Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Break!

Three cities. Ten days. What a trip! Spring break was a whirlwind, and absolutely incredible! It came at the perfect time too. We all needed a break. We finished Italian (with an insanely hard final) for good the Friday before we left which was bittersweet for sure. While it was incredibly time consuming, but we all loved it and loved our teachers so much. But you can't beat 15 extra hours a week!
The next day (Saturday) we left early to catch our flight to Barcelona. This leg of the trip, everyone was going, all eight girls and the Catholic boys. We flew Ryanair for the first time (of many) which was an experience, though not as bad as I'd always heard. You are only allowed one carry on bag of a certain size so all of us girls were trying to fit ten days worth of hair products, makeup, and clothes into these little bags, and I'm proud to say no one had to check their bags.
We landed in Barcelona and it was perfect weather. High sixties and sunny and we were ready for spring break. We had to take a bus to the center of the city and our hostel was luckily about five minutes from where it dropped us off. This was also my very first experience with a hostel and I have to tell you, it's not horrible if you get a good one. Our hostel in Barcelona was the nicest I would say. Very clean and nice and in a great location. We were in an 8 bed mixed dorm, one bed was empty the whole time and there were five of my friends and two boys there who didn't really bother us (except one kid's feet smelled horrible). The room also had curtains on all the beds which was super nice. The hostel had big bathrooms on each floor one for showers and one for bathrooms separated for boys and girls which was nice. Downstairs was a bar and restaurant and common area.
We dropped off our stuff off at the hostel and went exploring. We walked down the main drag toward the water passing restaurants with a ton of people eating and drinking sangria outside, basking in the sun. We came across this huge market kind of down a side street, someone spotted it and we decided to check it out. Good thing we did! Apparently it's pretty famous. It's called La Boqueria and literally seemed to go on forever. The only thing I could kind of compare it to is the Chelsea markets in New York but bigger and more rustic. We wandered around there for a while taking it all in. They had mass amounts of fresh fruit, fruit juices, fish, candy, empanadas, you name it. After walking through here we were obviously getting a bit hungry. We walked further down towards the water and settled on a Tapas place to eat (and have our first Barcelona Sangria, naturally). After this we went back to the hostel and changed because two of our friends were staying with friends from home who are studying abroad in Barcelona, and lucky us, on the day we were arriving there was a beach party. Needless to say we all had a blast, and it was a perfect way to start off spring break.
Our next few days in Barcelona were fantastic. It's such a great city with a great energy. It's very relaxing there are people all over sitting in piazzas or on the beach just loving life. We went to Parc Guell which is this absolutely gorgeous park overlooking the city with tons of paths and little hidden playground for children and an incredible view. We wandered around there for a few hours. If I'm being honest, Barcelona was a lot of relaxing, but to be fair it was much needed. We saw Gaudi's house but did not go in (we're on a budget, gotta pick and choose these things), but we did go into La Sagrada Familia, this crazy basilica Gaudi designed that is actually still not completed yet! It is very modern but also stunning. The stain glass is unbelievable and everything that is done is incredibly deliberate. My favorite part of the whole thing was just a small detail I thought was really cool, around the four columns closest to the alter were these big circles made out of what looked like a stained glass kind of material but thicker and they had on them the names of the four gospel writers and their respective symbols (Matthew an angel, Mark a lion, Luke an ox, and John an eagle). I don't know why I thought that was so cool, maybe because honestly it didn't resemble any of the churches I'd ever seen which was so amazing in itself but then you're reminded of where you are again. The whole thing was absolutely incredible.
We did a lot of walking around and a lot of eating Paella (which was awesome). It was such a beautiful and fun city and a great trip. Our next destination was London! I was so excited for this, one because I was supposed to go when I was younger but ended up getting the stomach bug, two because anyone who knows me knows that I am a little bit obsessed with the royal family, and three because Michelle is there! We got to London reallyyy late at night, around 2 am and had to wake the guy up to check us in. This hostel was a bit more rustic but definitely had charm. The bottom was a really cool pub and the top a hostel. Marie and I were in a ten bed mixed with about half guys and half girls. It was interesting but honestly we were barely in our room. And these beds were crazy comfortable. The downside is that the bathrooms were TINY and there were not enough of them for everyone in the hostel so you almost always had to wait. But we got free breakfast AND discounts on the food downstairs at this hostel which was pretty awesome. They had peanut butter which is something of a novelty in Italy so we were psyched.
London was fantastic! Hopefully I can remember everything because we packed A LOT into just two days. We bought tube passes both days which helped alot in getting around. On the first day we got up early and went to Abbey Road to take the typical Beatles picture, obviously. It took quite a few tries because that is very much a busy street. In the end it still wasn't perfect but close enough! The wall outside the studio is cool too, covered in Beatles lyrics and people's names and things that have been written over the years. We also went to Buckingham palace the first day and saw the changing of the guards which was awesome! Probably the most British thing we could do. We saw big ben, parliament, and westminster abbey, but didn't go in. The thing about England is the's something like 1.70 US dollars which I'm not going to lie made me want to vomit a little bit when I realized it. Still it was pretty cool to see where Will and Kate got married. My favorites. Walking back from lunch I believe we came across a half price ticket booth and spontaneously bought tickets for Wicked! I grabbed a quick dinner with Michelle at this fantastic burger place she took me to and then we headed to the show. We were pretty far up but it was just as amazing as ever. And with British accents. I had a blast it was so fun.
The next day we walked by the tower of London, walked over Tower Bridge, which interestingly is not the London Bridge, walked over the Millennium Bridge (very cool by the way), and Marie and I toured the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe, because being an English major who will one day teach Shakespeare, I couldn't NOT do that. We went to Portobello Road in the afternoon which had lots of street vendors and that was really fun. We got fish and chips that were incredible! But really how can one mess up fish and chips I guess. After this I split off and met Michelle for tea at Harrods which was really fun and nice for the two of us. I think we thought it would be so much easier to meet up abroad, but the reality is our breaks don't match up and when you travel you're trying to pack so much in and you're exhausted. We got to catch up and also have some amazing tea and probably the best scones I've ever had. Well worth it.
The next day one of our friends wanted to see the marble arch so we got up early and went to go see it. On our way past Buckingham Palace, however, I noticed there were four motorcycle escorts waiting just within the gates and a bunch of people waiting outside. Marie asked one of the policemen what was going on and he said the queen was about to leave! So obviously we waited and got to see the queen go by in her car!! Definitely the highlight for me. 
We had to turn it around fast to get to the airport on time. Security in London was a lot more serious than we've been used to. I had a mini shampoo floating around somewhere in my bag so they had to search it and put it in a plastic bag. Then at the gate me and my friend had to REPACK our bags to make them fit into the size constraints for easy jet (which we will never be flying again). i was wearing about six layers. We almost missed our flight but everything turned out alright! Our original plan was to go to the Louvre that night because it was free from 6-9 but we were all to exhausted. We ended up going to a bar with our friends who were staying with a friend who was studying abroad in Paris. It was fun we ended up talking to some French guys around our age who were really nice and spoke pretty good Enligsh. I'm sad to say I've lost most of my french speaking abilities. I can understand almost everything which i was pleasantly surprised by, and I know individual words but literally cannot remember a single verb conjugation which makes putting together sentences difficult. When this boy we were talking to couldn't come up with a word though I was able to translate which was pretty good considering my last french class was senior year of high school. 
The next day we had to pack everything in because it was our only day in paris. In retrospect we probably should have taken a day out of Barcelona but oh well! Our hostel in Paris was in an odd spot, kind of the chinatown of Paris, but it seemed to be very popular with locals. It was nice because it was four of us in a room and we got out own private bathroom which was awesome. Also ALL public transportation in Paris was FREE all weekend! That definitely came in handy because we used the metro for everything. We began the day with Notre Dame, which I have to say is still one of my favorite churches in Europe. Plus it has this beautiful statue of Jeanne D'arc I love. Then we went to the Louvre where we got in free with our Italian visa and student ID (because technically we are European students). We pretty much saw the Mona Lisa and a few other paintings I had remembered and wanted to see. After the Louvre we walked around the Jardin de Tuleries which was beautiful, it was such a nice day, people were laying out in the sun. We had lunch and then went to Musee D'Orsay which I think was the highlight of everyone's day. I was so excited because we didn't get to go last time and I've always heard it was incredible but didn't really know what to expect. Monet, Degas, and Renoir are my favorite artists so I was in seventh heaven. We spent hours in there and everyone absolutely loved it. Saw some of my favorite paintings of all time. After this we went to this crepe place off the Champs Elysee our friends had told us about. It was fantastic and very authentic. The two women running it only spoke french and it looked to me like all the other people eating there were also french. I got  chocolate crepe with white chocolate ice cream on top. Since we were already right there we went and saw the arc de triomph. Then we made the trek up to Montmartre, something I really wanted to do but wasn't sure we'd have time for so I was really excited. I think we were all glad we decided to go up there. It was absolutely beautiful. The neighborhood is so quintessentially French, it's absolutely gorgeous, fun and full of life. And the view overlooking the city is spectacular. We went right at dusk and watched the sun set over beautiful Paris. We also got to go into Sacre Coeur, the massive basilica on the top of the hill which is STUNNING. We were blown away. Once we realized what time it was though, we raced down the hill back to our hostel to charge our phones/cameras because we still had one more stop, the Eiffel Tower of course! 
We waited in line for about an hour and a half with a few students we met who went to Texas A&M. Finally we got up to the ticket booth where they told us we couldn't go to the top! It was closed due to too many people! But for a reduced price we were able to go to the next highest level which we did begrudgingly. When we got up there though, we could not have been happier. Yeah, it's really touristy and everyone does it, but there is a reason. The view is absolutely insane. And at night it was one of the most beautiful things I've seen. Well worth the wait and the perfect way to end our spring break. 
I have to say, while it was a fantastic trip, the trip of a lifetime really, we were all glad to be back in Roma. All these places were so incredible, different, and fun, but I am so glad to be living here. I don't think I'd want to be anywhere else and all my friends agreed. Maria was so excited we were back and we were so excited to see her! Honestly, we slept for almost the whole day we got back (had to rally for st. patrick's day the next day of course!). Tomorrow, after finally catching up on sleep we are off to Amsterdam! So excited. Also coming up we have our class trip to Naples/Pompeii and Cinque Terre! 
I will post pictures soon!

baci baci


Friday, March 7, 2014


Top of the bell tower
View from piazza Michelangelo 
On the ponte vecchio 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Days 40-54

Time is FLYING by. The fact that it is already March makes me a little nauseous...I'm exactly halfway through my program! When did that happen?! Again, sorry for being silent for two weeks now, it's been an absolutely crazy time. I've been so busy with classes and midterms were last week which were brutal, naturally. I'm also sure many of you have heard about the terrible tragedy that occurred a few weeks ago now, which was terribly upsetting and unnerving. My thoughts and prayers are with the Durkin family, I cannot even imagine what they are going through.
On a happier note, Michelle came to Rome last week! Marie and I met up with her the night she arrived (Monday the 24th) at the Trevi Fountain and we walked around the city showing her some of our favorite spots, the Spanish Steps, the Roman ruins, and Vittorio Emmanuelle II to name a few. We got to catch up a bit which was so great. It was so wonderful to see her, like a little piece of home. Unfortunately we didn't get to spend too much time together because that was midterm week which was absolutely horrendous. We did get to get lunch the next day but because of studying, classes, and Italian we ended up not being able to meet up again which was a bummer. We weren't too worried though because next week I'll be staying with her in London!
That's right, spring break is right around the corner...SO weird. We our last Italian class on Friday!!! I have to say, it's actually kind of bitter sweet. On the one hand, I'll be able to do so much with those extra 15 hours a week, and I won't have any classes on Fridays, which means weekend travel. That being said, I have loved the classes. I would venture to say that not only are they the best language courses I've taken, but two of the best academic courses I have ever taken. Both of my teachers have been fantastic, genuinely interested in us doing well, and really willing to do whatever it takes to help us understand. They make class fun, some days they let us just talk in Italian for a half an hour if we're particularly excited about something, like a trip we just took or something we did the day before and this I think, is really where we learn to speak. I was actually thinking about it today and I took French for 9 years, ages 9-18 and I'm better in Italian then I ever was in French. Pretty crazy.
This past weekend was one for the books. After the stressful midterm week we needed to get out on Thursday night so we all went to a club called Nur Bar we've been to a couple times. Marie has befriended a promoter who texts her when there are events at certain bars and clubs and lets us all in for free which is awesome because cover fees are always between 10 and 15 euro. Rome nightlife is not cheap...that is the only downside of the city I'd say, though I think that's true of most cities.
On Friday, me Marie and Emily went to this new place we've found with THE BEST paninis (and cheap!) called Sanwicheria. I got one with artichoke paste, this really thinly sliced Italian brisket, lettuce, olive oil, and thinly sliced parmasan. You literally watch them slice this parmasan off a HUGE block, and the meat as well. It is unbelievable. I also forgot to mention that prior to these paninis we got gelato, but not just any gelato. We recently discovered that the most famous gelateria in Rome is 5 minutes from our house. It is insanely good. It literally has ruined other gelato for me. They also hand make their whipped cream which is the best part. So good. That night we went to a pasta place by school with all the girls and our Catholic guy friends. It was incredible, the boys found it so credit to them. I got gnocchi with tomato sauce and buffalo mozzerella. Melt in your mouth and the mozzerella was fantastic. We went to a club we go to a lot that night and all had a great time. However, we had to be up and at the Roman forum by 9 am for a 4 hour site visit for our Art and Architecture class. That was a bit rough, but between the two sections of the class, almost every one of my friends had to be there so we made it fun. I also had not been to the Roman Forum yet, or inside the Colosseum because I knew we'd be doing it with my class. It was really interesting especially inside the Colosseum, it was different than I expected. It's so massive with a maximum capacity of 50,000 people.
That night we had Chinese and I met up with one of my best friends at Loyola, Chris! He is studying in Cork, Ireland and Rome is one of their program's included trips. We took him to Chinese with us which was great because it gave us a chance to catch up. I've missed my Loyola friends a lot so it was wonderful to have even a little bit of time with him. Naturally, we had to show him Rome at night so we went to a new club near Villa Borghese we'd heard about. We think it's the best one we've been to yet, probably because it was almost all Italians.
The next morning after only 2 hours of sleep, we woke up bright and early at 6:15 to make our 6:50 train to Florence! I was beyond excited, as the last time I was here I was 15 and it was where I thought I was going to be studying for five years. It was a really easy train ride, only a little over an hour and a half long. I went with Marie and my friends Emily, Meghan, and 3 of the Catholic boys. We had beautiful weather which was a fantastic surprise because the weather said rain! We got there and wandered around and decided first to go into the Palazzo Pitti which is a museum that we explored for a bit but also has beautiful gardens that we wandered through for hours with gorgeous view of the city. When we finished there we were all starving. We found a place to get paninis which were SO good, I got one with turkey, mozzerella, and truffle spread. We walked over to the Ponte Vecchio which was just as beautiful as I remembered. I had flashbacks to walking across it with Dad the first night we got to Florence. Exhausted from the trip, but not wanting to miss anything the two of us walked around Florence at night while everyone else went to bed. For me I still think it was the best night of the whole two week trip.
We wandered around the open air market in one of the piazzas trying the bread and cheese and looking at all the fresh food they had to offer. After lunch we went inside the Duomo  got in line to climb up the bell tower. I think we all almost died, but it was so well worth it. Such an incredible view from up there it was amazing. We went into church of Santo Spirito which was beautiful and had gorgeous art. We also went to see the David! That was definitely one of the highlights of the day. It is absolutely massive, bigger than I would have ever imagined and so beautiful. The attention to detail is astounding. At the end of the day we made the trek up to Piazza Michelangelo which is a piazza that overlooks the city. We were up there just before sunset and the views were breathtaking, definitely worth the walk. I will post pictures soon! We finished with a great dinner and then back on the train to Rome at 9. It was a long day but we had a great time and were so lucky to have such a beautiful day. Florence is still one of my favorite cities of all time. It is so beautiful and so quintessentially Italian. Part of the fun is just wandering around and seeing what you come across. It's also such a small city its very easily navigable and walkable. We didn't get to go to the Uffizi (again!) so Marie and I are really thinking we're going to go back, maybe just for half a day, because the train ride is so easy.
Now one more week and then spring break! Could not be more excited for Barcelona, London, and Paris!!

More to come

baci baci (we learned in Italian today this is their equivalent of xoxo! it means kiss kiss literally)