Sunday, 15 April 2012

Back from Break... And Dragging Along a Little

BA Word of the Day:  You alright? (and similar variations). So, when I got to the UK and got to know everyone that I live with, someone asked "Are you alright?" and I got really insecure all of the sudden. My reply was, "Yes, I'm alright. Does it seem like something's wrong?" The phrases "You alright?" or "You ok?" or other similar expressions simply mean How's it going?, What's up?, How have you been?, etc. The biasedness of the question does make me giggle when I think about it sometimes, though.

And it was the one major culture shock moment when coming back to the UK. Along with all of the drunk people that I rode the bus with Thursday at 2am when I finally made it back to London. And the whole driving on the wrong side of the road. Why why why why why? No other European countries that I went to do it. But I am very happy to be back in London :)

I've been avoiding this blog post a little because I figured I would either have to do a post for each of the places that I went or one massive post. So... I'm going to attempt to give you the short version of what happened on Easter break. Then I will be doing a second post as a bit of a diary post on some reflections on being in London and traveling since there are less than 50 days until I come home... scary, I know!

My Easter Break Trip

Friday 30 March:  Left the Castle (where I live) at about 11am. Tube to Baker Street to catch a 1pm bus to London Stansted Airport. Got lost because I have never been to Baker Street before. Lost my airport security virginity to the lady security officer that gave me a very thorough pat down. Landed in Frankfurt Hahn Airport at around 5pm; took another hour long airport transfer bus, then a public transportation bus to my hotel for the night. Got there at around 11pm.
And this was my awesome hotel room!>>>

 Saturday 31 March:  Took the bus to meet Chelsea (roommate from last semester, good friend of mine) in Frankfurt at an Irish pub... Yes, I ate at an Irish pub on the one day in Germany. It was an easy meeting place and it was amazingly delicious.

A protest about federal taxation was going on right where we were at, so we decided to just hang out at Frankfurt central train station before our bus to Frankfurt Hahn.
 Lots and lots of waiting. Made it to Venice Treviso around 10pm. 

Stayed in a small hotel across the street from the airport.

 Sunday 1 April: Chelsea and I went to Verona to meet up with her friends that were in Milan.

We visited Juliet's balcony. You know, from the movie Letters to Juliet. Yea... the illusion of the movie has been broken. First of all, it's a lot smaller an area than what I remember from the movie. Second of all, it seems a lot dingier than what the movie makes it out to be. Third, you don't stick letters in the wall. You put them in this dorky mailbox. But oh well, we still had a good time rubbing Juliet's boob for good luck and writing notes about our love and all that jazz.
Oh, and eating gelato. Gelato in Italy is really nice. I had chocolate and 'fin del mundo'

Verona was a beautiful town. 

And then we went onto VENICE

 This was the first thing we saw stepping out of the train station. A massive canal. And boat buses. And we started laughing.
 And then we rode a boat bus... which costs 6.50 euros per ride.... expensive! So, we may have ridden the bus a few times without a validated ticket. You'll have that when a bus ride is 6.50 a pop.
 Monday 2 April:  We spent all day in Venice. The funny thing is that when you navigate Venice, you either get to roam around in the correct general direction until you get to where you are going or you get to play that game where you try to get through the maze from start to finish. I sat down and drew lines of how we were going to get to San Marco Square... and we still ended up just roaming in the general direction lol.

 And we finally made it. Oh, on a side note, if you need to go to the toilets when you are at San Marco Square, prepare to either find somewhere with a toilet to enjoy lunch or cough up 1.50 per use. Yup.

Oh, and the lions at monuments in other cities, as opposed to Trafalgar Square, are small and a lot easier to climb onto and take goofy pictures with.
We went up into the tower that is at at San Marco Square. Views were amazing!

Wednesday 3 April:  We took a trip to Pisa before heading onto Florence. Pisa is a small town with no other reason to be famous other than a tower that leans. Chelsea and I took goofy pictures with the Leaning Tower. In case you are like me and didn't know this, there are other interesting buildings around the leaning tower such as a basilica and a baptistery (sp?). And it was me and my boyfriend's two year anniversary.

We went onward to our hostel in Florence. We got to hike for about 10 minutes through a beautiful path in the woods to get to our hostel... ok, not ideal after walking around Pisa with our backpacks on, but still very beautiful.
 Florence was a trip of museums and churches. We started at El Duomo and went on to the galleries.
 Yes... I took a few photos that you aren't supposed to take a picture of the David. But... I just couldn't resist. We saw a lot of butts and other body parts in the galleries that day.

Our hostel was an old 15th century villa surrounded by vineyards. It was cheap and cool since the room we stayed in was an 8 bed dorm room. But we had to leave to go to Rome.

 Thursday 5 April:  Rome! We went and saw all the sites for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It all sorta blurs together at this point because we did so much. St. Peter's Basilica, Sistine Chapel, Spanish steps.

Oh, and our hostel has a deal with a place across the street where we could get a plate of pasta and glass (plastic cup) of wine for 3 euro.

 <<< Sistine Chapel!
 School of Athens by Raphael >>>
 <<< Pieta by Michaelangelo
 Me at the Colosseum >>>

On Friday night, we went to the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum. The guy in red in this sad sad picture is the pope. When I was in Catholic school as a kid, they did a living Stations of the Cross where someone actually pretended to be Jesus carrying the cross. I learned Saturday from a guy studying to be a priest that the living Stations is a Spanish thing. At the one at the Colosseum, a group of people just carried the cross. It was an incredible experience... except we don't understand Italian.

 Chelsea and I parted on Saturday. I did a bucket list item and went to a castle. I also decided to follow the advice of other study abroad students and go to a grocery store (pictured below). At 5pm I had to leave Rome for Milan. Rome was really exciting and fun.

Sunday 8 April:  I only had one day to explore Milan (which was more than enough). I went to a couple parks, saw ANOTHER castle, and rode in the world's smallest elevator up to the hostel. Oh, by the way, why does every city insist on having some weird, massive arch? Is it a historical thing or is it an ego thing for which city has the biggest arch? Anyways, I left Milan early Monday morning.

 Monday 9 April- Wednesday 11 April:  Barcelona! Officially one of my favorite cities ever! The beach, nice people, great food, amazing! I decided I'm going to retire to Barcelona and live on a pirate ship after making millions of dollars in my working life ;) (girl can dream big, right?). I stayed steps away from Mercat de la Boqueria and Las Ramblas (big street of vendors and performers and stuff). I was a twenty minute walk from the beach.

 Yummy churros con chocolate, another silly arch, another castle. Compared to Italy, the people in Barcelona were a lot nicer. Everyone was so relaxed and chill. The shops even close for afternoon siesta. It was wonderful. I just walked around and enjoyed myself. No big plans, no agenda, just whatever I felt like doing that day.

 This guy, Gaudi, built a bunch of cool buildings all over Barcelona. These are two of the buildings. They were cool I guess :)

Oh, and you can get off brand beer for 37 cents at Carrefour (a grocery store in Barcelona).
Wednesday, I fell asleep on the beach for five hours. When you fall asleep on the beach for five hours, you get sunburnt. I am really really sunburnt. I didn't make it home until 2:30am Thursday morning after standing in the UK Border Agency line for over an hour to get back in.

I traveled for 12 days with five shirts, four tank tops, one set of pj's, one cardi, two pairs of jeans, 12 pairs of undies and socks, one small plastic bag of toiletries, and one pair of shoes on 20 buses, three metros, six trains, and five flights across three countries. By the end of it, I was even missing Chester, my teddy bear.

I guess trips like this are supposed to change your life. There was definitely a lot of time for reflection and observation. Here are a few of those observations:  dogs. Everyone in Europe takes their dogs everywhere. They love their dogs. And people don't mind it. Next, girls traveling alone. When we stayed in the hostel in an 8 bed dorm, a couple of the girls there were traveling alone. And it was no big deal. I was really worried about the part of the trip where I was going to be alone (Milan and Barcelona). But after meeting them in Florence, I decided it's no big deal. I just had to be careful. Additionally, PDA and nudity. People are always making out on park benches everywhere. It gets annoying sometimes, but I guess it's ok. Different. Oh, and in Spain, you can be naked anywhere as long as it doesn't cause a public disturbance. Now THAT would be something that would be difficult to get used to. But, it's just different.

A few things that I have reflected on. First of all, language unites (and divides) us more than I ever realized. The only way I talked to anyone when I was traveling alone was if they were speaking English or if they worked somewhere where I was trying to buy something and figured out that they knew English. All of the sudden I was talking to any stranger I heard speaking English. Especially with the Stations of the Cross event, I really felt like I was missing out on something since all of it was in Latin/Italian. And I barely even knew enough Spanish to get by speaking it in Barcelona. I really wish I had more opportunities to learn languages and had wanted to and pursued it. I don't know if I will ever act on the discomforts that I felt on this trip, but it really made me think about how big a barrier it is.

I've been back for three or four days now. I haven't really done much since I got back. A couple Nerf wars, waiting for everyone else to get back, recovering from the sunburn. I'm not sure what the next adventure will be, but I'll be sure to let you guys know. Until then, Cheers!

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