ramblings of a Billiken from Kentucky living in Madrid

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Hiya friends!!

I promised you about two months ago that I would have a new post up within a week or two. Well, as my mother so kindly pointed out (see comments of previous post), that didn’t exactly happen. So here I am, mid-late November, finally writing to you again. Ohhh how I’ve missed thee. 

Here’s the bad news. This is not the grandiose, life-changing, philosophical summary post that I promised you all. No, that may never come. 

However, I do have good news! This post is going to be rather exciting, and quite helpful for anyone thinking about going abroad in the future… I’m looking at you Jacqueline and Meredith… 

During my four-month stint abroad, I traveled quite a bit. Well, that’s an understatement. I traveled quite a LOT. A lot a lot a lot a lot. (Allow me to introduce you to my friend, the Alot monster: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/alot-is-better-than-you-at-everything.html) Because my friends and I were novice travelers, we often made use of what else, TOURS! to help us see the magnificent cities of Europe. Some of the tours were free, some were not. Some involved walking, others riding in buses, still others biking. Thanks to these tours, I saw monuments, parks, beaches, buildings, and much much more that I probably (definitely) would have missed had I relied upon my own map-reading and time-management skills. All in all, they were pretty dang phenomenal, and you can thank them for the majority of the beautiful pictures I posted on Facebook last May.

And so, without further ado, I’d like to present you with the top # tours I took in Europe:

1. We Hate Tourism Tours!!: Lisbon, Portugal

Guys, this was freaking amazing. An open-Jeep tour of beautiful Lisbon, Portugal + surrounding cities, led by a native Portuguese- pastries, beaches, castles, sunshine… need I say more? Seriously, do this tour. You won’t regret it. 

http://wehatetourismtours.com/index.aspx

2. Galway Tour Company: Cliffs of Moher and the Burren, Ireland

This was quite possibly the best bang for our buck. Our tour bus picked us up from Dublin and drove us all the way cross-country to the Cliffs of Moher near Galway and back in one day. Phew! For anyone traveling to Ireland- the Cliffs are NOT to be missed, and this is the best way to see them. Trust me, you’d never make it through the Burren on your own. They throw in an adorable, elderly leprechan-like tourguide for free, too.

http://www.galwaytourcompany.com/gtc/daytours.jsp

3. Scavi Tour: Vatican City, Italy

If not the coolest thing I did all semester, it was pretty darn close. Yes, you have to make a request to the Excavation Office of Vatican City to get on this tour. Yes, it is kind of a secret. Yes, it takes you underneath St. Peter’s Basilica to see up-close and personal many of the original Catholic catacombs. I don’t care if you’re Catholic or not. Seeing the alleged bones of St. Peter is spine-tingling.

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/institutions_connected/uffscavi/documents/rc_ic_uffscavi_doc_gen-information_20040112_en.html

4. Fat Tire Bike Tours: Paris, France

Okay, let’s be real. Who hasn’t dreamt of riding around Paris on a bicycle? It’s just sOoOoO romantic! Yes, it was freezing cold, but it was also awesome and hilarious and probably the best way to quickly see much of the city. If small children could do this tour, so can you!

http://fattirebiketours.com/paris

5. Viator: Cinque Terre, Italy

The Cinque Terre is absolutely the most beautiful place on earth. I’m certain of that fact. If you travel to Italy, you’re not gonna wanna miss these five cities. Yes, you have to hike between them (or you could take the tram teehee), so why not have a guide to help you along and to point out the best gelato shops? I guarantee I would have been lost in the CT without this tour.

http://www.viator.com/Florence-attractions/Cinque-Terre-tours-tickets/d519-a54?pref=02&aid=g1826

6. The Original London Sightseeing Tour: London, UK

When you think London, what do you think? If  you said double-deckers, then you’re right! If you said something else, well, it better have been fish n’ chips. This tour was sweet mainly because a) We got to see the city from two-stories up, and b) It was hop-on-hop-off 2 days for 1, which was exceedingly helpful when the student protestors stopped traffic and the cab drivers refused to take passengers…

http://www.theoriginaltour.com/

7. 100 Highlights Tour: Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is quite possibly the most difficult city in the world to navigate. Not kidding. There are beautiful canals everywhere, and the city offers so many sights, but it’s hard to find them without help. Take this super-inexpensive boat tour, and you won’t miss out!

http://amsterdamcitytours.rezgo.com/details/3490/100-Highlights-Cruise

8. Sandeman’s New Europe

This company offers free walking tours of 14 major European cities. Yup, you read that right. FREE. ABSOLUTELY NO COST TO YOU! (save your aching feet) We took advantage of these tours in Dublin, Ireland and in our very own hometown Madrid, Spain, and they were well worth our money! Ha ha, get it? FREE. In all seriousness though, this is such a great thing they have going, and I urge you all to jump right in!

http://www.neweuropetours.eu/

9. And last but not least, I just want to give a shout-out to the tours put on by none other than St. Louis University. During the first two weekends that I traveled I was able to attend four day trips to Spanish cities (Salamanca, El Escorial, Toledo, and Segovia), all thanks to the university. It was the perfect way for me to ease weekend travels, and was a great way to see more of my home country, Spain.

Well, that’s all folks! Let me know if you have any more questions about the tours!

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Hi Tumbling world. Remember me? Yeah, me neither. So first let me say that I am so sorry to have been gone for so long. After my flight home to America, life got pretty crazy. Alright, so that’s a lie. Life got really really BORING when I got back. I won’t go into details just yet, but being back in America after four months of traveling around Europe was pretty damn depressing. I’m not here to dwell on the past though. Let’s press forward! I pretty much just wanted to say sorry dudes for being absent, and that I fully acknowledge how pathetic it was of me to flake on you guys like that. It’s like I walked out on a long-term relationship and left you guys to pick up the pieces and take care of the kids. Except that by “take care of the kids,” I really meant “find new things to read.” I didn’t even send any child support. Please accept my sincerest, sorry-ass apologies. 

That being said, I don’t exactly have time at this exact moment to catch you up to date, but I promise that a conclusion blog post is close at hand! (Give me a week or two, tops.) 

I love you all and am so appreciative of the support you showed me while I was abroad. Adios, betches

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I’m so sorry that I didn’t write a post yesterday, everyone! Tumblr was malfunctioning- bleh. 

My last two days in Madrid have been spent trying to soak up as much Spain-ness as possible. Yesterday my friend Dana and I went shopping at Principe Pio, Gran Via, and Sol. It was a brilliantly sunny and hot day, and it was so nice to be outside. We ate lunch at a little salad place which was super delicious and cheap- why didn’t I know about it before yesterday!? We also ate a frozen yogurt place- YUMMY! Reminds me of home sweet St. Louis and Fro-Yo… 

We also finally got our second dose of paella last night- woohoo!! Now I don’t want to complain, but I can’t lie- Rose made it this time and it wasn’t quite as good as Mercedes’. It wasn’t cooked all of the way through so it kind of had a gritty sandy texture that was comprised of shells, uncooked rice, and crustacean legs… appetizing. Don’t get me wrong though, any form of paella is a step up from frozen pizza. 

To end the night my friends and I went to Moondance, one of our favorites! There was a cool conga-drum player, fog, and disco lights- neato! It’s always a good time when we get to dance the night away, especially when they’re playing songs like Tubthumping (I get knocked down, but I get up again!)

Today I went down to SLU for the last time… sad. Naturally my roommates and I ate Tienda Verde one last time and it was pretty heartbreaking to say goodbye to the cute little ladies that work there- they seemed pretty sad too. (Imaginably so; when SLU leaves, their customers leave) I also tried to sell back my books, but the bookstore wouldn’t take them! What the what!? They were so expensive!! I didn’t get one stinkin euro for them… lame. 

I then spent the next few hours in Retiro which was just lovely. I’m going to miss that place so much. It’s so beautiful and green and peaceful. All semester it has been our little slice of paradise in the city. Adieu, Retiro. 

Now the girls and I are finishing packing and getting ready for our last night out in Madrid. I’m having a car service from come pick me up at 6am tomorrow and then I’ll be homeward bound at last! Wow. These have been some of the best four semesters of my life. I can’t yet put into words how much it has meant to me. I promise that I will write one more post once I’m stateside summing up this whole experience. Thank you all for reading this blog and supporting me- you’ve been the best.

On a special note, I just want to reach my heart out to my family right now. With everything that’s going on right now, you have no idea how much I want to be there with you. You are all incredible people and I can’t wait to come back and embrace you all. I love you all so much. 

Adios, Madrid


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HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY MAMA GRIMM!! Everyone says this about their own moms, but you are truly the best. You’re the best support system and friend I could’ve asked for. I can’t wait to see you in three days! I hope you’ve had a wonderful day- you deserve it!! I love you! (You too, Lolo and Grandma- you’re incredible women!)

So today was our last weekend day in Madrid… words cannot express my sadness and anxiety. My roommates and I started packing last night and it was tragic. How do you pack four months of your life into two suitcases? Wednesday is going to be a cry-fest…

We certainly tried to make the most of our day though! The girls and I spent the morning working on homework and studying (I finally finished- woohoo!!), then we went and met our friends in Retiro. It’s sad to think that was one of the last (if not the last) time… the sun was shining brilliantly as were my friends though, so it was a glorious day. At about five o’clock we went to a Mexican restaurant. Yes, you read that correctly. THEY HAVE MEXICAN RESTAURANTS HERE!! The sign out front said “If you want to experience Mexico, come to Spain!” Uhhh, okayyy… I’ll take it!! Between the nine of us we split four HUGE plates of nachos and let me tell you- I WAS IN HEAVEN. Just smelling them made me woozy. They were absolutely delicious. Why couldn’t we have discovered this place months ago!? I just didn’t want the fiesta to stop. In case you can’t tell, I can’t wait to get back to the USA and just jump roll around in a pile of burritos and enchiladas… nom nom nom. 

We then came back to the house where Mercedes tried to shove even more food down our throats. It’s sad because I think she’s getting really anxious about us leaving too. As much as we nag one another, we have developed a special relationship. She is our senora, after all. I think she may get kind of lonely when we’re not in the house to talk to her, which just breaks my heart. I sure am going to miss those booty spanks and cheek kisses… Of course in Mercedes-style though she tells us “I don’t want you girls to go. It’s such a pain getting to know new girls.” Well gee, thanks Mercedes. So sentimental of you. Gotta love that woman…

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Well, last night was Spormal and it was quite a blasty blast! My friends and I met up with everyone at O’Connell’s Irish Pub in Sol, and then the whole lot of us (50 or so) somehow made our way into Kapital. Gotta give that party palace one more go! It really was a great night of music and friendship and laughter- the perfect way to end the year. Naturally my friends and I did a little karaoke too- Desiny’s Child, anyone? There was one incident, but I’m kind of in denial about it right now. Don’t worry, everyone is safe!

Today has been a day of relaxation and homework for the roomies and me. We’ve been writing essays, studying books, packing, watching Rio… (what!? It’s really cute!) Tomorrow will probably be much of the same. I just can’t believe it’s all dwindling down so quickly! Make it stop!

Alright, so this is completely random, but since I’ve been in Europe, I’ve gotten a lot of attention for being blonde. Rubia rubia! Sometimes it’s kind of obnoxious, but I suppose I’ve gotten used to it. What am I going to do once I get back to America and my self esteem isn’t boosted every day by strangers!? “Why yes, astute observation. That is my hair color!” Anyways, on a related note, since I have been here I have been compared to a few different celebrities- I never thought one person could look like so many! I just want to look like me!! Here are the ones I’ve gotten this semester… (does this make me vain?)

Marilyn Monroe

Bad Sandy

Taylor Swift

Scarlett Johansson

Lady Gaga

What do you guys think? I don’t see it…

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Welp, after a seemingly endless flow of oceanography preparation, I finally did it. The test is over! Cellllllllllebration! It was a little different than I was expecting, but nothing too challenging. I think I’d have to do pretttttty terrible to not get a good grade in the class. I’ll tell ya it sure did feel fantastic to throw my papers in la basura, though!

Soooo… now it’s FRIDAY! Friday, Friday, gotta get down on Friday; everybody’s looking forward to the weekend; partyin’ partyin’ fun fun fun! (If you don’t get this reference, good for you. You haven’t wasted four minutes of your life on the terror that is Rebecca Black) But seriously, tonight is Spormal! Yee-haw!! I’m not exactly sure how it’s going to work trying to get tons of kids together for pictures and shenanigans that involve traipsing around Madrid, but we shall see!! It’s going to be a great night with the Madrid clique anyhow!

Now, I haven’t complained about Mercedes’ cooking in awhile (at least not on my blog), but tonight’s meal deserves a shout-out. We walk into the kitchen and see three huge plates full of green mush that could be likened to baby food. Welcome to lentil puree, ladies and gentlemen. Yummmm. Okay, so it really wasn’t THAT bad once you got over the look… and the texture… and the taste. Good thing we’re outta here in a few days!

Well, it seems that I’ve got a weekend of Spanish (essays) and sunshine ahead of me. Last weekend in Madrid. I don’t even wanna think about it! I’m gonna live it up and keep the fiesta going til Wednesday morning..

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Well troops, not much to report on the home front today except that it’s Cinco de Mayo which means that I shouldn’t be trapped in the SLU Madrid library while my friends back in America are donning sombreros and toasting the independence of a neighboring country we kindly keep out with barbed wire. Do I want to be eating burritos right now? Yes. Do I want to be wearing a poncho and dancing to “La Cucaracha?” Double yes. Do I have an oceanography final tomorrow? Oh, yeah. 

La biblioteca…

The good news is, I’m just a skip, hop and jump away from the The End. There’s just one exam on cetaceans (look it up), about two essay pages on the Spanish guitar, and a little take-home ditty standing between me and and that beautiful flight back to ‘murica. If I can just push through these next few days like the Little Engine that Could- I think I can I think I can- then I will be home free. Thank the Lord. It’s about time I swept all of this “school” business back under the carpet and got back to what we Madrilenos do best- festejar-ing. 

Not to mention we still have a little something coming up in the meantime called SPORMAL. What is this so-called “Spormal,” you ask? Well, back in the U.S. of A. Greek organizations (sororities and fraternities) and sports teams put on spring formals around this time every year. It’s an opportunity for everyone to put on their Sunday best and spend an evening (or weekend) eating and dancing. Girl-sponsored formal events tend to be pretty darn classy, boys’… not so much. Either way though, they’re always fun and the perfect opportunity to create one more Facebook album. We all know that it’s more important for your friends to see you having a good time and to comment on that good time than it is to actually have a good time. Kidding!… kind of. Anyways, since we study abroad kids won’t get the chance this year to participate in those annual STL fun-fests, we’re throwing our own right here! Spain Formal. Spormal. I know, I know, it’s cute. And we’re going doing the whole shebang too- everyone’s scrambling for dates, preparing the corsages, picking out their future prof pic outfits… it’s a big deal. Now I don’t want to seem too excited about this, but I’ll have you all know that I’m pretty proud of the fact that I snagged the hottest date in Madrid. That’s right. The one and only Miss Esther Kim. I got down on one knee with daisies and gave her a save-the-date proposal in the Roman Forum over Spring Break, and then just a few nights ago recorded a killer personalized ode video on her Facebook wall asking her to the big dance. (Can you say “raising the bar?”) Lucky for me she said yes, and I am now just as happy as a junebug! I’m pretty nervous though. This is our first date and all, and I don’t want to mess things up by moving too quickly… Wish me luck everyone- she’s a-shooin to be a vision tomorrow and I’m bound to be a jittery mess. Hopefully all pans out well on the Kapital dance floor…

Mercedes Report: She promised us a second round of paella a few nights ago, but we’ve yet to have it. Humph. Let it be known that if she doesn’t follow through on this, there will be words. I’m very serious about paella. 

Alrighty so just because I’m not having a good time in the library doesn’t mean you folks at home can’t enjoy a laugh. Here’s a stellar picture I snagged in the Cinque Terre that’s bound to provide some entertainment- enjoy!

Bow chicka wow wow!

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These last few days (weeks?) since Italy have been a whirlwind of busyness and excitement. We officially finished classes yesterday (whoo hoo!!), and are now in the homestretch, otherwise known as finals week. Or torture. While the weather is nice and pretty and sunny and tempting and Retiro is softly calling my name, I’m stuck inside the library with about 200 of my closest friends- bear in mind the library probably only holds about 100- staring at our computers until our eyes become jelly masses of oblivion and our brains complete mush. I mean really. Can’t they just hand us a pretty ribbon or plaque or something and say “Congratulations! You survived four months in a country where they don’t refrigerate milk. You are now free to run and play as you please,” instead of forcing us to cram and regurgitate information we didn’t really learn the first time around? (Sorry Mom and Dad- I promise my tuition money’s going to good use…) It’s not that I don’t love school, it’s just that COME ON. Why make the last impression we have of this magical wonderful place a demon pit of Hispanic authors and zooplankton? I’d much prefer to remember the sunny days on the quad and the oh-so-frequent tapas dates with friends. Alas, suck it up we must. I suppose we are in “college” and trying to earn a “degree” and all. I digress…

Although I have been studying my brains out recently (watching every single episode of Modern Family), I have managed to squeeze in some fun. Last Thursday was our dance recital, which was a big hit. Our costumes sparkled and swayed as we shimmied our way across the stage and into the audience’s hearts. Our class put on quite the show and I must say that we all deserve a pat on the back. I was really really proud of us!

After the show we continued the fiesta by going out salsa dancing with our teacher, Susi which was a blast. Susi said to us “You all got to be sexy during the show… now it’s my turn!” Man I love her. 

With no homework to do other than studying, my friends and I have been exploring the Madrid nightlife a lot recently. We’ve gone to O’Neills, el Doblon (a pirate-themed bar!), and several other hotspots. Here are some pictures of my friends and I doing fun things… yay college!

Back in America my sorority does something every year called “Zeta Day.” It’s basically a day where all of the SLU Zetas pack onto a bus at 5am to drive to some designated location where we reunite with other ZTA chapters in the area for a day of bonding and game-playing. However, it’s really more of a scam as it’s real purpose is to convince poor college students to donate money to the ZTA Foundation. “Anyone wanna play BINGO!? It’s just $2!” Basically Zeta Day has become this huge running joke amongst my friends and I, and so the Zetas who are studying in Madrid with me decided to organize our own little Spanish Zeta Day. Gotta keep the silly tradition going… We met in Retiro Park last Friday for picnicking, rowboating, and sisterly love <3

My flight back to the United States leaves in exactly one week from today. Crazy! This semester has absolutely flown by, and I’m having such mixed feelings about leaving. Part of me is so ready to get home to see my family, friends, and loved ones (and eat Taco Bell), while part of me doesn’t want to close the European chapter of my life. It’s been such a fantastic past four months, and I’m going to be sad to part with all of my new friends and traveling adventures…

On a completely unrelated note, I saw Mercedes topless again today. She was in the hallway, not her bedroom, which means I am taking absolutely no blame for this one. Just a normal day in Madrid…

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Let’s go to Venice! On Saturday morning the girls and I took a verrrrrry early (4:30am) train from Florence to Venice. Now normally my hat comes off to the excellence of European trains, but this time it was a nightmare. Trenitalia crowded way too many people onto this train, so that people were standing in the aisles face to face, babies were screaming, there wasn’t room for luggage, fights broke out… it was a disaster. Luckily I was able to find a tiny niche on the train where I could pop down and sit on my backpack to read. (I was so addicted to the Hunger Games series) Unfortunately it was a pretty long ride, and my legs were quite achey by the end… 

Relieved to be in Florence, my friends and I found our way to our last Italian hostel- another Camping Plus area. This time Dani and I were put into a trailer/windowless jail cell together which was actually a welcome relief from the Florence tents. After freshening up, we took a bus back into town and then started to walk. 

The first thing that I noticed about Venice was that it is quite a sleepy little town… you could almost say a ghost town. There were practically no people walking the streets, many of the buildings seemed dilapidated, the city wasn’t bubbling with usual Italian energy… it was weird. Perhaps it is the fact that Venice is a sinking city. It was originally constructed on essentially a bog, and all of its buildings have concrete and granite foundations. The sinking effect + global warming = a city going down… literally. I heard somewhere that it is predicted to be uninhabited in fifty years- yikes! Well, I could certainly feel the desperation of the Venetians. It’s such a beautiful city that leaves its inhabitants feeling stranded and hopeless… how romantic. 

We were able to enjoy the sights of the city, however, and very much enjoyed the gorgeous canals, ornate churches, and incredible glass stores. Venice is home to the Murano glass factory, and it was clearly a point of pride for the city- everywhere we turned there were hand-blown colorful glass jewelry and nick knacks. For the majority of the day we hung out around the Piazza San Marco.  

 

Unfortunately gondola rides are very expensive, and my friends and I decided to opt out. Perhaps one day when I’m rich and famous I can return and be sung sweet to by a Fabio in stripes… On a more positive note, the weather was quite lovely, and my friends and I were able to enjoy cappuccinos in the sunshine and people-watch. We ate dinner at an American-Irish pub, then headed back to the hostel for a night of bonding in the other girls’ cute log cabin. 

Sunday was Easter (Alleluia!), so my friends and I went back into Venice for Mass. We then walked around the city a bit more, and realized a pretty hilarious truth. Apparently Saturday we took a wrong turn and ended up in one of the non-touristy parts of the city. Whoops! We were all laughing when we realized we’d missed the majority of Venice’s heavy-hitter tourist attractions, but then eventually made our way over to see them. We saw the Campanile di San Marco, Palazzo Ducale, San Giorgio Maggiore, and the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge). 

After lunch (and one last gelato), we went back to the hostel to gather the Big Mamas, then caught a bus to the train station. From there we took an evening/night train to Milan- the cheapest city to fly in and out of in Italy. There we spent our LAST European night in an airport (yayyy!), and then flew home to home sweet Madrid Monday morning. PHEW!! Italy was by far the most exhausting trip of the semester, but it was also probably the best. The cities in Italy are just astoundingly beautiful, and the history incredible. My one complaint would be that the majority of the people are not very friendly- they’re loud, rude, unhelpful, and arrogant. I guess you can’t win em all though. Maybe the Italians should just keep their mean opinions to themselves and just do what they do best- make food. (Was that too harsh?) Seriously though, Italy had hands down the best food in all of Europe. I’m pretty sure I gained about 40 pounds over ten days… lovely. You can’t blame me though… I was in the land of pizza, pasta, and gelato!! VIVA ITALIA!!

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Thursday in Italy was probably the group favorite. We went to a place called the Cinque Terre, which is a series of five small cities on the coast of the Italian Riviera. The five “lands” are Monterosso al Mar, Vernazza, Corniglia, Maranola, and Riomaggiore, and they are absolutely beautiful. It seriously has to be one of the prettiest places on earth, and it is easy to see why it has been so well-preserved and undeveloped. 

Although it is possible to hike between the five cities on your own, due to recent landslides (and map issues), it is difficult. Therefore we signed up for a tour, which picked us up on a bus in the early morning from Florence. After about a two and a half hour bus ride we arrived at the first of the five cities. We then hiked from the first to the second, and then took a train from the second to the third. In the third city we were treated to a delicious traditional Italian meal of pesto pasta and a variety of fishes- YUM! After lunch we embarked upon the long part of our journey, the hour and a half rigorous hike from the third city to the fourth. It was definitely a challenge keeping up with our tour guide, who effortlessly mounted huge rocks and seemed to bounce down the rocky cliffs. Along the way we saw olive trees, huge cacti, and lots of beautiful Italian wildlife. Needless to say, I was pretty tired by the end of trek. In the fourth city I treated myself to some scrumdiddlyumptious strawberry, lemon, and coconut gelato (kind of like sorbet), and enjoyed the beautiful pier and ocean view.

 We then took a train from the fourth city to the fifth, where we were able to enjoy a beautiful sandy beach and the city’s unique gift shops. From the fifth city we took a water taxi back to the first, quite a relaxing and rewarding experience. As beautiful as each of the cities looks from the inside, there is no way to describe how incredible they appear from the water. Each little town is full of cute and colorful buildings, quaint churches, and charm. I could see myself living there…

Finally we returned to the second city where we took a stroll down the famous “Lover’s Lane,” a narrow pathway that winds around the mountain and is supposed to be a romantic walkway for lovers… of course my friends and I held hands the whole way…

Seeing the Cinque Terre is quite possibly my favorite thing that I’ve done this entire semester. The little cities were just so full of character, and it felt incredible to be outside hiking between them and enjoying the surreal view. This is a MUST-DO for anyone traveling to Italy. I cannot even describe how glorious it was. I’d love to go back at some point in my life. 

Friday was a pretty lazy/peaceful day in Florence. We woke up pretty early so that we could get in line at the Academia to see Michelangelo’s “David,” which turned out to be a good idea as the line quickly grew very long. Mr. David is quite a vision, and his beauty has not been overrated. (Neither has his perfect derrier.) 

After our tour of the Academia we took yet another walking tour of the city, and eventually hiked our way back up to the hostel, where we stopped at the Piazza Michelagelo- a lookout that offers the best view of Florence. It’s quite breathtaking, if I may say so myself. 

The rest of the day we hung out on the hostel terrace, which also provided a great view of the city. It was so nice to sit and enjoy the beautiful sunshine, fresh air, conversation with friends, pizza (of course), and books. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so at peace… For staying in tents, our hostel wasn’t so shabby after all. 

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On Wednesday morning of the Italy trip Lexi and I took a morning train from Florence to Pisa. It was only about eleven euros round trip, and we figured we couldn’t very well be in Italy and not see the Leaning Tower. It was a lovely little morning trip and was well worth it. Considering there’s not much in the city of Pisa other than the tower and cathedral, we spent an hour or so just goofing around and taking pictures. 

None of the other girls we traveled with had any interest in going to Pisa. Instead, they decided to camp out at the TRL Awards Show stage. A friend from Madrid tipped us off and told us that Lady Gaga would be performing (for free!), possibly alongside Rihanna, Katie Perry, and the Black-eyed Peas. WHAAAAT!? My friends started their camp-out at about noon, and we met up with them at 2ish. However, quickly after our arrival, we received devastating news. It turns out the show was the Italian TRL Awards, aka. NO AMERICAN CELEBRITIES. We knew it was too good to be true… what a bummer. We ended up spending the rest of the day wandering around the beautiful Florence touring the Basilica di Santa Croce where lie the bodies of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, and Rossini, shopping at the leather market, eating gelato, reading reading reading- we were all addicted to our books all spring break, and enjoying the sights. 

For dinner we did something very special. My friend Grace’s grandparents are Italian and visit Florence from time to time. Every time they’re in town they go to the same little restaurant, where they have become friends with the owner and chef. We were able to track down the address and find the restaurant with success. It was a truly delicious meal and super precious when the chef came out to meet Grace- he was so cute!!

After dinner we decided to check out the awards show for a bit after all, which was actually pretty fun. Even though we couldn’t understand the majority of the songs, it was cool to feel the energy of the show and listen to some live music. Turns out the Italians’ taste in music isn’t so bad after all!

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Monday in Italy was a day of relaxation and travel. We allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit on our last day in Rome, and then caught a mid-morning/afternoon train to Florence. Once in Florence we checked into our hostel. Except it wasn’t really a hostel at all. It was a camping ground for RV’s, and we were in tents. Literally, tents. Granted they did have hard wood floors and metal framing, but they were total canvas Boy-Scouts-Little-House-on-the-Prarie-the-Bathroom-is-Called-a-Latrine-Let’s-Make-S’mores-Tents. It was hilarious. Well, it was funny until that first night when we realized how ridiculously cold it got. I’m pretty sure I ended up wearing about nine different shirts, leggings, a dress over my legs, towels, and the hostel wool blankets. Brrr!

Tuesday we decided to see the sights in Florence. Immediately after stepping off the bus we ran into the infamous Florence leather market, so naturally we took a peeksy. You would’ve done the same thing. We then wandered the beautiful streets of Florence and saw the Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio, the Campanile (bell tower), Il Duomo (a huge cathedral and dome), The Baptistry of St. John the Baptist, and the Pitti Palace. We also saw Florence’s two largest museums: Galleria degli Uffizi and Galleria dell’ Academia. Michelangelo’s “David” is housed in the Academia and although we attempted to wait in line to see it, the museum’s computers were down which led to a 4 hour line/delay. Yikes! We decided to reschedule for a different day. After a short gelato and cannoli break (haters hate on), we explored Florence’s shopping bridge, a bridge that actually has shops on it. While the bridge used to be covered in specialty shops, it is now home to only expensive jewelry stores. Most people just wander up and down the street window shopping, but I decided that I wanted to actually go inside one of these oh-so-haute stores. When I walked in, an employee asked me “Can I help you with something?” Automatically I snapped into actor mode and in my best pretentious Pretty Woman voice replied “Oh no thank you. I’m actually looking for something specific” and gently rubbed my ring finger. My friends thought it was hysterical. 

We also encountered some chain fences covered in locks. As many of you probably already know, it is a European tradition for lovers to put locks on chain fences, bridges, etc. in order to secure their love and relationships. How sweet!! 

Later that afternoon my friends and I found an indoor/outdoor antiques market where we not only found jewelry and post cards, but also our friends!! We ran into the same group of girlfriends that we saw in Rome! What a small world! On an unrelated note, while we were all sitting and chatting some boys came up to me and told me that they were art students in Florence. They then told me that I was the most beautiful work of art they’d seen and that I looked like Marilyn Monroe. Sheesh! These European boys- they never quit… My friend Erinn got a kick out of it, at least. 

My friends and I also went to check out a stage that was being set up in front of a church for nothing but… the TRL Award Show!! How exciting!! (I’ll tell you more about that tomorrow).

We ended the night with an outdoor meal from a roadside vendor by our hostel that provided us with cheap and delicious paninis, pasta, pizza, and nutella crepes. I’m pretty sure we ended up going to that same stop at least three times before leaving Florence… the old man working came to love us seven American girls. 

The weather in Madrid today is pretty rainy and cold. Yuck. With the pressure of finals creeping up everyone’s starting to get anxious about leaving Europe. All of a sudden our entire study abroad class has been going out together every night and having a good time. We’re all trying to hold on to that last little bit of Spanish magic… I never want to leave!

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I’m so sorry that I wasn’t able to write a post yesterday, everyone! Our dance show was last night, and I didn’t have a chance to get on my computer all day. I’ll have you know that the show went swimmingly though! We all nailed it, and everyone in my class had a great time on stage. The audience (mostly comprised of SLU kids from America) loved it (us). 

Back to the Italy trip! Sunday morning we went back to the Vatican for Palm Sunday Mass which was just incredible. It was amazing to see so many people together in one place to praise the lord and celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. The weather was beautiful, the olive branches (not palms) were plentiful, and oh yeah… I SAW THE POPE. Yup, big man Benedict XVI himself. (He’s precious) I could not stop crying. We didn’t stay for the entire 4-hour Mass because we were standing on cobblestone and some of the girls I was traveling with aren’t Catholic, but for the time that we were there I was just straight waterworks. It was so beautiful and moving. It sounds silly, but never have I been prouder to be a Catholic.

 Following the Mass we met up with Erin who took us to a “secret bakery” nearby. When I say secret, I basically mean that it’s hidden down in the basement of a random building and that they sell nutella-filled doughnuts for 40 euro cents a piece. AWESOME! Let me just tell you that anything warm and sugary and nutella-filled is going to be delicious. You can bet I’ll be bringing that tasty habit back to the US…

After the bakery we went on a mission to find some outdoor markets. However, on the way we got on a very crowded bus which became more and more crowded at each stop. It was literally the most uncomfortable situation I have ever been in in my life. We could not move a muscle. Anyways, there was an “incident” on the bus that I’m not going to discuss in this blog, but will briefly mention- both my friends and I were violated and almost robbed by a very creepy older man. Luckily the only real casualty was my leather jacket (sad), which in hindsight may have just been dropped in the confusion. Mom and Dad, I’ll tell you the whole story when I get home. 

Well, it turns out that the outdoor markets were closed because of Palm Sunday, so we ended up doing a bit of wandering and sight-seeing instead. We hung out at Piazza Navona and looked at all of the art, we sipped cappuccinos in a cafe, we saw the mini castle/fortress where the Pope can run to for safety if the Vatican is under attack (Angels and Demons anyone?), watched a street performer put on a dancing puppet show with his fingers, shopped for souvenirs, and of course, enjoyed even more pasta and pizza. We also returned to the Trevi Fountain to see it all lit up for night, which was just beautiful. If it’s a sight to see during the day, it’s a spectacle at night. Of course I made a second wish for those of you who were wondering…

Overall it was a very relaxing day in the gorgeous city of Rome (minus “The Incident”), as well as a day of girl friend bonding. It was around this time that my friends and I began playing “Questionnaire,” a game in which we just took turns asking and answering deep friend questions. Call us cheesy, but it was very cute and made us all even closer. Sometimes we just all need some emotional cuddling. L@w1z

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Saturday we hit up the big-shot sights of Rome. Lucky for us it was the end of Rome’s “Culture Week,” so we were granted free access to pretty much everything. We first met our Rome study-abroad friends Jana and Erin at the Colosseum, which was incredible. It is so huge and OLD!! I can’t believe it’s still standing, and standing well at that! The Colosseum is a monument I’ve seen in history books since I was little, but is sooo much cooler in person. It definitely inspired me to want to be a gladiator!

After a lovely picnic lunch on the lawn outside the Colosseum we went to the Roman Forum, which is also awesome. It went on and on and on- I’m pretty sure we could’ve spent hours in there. There’s a cathedral (not religious), some houses and warehouses, lots of columns and pillars… basically a lot of old stuff. It’s so great. Seeing the ruins definitely fueled my love of philosophy!

After the Colosseum came the Pantheon (well, gelato at the 2nd best place in Rome first), yet another really neat ancient architectural piece. While it used to be a pagan temple, it is now a Catholic church (go figure), and the resting place of the wife of one of Italy’s kings- the woman for whom Margherita pizzas are named. I’m a fan! Interestingly enough, the top of the Pantheon is actually an open hole, so when it rains, it floods. Who’da thunk it?

The history in Rome is just so rich and endless. It is truly amazing. One of our bus drivers mentioned to us that “the metro is always closed because they keep finding new ruins. No really.” I love love love it! What other city can lay claim to some of the oldest ruins in the world!?

We then trekked to the Spanish Steps, which are just gorgeous. Way to go homeland; great gift! We were all pretty smitten with the fact that we were Spanish girls on the Spanish Steps… lame? Nah. Apparently the steps are where everyone hangs out at night in Rome- forget Sol! On the way over we happened to run into another group of our girlfriends, and then when we were on the steps we ran into some of our guy friends. Yes, it’s a small world. And yes, everyone from SLU went to Italy for spring break. 

Following the Spanish Steps came the beautiful Trevi Fountain. It was really crowded, but we all got to toss in our coins and make a wish! How Italian (or touristy?) of us!! We then enjoyed a lovely Italian dinner with Erin at a cute little outdoor cafe, where we were treated to bruschetta, salad, pasta (cannelloni for me!), and wine. Yummm!

Tired from a full day of sightseeing (and walking on cobblestone), we made our way back to the hostel for another night of Internet at the bar and peaceful sleep. 

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After a packed granola bar breakfast at our Rome hostel, the girls and I were on an 8:30am tram to the Flaminio train station. From there we took a train into the city, where we were supposed to catch the metro to Vatican City. However, we weren’t so lucky. The metro strike was still going on, so we had to switch to Plan B. We started reading all of the bus stop signs, looking for any that might point us towards the Pope. After talking to a few strangers we eventually found the right bus, and hopped on. We were guided all the way there by a super sweet girl clad all in denim who worked in film production. As we walked towards the Vatican she said to us “I have a secret. This city is magic! It has given me everything I could ever want- love, friendship..” She was beaming and we all couldn’t help but “awwwh” at her sincerity and happiness. She also let me share her iPod on the way!

Upon arrival at the Vatican, I was floored. It was every bit as majestic and wonderful as I’d imagined. I’m sure that the beautiful architecture and immensity were impressive to all of the tourists, but for me as a Catholic, it was inexplicably comforting. I felt so blessed to be in the heart of Catholicism, to walk where the Pope walks. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to experience such a place. 

Only a few minutes later, my friends and I were reunited with my friend Jana from SLU America, who is currently studying abroad in Rome. Needless to say I was quite excited to see her (she lived across the hall from me freshman year), and our reunion was a blissful and shriek-filled one. After introducing us to her friends we stood around in St. Peter’s Square catching up on each others’ lives, all grateful to see familiar faces. And then one of the greatest moments of my study abroad experience happened- Way back in early February Lexi made reservations for we girls to go on what’s known as the Vatican Scavi Tour. At 11:00 we were allowed to pass the Swiss Guards and enter a back building of the Vatican, where we met our tour guide. For the next few hours he led us down underneath St. Peter’s Basilica, where we got to see the excavations that lie beneath. It was all very humid and dank, but incredible. We were allowed to see several mausoleums and tombs that had been uncovered, many of which were marked with the Chi Rho. The first Christians. We were then led to a different room where we were able to peer through rock and see the alleged bones of St. Peter himself. WOW. It was incredible. Although scientists are not 100% positive that the uncovered bones are from Simon Peter, there is significant evidence to prove that it is. Our guide told us to make of it what we will, and I for one was convinced. It was so amazing to me to think that this man, Simon Peter had interacted with the actual living man, Jesus Christ, and that he had eventually come to be the cornerstone of the Church. It was by far one of the most moving things that I have experienced as far as my faith. Our tour ended in the grotto of St. Peter’s Basilica, where many past popes are buried, including John Paul II. I’ll admit it- I was fighting back tears. It was definitely a worthwhile tour, and it’s something that I’d recommend to anyone looking into a trip to Rome. It was just amazing. 

After our tour we met up with Jana again who led us to the most delicious sandwich shop I’ve ever been to. (Sorry Tienda Verde) Never have I had such fresh mozzarella, basil, and cherry tomatoes on a baguette- it was just as scrumptious as I expected Italy to be. 

Following lunch we walked back to the Vatican and toured St. Peter’s Basilica. It. Is. HUGE. The cathedral itself is just incredibly beautiful, as it is decorated in the elaborate and somewhat over-the-top Baroque style. We also decided to pay the couple of euros and climb the 551 stairs that lead to the cathedral’s dome. It was a somewhat exhausting climb, but truly worth the trouble. Seeing the inside of that golden dome up close was just amazing, but the view of Rome from the outside was even better. From the top I could see the city of Rome stretched out before me, a beautiful city teeming with history and detail. I once again found myself speechless, unable to convey just how lucky I felt. Seriously someone pinch me- this can not be my real life!!

To complete our Italian cuisine experience Day 1, Jana took us to what is supposed to be one of the two best gelato shops in all of Rome- Old Bridge. I have to be honest when I say that prior to spring break I didn’t really understand the difference between gelato and ice cream, but oh man do I now!! Gelato is like a softer, creamier, richer ice cream. It is heaven on earth. Not to mention the fact that most places allow you to choose three flavors for the price of one- AH. MAY. ZING. I think that after ten days of trying different flavors I decided that Nutella is my favorite. 

Our last Vatican stop of the day was of course, the Vatican Museum. It was a truly glorious and impressive museum filled with some of the world’s finest art. I know what you all want to hear about though… the Sistene Chapel. Yes, it is GORGEOUS. Yes, it is HUGE. Yes, it is detailed as can be. Unfortunately, the guards inside the museum tend to rush people through it, which was a shame. My friends and I just learned to veer towards the outside of the crowd so that we wouldn’t be ushered past too quickly. Also, I did not disappoint you guys- I illegally snapped a picture so that I could share the wonder with you all (:

Following the museum we went in search of dinner and ended up a a cute pizza and pasta restaurant… how typical. Now I will tell you, it is in no way an exaggeration when I say that pizza and pasta are all that Italians eat. Literally every restaurant that one finds has an extensive pizza and pasta menu, with a much smaller and more expensive meats/other dishes menu in the back. If I had chosen to study abroad in Rome, I would absolutely be obese right now. I would stand no chance against that tantalizing food. My first meal was a spinach and ricotta stuffed tortellini, which was just melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Viva Italia. 

After our usual “stumbling around like idiots trying to figure out where the heck we are” routine, my friends and I eventually found our way back to Rome and to our good ole train station. One more tram ride and were home to the camping grounds. Though pretty darn exhausted from our first day of touring, we decided to play around in the hostel bar for a little while, where we were able to access the Internet. Contacting our families and loved ones- always a priority. 

I was in a different room than the other girls, so before hitting the sheets I chatted up the two girls staying in my room, who were studying abroad in Granada- cool! (I always think it’s a good idea to be-friend your hostel roommates: less likely they’ll steal from you.)

All in all, our day in Vatican City was just exquisite, and a must-do for any Italy tourist. Random traveler’s tip: My friends and I were very concerned about having our shoulders and knees covered in the Vatican, so we all went out and bought long dresses and tights and whatnot. Turns out the rules have slackened considerably, as there were tons of people in blue jeans- what!? I also saw two boys in sweat pants and a girl in shorts… make of that what you will. 

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