of it though. As a kid, when it would storm, I would take my stuffed animals and put them under the piano bench and sleep there with them, because, at that time, they were the most important thing to me. But today, what would I take? If I have 10 seconds to grab the most important things to me for fear of the rest being destroyed, what would I take? What about you? What would you take then- and now?

Now it's time for bed. I have officially applied for KU graduation, changed my plane ticket to head back to NYC on August 20 (back in KC on the 24), sent an order, and researched cities for summer travel.

19 April 2009

Ireland

My last night in Dublin was spent socializing with people from the hostel. Most of them were Italians, with a few from France. You know what the great part about Italians is, though? They are all so proud of where they come from. Not only were they all proud to be from Italy, but also their particular city. Every person told me I had to go see this city and that city this summer- the rest just aren’t worth it. It’s kind of funny, but at the same time, it makes me want to see all of the cities. Regardless, I am so excited to go see Italy again, and also to experience Spain. It’s going to be so hard to choose a city to move to in January- and which language I want to learn. The few words I do know in Italian, I was told I have a good accent- ha. So, we’ll see where life takes me. It’s such a big world and there are so many choices, how do I know I’ll be making the right one? Time will tell, I suppose…

I have decided, however, that I am not a fan of big cities. At all. T hey are full of tourists and they are totally targeted toward tourists in general. I understand this and the reason for it, but at the same time, it’s not what I want. I don’t want to go to the pubs in Dublin and be overwhelmed with people from all over. Like I said, it is great because you get to meet people from all over- but, for that very reason you are not experiencing the true culture. That’s definitely something to note for traveling this summer—the smaller and the more “off the map” the better. Galway was great for getting away from that. It is listed as a “must see city” in Ireland, but it is not heavily populated with tourists (for the most part). Besides Piper’s little tumble… and my newly discovered bad reaction to hummus (which is really awful because it’s so delicious, easy to make, and good for you!!) … Galway had an awesome nightlife. Supposedly that is what it is known for, although we were not aware of that upon arrival. There are locals in every pub and live IRISH music playing all night long (unlike Dublin where the music was all American tunes). The musicians and the spectators all were having a fantastic time enjoying either their Guinness or Hooker (which is brewed in Galway). So much fun- even though I had to leave early due to the hummus reaction.

We did tour the Guinness factory in Dublin though! It was really cool-. The view of Dublin at the top, the “free” pint of Guinness, and the… borrowed?... glass so made it worth every centime! It was very well organized and even though it was obviously related to alcohol, I think it could be appreciated by all ages- even children. No, not the Guinness at the end… but the rest of it!

Somehow, though, New York City is still my favorite city I have visited. One of my new friends from last night pointed out that I have not seen all of the cities in the world so it is not fair to say it’s my favorite city in the world. Fair enough- I will just keep it at the top of my list thus far. ☺

So, it’s back to Angers now. I’m sad to be ending the 16-day voyage through Europe, but I have learned a lot along the way- especially for planning my trip for the summer. Here are a few of the things I learned:
Hostels. Great and so worth it so you can meet people and make connections all over the world.
When at hostels, share contact information! You never know when you may be able to help each other!
Food. You really don’t have to eat out all the time. Grocery stores are great alternatives, and if you want the “taste” of the country, you can still have one or 2 big meals a week and you will get the great food- and save a pretty penny.
Guide books. SO worth it! They list great things to do and fantastic restaurants- so you are not walking around aimlessly looking at every menu along the way trying to make a decision, and find out later that you are disappointed. The only 2 restaurants we ate at in Dublin ended up being our favorite in the UK, and we found them from the guidebook. The first was more expensive, but worth it. The second was so cheap but equally fantastic.
Paying more for a good meal without ordering wine is generally a better choice than going to a cheaper restaurant and convincing yourself it’s a good idea to order wine. You end up paying the same price- and missing out on a great meal by not going with the former.
Rest. It is really important to plug in an extra day of rest every few days because after walking around for 8 or more hours a day, you will get tired and need a “chill out” day.
Small cities = better (already explained a few times).
More is less: it’s great to see as much as you can when you don’t have much time, but you also waste a lot of ground time by traveling. So, set up a base city and make day trips. You get to make your presence known at certain cafes or wine bars or whatever that way too.
Attractions: It’s not important to see EVERYTHING there is in each city visited. Vatican in Rome? Nope, didn’t see it. The “David” in Florence? Oops, missed that too. The Beatles museum in Liverpool? 11 euros? No thank you. You know, those things are great, but they are also expensive. It’s good to pick and choose exactly what you want to see. You save money that way and you also get to spend more time in the places you are more interested in.
Chocolate: the UK sure does have their KitKats mastered… dark chocolate… peanut butter+milk chocolate… really I don’t think they could get any better. Now, if only the US would trade some peanut butter M&Ms for these 2 types of KitKats… I think the candy lovers everywhere would be happy. Ok, maybe just me.

… back to Angers to begin planning the best trip ever with the daddyo this summer- and the rest of the cities to visit with Linda and also alone.

16 April 2009

Ireland

We arrived in Ireland yesterday evening to rainy weather. No worries- the first night in a hostel is best when spent socializing! We ended up meeting a couple from UNC studying abroad in Montpellier, France, and a girl from Australia who is traveling the world! Since it's so expensive to travel to-and-from Australia, apparently there is a "around the world" plane ticket you can buy, which gives you 1 year to travel and there are certain spots along the way, but at the same time you can change it at any time without an additional fee. What a great idea- the USA needs that! Jo is 5 months in to her journey and is having a blast.

This morning we got up early to head to Galway, Ireland for the day/night. The 4 hour bus ride passed so quickly because I was watching out the window most of the time (or sleeping!). I LOVE the countryside in Ireland! There are stone fences everywhere that keep the sheep inside the property. Just absolutely gorgeous!

We came to Galway for the small town experience- and for the sea. However, Piper decided to take a grand fall after taking a photograph and not watching where she was going! After a couple of bleeding and bruised knees, Kayleigh went to get bandaids... and it couldn't get any worse, right? WRONG! I turn around, and Piper had bird poop on her face and coat (the same coat she spilled wine on in Rome)... it was so funny... we were both crying so hard we were laughing. There was a nice guy from Barcelona who decided to help us, but he also just had to take a photo of Piper because it was too funny. (I'll post photos soon! I actually found a card reader... so I'll be busy on the bus ride back to Dublin!)

Time to go walk around more. I just had to share that story!!

15 April 2009

England

England:

Country 2 of 3.

Before arriving in England, we were quite surprised that so far everything had been fantastic with our traveling. We had not had any problems, we’d made every train and flight (thanks to Kayleigh!) and, well, everything was great!

Until we tried to get to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

We landed early in London, made it through customs, and looked for an information desk to find out the best way to get to our location: train or bus. They told us a bus for sure, and we could purchase the tickets through them. So we did and we were on the bus 30 minutes later. After almost an hour and a half we arrived in Stratford. Stratford, London. NOT Stratford-UPON-AVON. While it was great to see where the arenas for the 2012 Olympics are being built, we had a Shakespeare play to attend in 6 hours! Our bus driver informed us we were miles and miles and MILES away from where we meant to be! He contacted the bus company, gave us a free ride back to the airport, and he said no worries, we would get it all worked out!

… until the bus company realized we had booked through the agency upstairs instead of them. And so now, basically, we were screwed. So we joke that it won’t be more than 4 hours and we will be fine to arrive in time for our play. The joking ended shortly after we were told that the bus ride is 6 hours and wasn’t leaving until 4. If you do the math- that’s 10 pm. The play was starting at 7:30! The Shakespeare play was the sole reason for going to this tiny town (it’s the birthplace of the playwright). Tears started welling up in our eyes, and that was all it took to get the workers of NATIONALEXPRESS to get to working. So Kayleigh and I went to the “bad” bus desk and we (well, she) complained until FINALLY we got our money back. After much complaining, we finally got them to get us a taxi for 56 pounds each, which would get us there by 6 pm. That seemed to be our only choice- until a woman from NATIONALEXPRESS came running up to me and said they found a train for us, but in order to get there we had to be on a bus in 10 minutes and it would only be 18pounds each. However, we would arrive at the train station at 7:15. 56 pounds… 18 pounds… 6pm… 7:15pm… 18 pounds and 7:15 sounded the best!

We may have had to get all dressed up in a dirty bathroom in a train, and looked ridiculous checking our baggage in to the cloak room at the theater, but thanks to an incredible team with NATIONALEXPRESS doing absolutely everything they could to help us make our show- when it wasn’t even their problem in the first place- we actually made it early enough to the show in order to get a much needed glass of wine.

… and the man who runs the B&B stayed up until after 11 to let us in to our room.

So, if you get the chance, you must stay at this B&B in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It’s called, Brooke Lodge” (http://www.brook-lodge.co.uk/) and they were the cutest couple ever. The husband is from Italy and the wife, Scotland. The rooms were clean and we had a home cooked traditional breakfast in the morning, consisting of eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, fried eggs, fried toast, baked beans (for breakfast???) juice, tea, coffee, mushrooms, and Cadbury eggs! (It was Easter, afterall.) The husband even gave us a ride to the bus station in the afternoon after allowing us to leave our bags in the reception area for a few hours so we could explore SUA since we obviously didn’t get the chance to the day before. It was an absolutely amazing experience and maybe one day I will make it back to say hello.

SUA was a cute little town. The only reason it is even on a map is because Shakespeare was born there. Regardless, it was nice and relaxing. Less than a mile outside of town is countryside. Shakespeare things are everywhere- and it made me want to give some more of his books a try. I loved Romeo&Juliet, but it is one of the few plays I have read that I have enjoyed. Maybe I will have time to read some more when I’m done with school… but that’s what everyone says, right?

After we tried to purchase tickets for Oxford twice and were told it’s best to just buy them on the bus, we almost weren’t let on because it was full of people that had already purchased their tickets ahead of time to the ONLY bus heading to Oxford that day. Somehow we managed to make it and we arrived at our hostel.

Hostel. Before two days ago, this word gave me the hebiejeebies. I pictured freaky people, dirty rooms, buildings falling apart, and just all-in-all not a pleasant experience. I mean, how can it be fun in a place like that when you are generally paying close to $20 a night? (In Europe hotels and taxis are on a person-by-person rate). Man, sometimes I am so na├»ve. My first hostel experience was incredible, and it makes me wish we stayed at one in Italy! They have BBQs every Sunday night (we arrived on a Sunday), a kitchen available for use, a TV room (with comfortable chairs/couches!), a lounge area, a terrace outside, and lots of cool people. Sure, sometimes I’m sure there are weird people there. But thankfully we didn’t come across any of them! The hostel was pretty much full of French people and we spoke more French while there than English. Our roomie the first nite is a girl named Juliette- from Nantes, France, which is 40 minutes away from Angers by train. She came to Oxford all alone to get a job to learn English. Apparently you can stay in hostels for an indefinite amount of time at a discounted rate, which is what she was doing. She had arrived just a couple of days before and was already thinking of going back home. However, by the end of the 2 days she had come out of her shell, was hanging out with us, cracking jokes, and meeting a lot of people. She was so much fun- along with everyone else. It just was just a great experience: like living in the dorms to the extreme (in a good way!).

Last night we tried Indian food. Did you know Curry is the national food of England? If not, now you do! There are Indian restaurants everywhere so of course we had to check one out. It was fantastic. I’m so glad I am opening up my taste buds and trying new things. I’ve been holding back for so long- dad, you were right! I’ve been missing out on great food!!

Anways, check out an Indian restaurant the next time you are in England. I think you will be happy.

Yesterday evening I was able to meet up with a friend from KU, who now lives in Oxford. She was actually studying abroad when I met her so it is fun to be in the opposite boat. She had another KU friend with here, and Piper’s friend studying abroad in England also met up with us, so there were 6 KU students meeting up! Haha. It was great to catch up, and her friend, Cody, has experimented with couchsurfing many times. While I have never been nervous about it, some family and friends are nervous for me to experiment with it this summer. But let me tell you- he can assure you there is nothing to worry about! There is a link where the negative comments are all put together. Not bad, huh? Also, he made a good point. He said it takes a lot to open up your home to complete strangers, and agree to show them around and entertain them. So, if they are willing and able to do that, then it can’t be a bad thing. Sure, there are those weird older men on there who say they will only host girls, but obviously I’m not stupid enough to stay there. Plus, you can search for certain ages, and of course there are profiles listed to try to match up personalities. He also gave me some tricks and tips for requesting couches, such as making the request silly and exciting instead of just saying, “hey, I’ll be here this date for this many days… can I stay with you?” He has a point- that’s boring. I don’t think I would host me either if I received a message like that!

We also went through Christ Church University in Oxford. While hesitant at first to pay the 4.50 pound entry fee, I am so glad that I did. Part of Harry Potter was filmed there, and I don’t have that love of HP that my friends do, so needless to say I wasn’t too exciting about paying to tour a campus. However, CCU (I have no idea if that is the acronym, but it works for now!) is way more than just a set for HP. It is where the story of Alice in Wonderland began. Louis Carroll was a student there, and Alice was the dean’s daughter. In the dining room where HP was filmed, there are stained glass windows with pictures of Alice and some of the other characters. There is a small door on the stage where the faculty would eat and go through after meals, which is where the idea for Alice falling through the hole came from. There are old men throughout the whole campus just waiting to make eye contact with you so they can being telling stories. The man in what I will just call the “Alice room” was black with BLUE eyes, and he was from the Caribbean. The man in the church had eyebrows about 2 ½ inches long, of which one was sticking straight out. He sometimes would trail off in his stories, for example, he began talking about the wars he has fought in and how usually people are against civilians being killed, but when they are the ones making the ammunition and weapons, it’s ok. I’m really not sure how he go to that when we began talking about evolution, but well. He was incredibly nice, and it was interesting to see his point of view on that. What I liked best about the church was the stained glass. Instead of it telling stories from the Bible- like every other church/cathedral I’ve seen so far- it told stories of the history of England, or of the campus. It was just a great experience overall, and I’m so happy I gave in and decided to do it!

Again, we lucked out on weather. Like Italy, we had an afternoon siesta in the sun- just without the daily gelato. I’m not quite sure how we’ve lucked out so well, but our luck is supposed to change for Liverpool (which is where we are going right now).

Just a note to you fellow travelers- be prepared to pay a LOT for train travel in England. France now seems so cheap! A one-way ticket from Oxford to Liverpool, with a change inbetween, was 50ponds. AHH break the wallet! Just kidding. Kind of.

My memory card reader broke, so unless I find one in Liverpool or Dublin it may be while to upload pics. I’ve only gotten through day 1 of Rome—so be prepared. I’m about 2500 photos in… it’s funny, though, because while I was taking photos left and right in Italy, I have slowed down quite a bit in England. It’s still pretty an interesting, but I’ve just become more selective I think.

As a side note- it is really bizarre being in an English speaking country after 2 ½ months of being away from it. If we had been in Italy, we never would have made it to our play due to the language barrier. For that reason it’s really nice, but at the same time, it’s a bit odd and kind of hard to transition. I see why people have such a culture shock when they get back to the states. After Sunday it will be 4 months before I will be back in another one… woah bip.

Ok, time to change trains. Thanks for listening… er… reading!

12 April 2009

Major update!






Here is a MAJOR update for you... I wrote it as a few days passed at a time... so the timeframe may not make the most sense, but I will fix it later when I add photos :)

____
It’s great to actually be out of school for a couple of weeks. A break was definitely needed!

We began our spring break in Rome. In order to get there we walked to the train station, took a train to Paris, took a bus to the airport, a plane to Rome, and then a bus to the train station which was really close to our hotel. So we had trains, planes, and automobiles! Literally! The journey was long but finally we made it. Two hours late for our check in due to a flight delay, we were ready for bed at 1:30 in the morning.

After great nights sleep it was time to explore. While on our way to the Coliseum, we ran into a parade. But not just ANY parade- let me tell you! It was a communist parade. I wasn’t aware of it before we got there, but now I know a lot of Italy actually wants to be communist. It was quite interesting to see the PACE rainbow flags, the color red, and people of all ages dancing and celebrating in the streets. This went all day long- literally- and no matter where we were during the day we could hear the drums, music, and whistles of the people.

The Coliseum is incredible. It’s so hard to believe that it was built so long ago and is still standing today. For some reason I expected it to be larger than it was, but at the same time, it’s very big. Although it was full of tourists, it was still possible to imagine what it may have been like to be there when it was active. Can you believe people went there to watch other people die? It sounds so vulgar, but it seems like people will do almost anything for a form of entertainment.

After the Coliseum we headed to some more ruins. We thought maybe it would take 30 minutes to go through it. WOAH were we kidding! It was over an hour before we decided to have a lunch break and come back to see the rest after that. I think this was my favorite part about Rome because there were ruins thousands of years old, and buildings thousands of years old right next to “modern” buildings. And what I think is even cooler is that it was in the center of Rome.

There was also this building we walked by twice before being able to enter it (it was closed the first time for cleaning and the second because it was after hours). We had no idea what it was until we finally made it up there. It was the Tomb of an Unknown Soldier. It was incredibly elaborate and huge while of course gorgeous at the same time.

During the trip we met up with Pipers’ friend, Sarah, and Emma and Phil. It was a lot of fun being able to travel together!

It’s so weird being in a country where we don’t speak the language. I feel bad speaking English because we are regarded as a tourist, which, well, that’s what we are, but at the same time sometimes I feel pushed away. I felt this for the first time when I went to Germany because the language is so different from anything else I know. In Italy, sometimes I can pick up some things because of the little Spanish background mixed with the French, but at the same time, it’s quite different!

The food here is absolutely incredible. It beats French food without a look back. I think they even have better desserts than the French. Gelato is our afternoon snack- but we learned that there is good and bad gelato. Also, and I love how there is so much color everywhere. I feel like the Italians are happier people in general than the French.

Next stop: Florence. The weather was gorgeous- until we got to Florence, where the fog had decided to settle in. But mid/late afternoon it was gone and the weather was perfect. I will probably keep saying this, but we really have lucked out. As soon as we got to our hotel we went to a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant which was clearly full of regulars to meet my friends from NJ- Mel and Salem, and Mel’s friend Mary from AZ. Salem had no idea I was going to meet her, so it was a fun surprise!

Florence, too, is gorgeous. I’m in love with Italian cities: the smaller the better. We made a day trip yesterday to see Siena, which was a 1 ½ hour bus ride from Florence. It was very gorgeous, but at the same time there were too many tourists. I hate that because I feel like people are losing sight of what it means to be in a small town.

But, while in small town Siena we were just walking around and we found a tower. Within the tower there was museum- which included a photography gallery by the photojournalist Paul Fusco. It was incredible. There were images from the chemical explosion in C… what’s crazy about it is the effects that people are feeling 20 years after the explosion… and that you can see it in their children. Cancer is everywhere, and so are tumors. It’s so sad to see the pain and suffering the people are feeling. Children were eating off the floor like they were dogs: probably because they didn’t have much use of their legs. You could see the sadness in the faces of the mothers who were caring for their children with tumors larger than they were.

The next part of his exhibition was the “RFK train” when the coffin of Bobby Kennedy was carried by train. People of all races were standing near the tracks bidding farewell. During that time, it wasn’t common to see black and whites in the same place, but the death of Bobby Kennedy brought them together, even if it was just for a few minutes.

In the transition from that gallery to the one of American soldiers who were also returning home in coffins, an Italian man stopped us and asked if we were American (the photographer was American). We said yes and he asked our opinions of Italy so far. We told him we loved everything about it, but here is what he said,
“We have a great past but not a great present. I love the countryside but not the people.”
It’s interesting, because the first part of that seems true once you think about it. Italy does have a great, old, historical past. But where are they going now? It’s interesting to think what they have going for them other than there past. I guess I could say the same thing about every country, but then again, we do no have ruins like they do. However, I cannot agree with his statement about the people. You see, in Verona (my FAVORITE city so far), we had nothing but incredible encounters. Once we arrived there by train, we were so turned around and lost looking for our hotel. We saw an old man who looked nice, so we asked if he knew where the street was (in as few words as possible because none of us knows Italian!). He wasn’t sure, so he stopped a random woman walking. She had no idea, so they both stopped a mailman who had a map. He pulled it out and started looking. However, they didn’t’ speak English so when a friend of the mailman rode by on her bike he responded with “ciao bella” and then proceeded to have her explain to us how to get where we needed to go. I loved how she explained the “sky… bueno… of Verona.” Meaning… the “sky scraper”. She kept asking for the word but she couldn’t remember it, so she just said “bueno”. Haha. But what is really funny about it, is that it is one building that is maybe 15 stories high. Once we made it to our hotel, we were starving so we headed off to find somewhere to eat. After some hesitation we found a cute little corner restaurant. It seemed cheap and light, so we decided it was OK. We were debating what to order, so the man working there (I’m assuming the owner/co-owner) asked if we liked pasta. Once we said yes, he said we should have a certain pasta because his “mamma made it”. Imagine that in a thick Italian accent… and you will smile! He then proceeded to offer us a bottle of wine from where he is from: just outside of Verona. It was incredible. Red wine in Italy? YES please! When we finished our wine (in which he shared a glass), our delicious pasta, incredible shot of espresso for Piper, and lemoncillo, our entire meal was 24 euros. 24. Euros. After calculating, we are pretty sure we got a 50% discount. So, on to the next nice person.

It seems to be that these GINORMOUS chocolate eggs are the “in” thing to do for Easter. While we each wanted to try one, we figured we could never get through even one. So we walked past this “Tipografia” which is a printing press, and this incredibly nice woman offered us some of the chocolate egg she had received in a drawing. She knew we were not going to buy anything (there wasn’t really much to purchase) but she will still so generous and friendly!

Next nice person: the owner of the hotel we stayed at. We were looking for restaurants to eat at for dinner last night, so we asked the owner for suggestions. Instead of just saying there were a lot in this certain section of town… he notated specific locations and names on our map, along with places to get “spritzers” (a type of fruity drink). While we didn’t make it there, it was sooo nice of him!

Last amazing people in Verona: the 3 men we met at dinner. We were getting ready to leave when these 3 guys sat down at the table next to us, family style. I’m not sure if that’s how it actually works, but there was room so OK! One of the 3 was pretty fluent in English, but the others had a lot of learning to do… however, they definitely spoke more English than we can speak Italian! After offering to buy another glass of wine for us all, they took us to dinner with them (even though we had already eaten) and they said they didn’t mind we weren’t going to eat because they would get some more wine for us. So we go to this little Italian restaurant and they order a typical dish from Verona, which is basically the same thing as chicken friend steak, but pork, with lemon. They shared with us, spilled 2 glasses of wine, always with a smile on their faces. It was so much fun.

So, now we are off to Venice. It seems like each small town I see I fall even more in love with it. I cannot wait to come back to Italy this summer. The people are fantastic, the countryside is incredible, and the food is delicious. Plus, the smaller the town, the fewer the tourists. I actually felt like I was in a small town in Italy- instead of “touristville”. Finally it felt more like Italy instead of a historical site.

Venice was our last city in Italy. Sadly, it was our last favorite, too. We can’t quite pinpoint the reason for it, but it’s probably because we were so spoiled by the small towns before it. I mean, it was beautiful and greatly different from all of the other places we went, but just not fantastic. I think we were all expecting it to be romanticized like in the photographs- but it’s not. However, it is kind of cool that all of the streets are really tiny, and there are NO cars on the island. All throughout Italy I was upset because I felt like it would be so much more beautiful- without the cars or scooters everywhere. And finally- a city in Italy that was just that! It was also fun to explore through alleys to see where they may lead us, which was usually to a dead end due to the water… which was ok because it was an adventure to get there! The food and coffee, however, was fantastic. We walked around for a couple of hours before we found a little pizza place for dinner. Yum yum yum! I really am going to miss the food in Italy, but luckily I will be back this summer!

We got to this one church/square on the island of Venice where there were pigeons everywhere. Very tame pigeons. People put food in their hands and the birds jumped up on them to eat- as they were standing up! Thanks to Kayleigh, I have developed a slight fear of this scary flying animals, especially as they come flying toward me at full speed! So having to talk through a square where they actually LIKE me was a bit intimidating…. Until I saw the “make-out couple”. Yes, that is exactly what they were doing. For a very long time. At first we were thinking they needed to take it down a level… until we saw the girl was crying and had this huge smile on her face as she looked at her boyfriend with these incredibly happy and loving eyes. We assume they just got engaged or something… but, regardless, it was great to see two people so happily in love. It must be nice :P

So now I am on a plane heading to England. Our first stop is Stratford-Upon-Avon for a Shakespeare play! It is weird to think we are heading to a country where the national language is English. For the past 2 ½ months we have been traveling in countries where we cross our fingers and hope the people we are talking to either speak some English or French, and if not, gestures and as few words as possible are used! All of it is an experience in itself and I just can’t wait for the next adventure!

07 April 2009

ALIVE

There was an earthquake in a city about 60 miles of Rome the night before last... which just so happened to be our final night in Rome. As much as I would like to say I felt the aftershocks... I didn't. It happened about an hour after my friends and I went to sleep for the night, so we were pretty tired after a long day. I wish I could go there now and get in to my photojournalism mode, but I am with friends on our spring break, so it's not the time and place. Sadly, much of the city is destroyed and over 150 people are dead and thousands are left homeless.

So, we are alive and well in Florence and heading to Siena tomorrow.