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“V” is for Versailles

VThe day before we left France was another cool and slightly gloomy day. It had poured and sprinkled off and on every day in Paris except for the first extremely hot day that we arrived. It didn’t really rain as we headed for the metro and onto a train to Versailles, however, it rained for a moment while we took shelter inside of a Parisian McDonalds.

After eating our beignets and macaroons from the French-ified restaurant, we walked down several blocks to visit Château de Versailles. It was slightly strange walking off the path of the suburban surroundings and onto the property, which once housed monarchs.

There the Palace of Versailles stood as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the “Ancien Régime” in the middle of a country village, and it continued to sit beautifully dripping gold in the wealthy modern suburbs of Paris. Read the rest of this page »

“U” is for Umbrella

14820799132_0bef631731_mThe last day of our adventures in Spain was flooded with a heavy downpour of rain. The small group of travelers that I was with at the time wanted to make one last stop before hoping a bus to the airport in Barcelona, despite any of us being prepared for the weather that waited outside for us.

We had walked against the cool winds that tried to push us away from our destination. We had called in and tried putting our names down for a reservation to enter the architectural feat that is La Sagrada Família, and were to told that we could walk in with other groups around 10am. We checked the time when we arrived in front of the gates surrounding the basilica, and were told by the guards at the front that we had to wait outside for bit before they could let us in.

The day before had been so sunny and warm, but as we looked up toward the gray skies our faces were dampened with misty sprinkles. A moment later led to an immediate cloudburst of heavy rain, and all of us travelers without hoods or an umbrella huddled together underneath a small awning in line. Read the rest of this page »

“T” is for Train

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The stop in front of Disneyland Paris

I’ve noticed, after traveling Europe for a little bit, that there are often more railways than motorways. Compared to the U.S., the rail networks in Western and Central Europe are wonderfully developed and maintained, they cover more land area, and they just have their shit together.

I spent a decent amount of time in Europe standing in the Firenze Santa Maria Novella Train Station. I bumped into young people wearing large backpacking packs on their way to the next country, locals heading out on day trips, and other students studying abroad who were, like me, using the weekend to explore all that the new foreign country had to offer. Read the rest of this page »

“S” is for Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Palace of Versailles, Paris

Palace of Versailles, Paris

We hit the ground running after we traveled by bus from Beauvais-Tillé Airport in to the heart of Paris. We snapped our pictures under the sparkling Eiffel Tower that stood proudly against the starry sky, seen all that Disneyland Paris had to offer, saw Parisian guards in a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, walked through the paths at Place des Vosges and Palais du Luxembourg, and gazed up at the gargoyles and beautiful stain glass window in Notre Dame Cathedral.

Between all the running around the group that I was traveling with, we had went from being completely confused by the Parisian metro, to mastering the city that resided underneath the surface. We were submerged in a crash course lesson of everything French. I didn’t know the language before traveling to France, but after what were most likely hours spent riding the metro; we had listened to the voice overhead announcing the stops to the point where we memorized the order of some of the places, and were taught how to pronounce them perfectly. However, for a few of us (including myself), learning how to navigate our way through the metro didn’t translate as well to the above ground city of Paris. Read the rest of this page »

“R” is for Rome

RThe last day that I was in Rome, Italy landed, appropriately, on a Sunday. I had been sick that weekend either from travel fatigue or from my fellow travelers suddenly falling ill to what seemed like the plague, and the rain that flooded the streets the night before wasn’t helping at all.

A friend of mine, who was also Catholic, had mentioned that she wanted to attend mass while she was in Rome. I wasn’t the most religious person, but I agreed to go along because it would be kind of cool to say to my other Catholic friends that I did. We both got up that morning in search for a church with a service that was held in English, but, we had missed many of those already and didn’t think it would be worth it to sit through mass in Italian. We ended up wandering around and meeting up with another friend at the hotel that we were staying at. “Did you guys want to see the Pope at the Vatican?”

My friend and I looked at each other and knew the answer, “Umm, yeah!” Read the rest of this page »

“Q” is for Quiche… And The Realization That Times Have Changed

QThe other day, as I curled up on the couch with some hot green tea after a late class, my sister asked me a strange question. “Hey, is it okay if someone borrows an egg?”

I removed the thermos full of tea from my lips and replied with a, “What? Just one egg?”

“Yeah, one of my friends who lives in the building just texted me and she’s coming over to borrow an egg, if that’s okay.”

“That’s totally fine. She can take an egg.”

Several minutes passed and there was a knock at the door. My sister answered it, inviting her two friends in and gave them the cooking ingredient that they asked for.

“Thank you!” The girls said as they moved toward the door.

“You guys just want the egg? You don’t want a cup of water or something?” My sister watched the girls shake their heads with a smile. “I just feel like I should be offering you guys something else.” Read the rest of this page »

“P” is for People and Openness

PIt’s funny to look back now and think about the time when we were teenagers and we assumed that we thought we knew more about the world than what we actually did. It took a few years of traveling, going to college, working or other life changes that commonly come after attending high school to realize that we, maybe, we might not have had such a great handle on the world as we thought we did.

I’m completely embarrassed to say, but when I was a young teenager living in a small town and in my extremely closed-minded world, I felt as though I was accepting of all people, but I wrongly believed that bisexuality didn’t exist. I had shut myself off and closed my mind from any and all people who tried to tell me differently, and honestly believed that those in the bisexual community were either confused gay or lesbian individuals or attention seeking straight women. It took meeting new people and sitting down and speaking with individuals not of the small town mindset to persuade me into opening my mind and learning about those who were not like me.

I believe, from my experience in high school, that it takes exposure, education and conversation to open the minds of others. I believe that awareness is the key to acceptance, and that people should take the time to peacefully sit down with others and share their thoughts about things in a safe environment. Read the rest of this page »

“O” is for Ocean

On the final weekend of my month long stay in Italy I decided to take off by myself to Cinque Terre. There I would explore the five towns of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore along the coast of the Italian Riviera.

OI signed up for the Florence For Fun program event, which offered a day trip that included a round-trip transport from Florence where I was staying, a Cinque Terre National Park entrance ticket, a short boat ride between the fourth and fifth town, and tour guides. The trip details also promised amazing views that we would get to see on hikes through the hilly landscape, the ability to stop and eat local produce, focaccia, seafood and their famous pesto, and to hang out in the beautiful beaches in Vernazza and Monterosso.

That morning of the day trip I dressed in my outdoor hiking gear with my bathing suit underneath. I had heard from other travelers that the hike in between the last two towns would be excruciating and that I would want to immediately jump into the ocean afterward.

The group of students studying abroad from all over the world piled themselves onto a bus with two Italian tour guides who spoke English and who picked up another bilingual local along the way. I sat next to an American female student who wore a sun hat and offered me sunscreen to use. We chatted nearly the whole way to our destination, except for the quick stop to use the restroom at an Italian rest station, until we were greeted with the most beautiful sights of the colorful buildings sitting in the hills above the sparkling blue sea. Read the rest of this page »

“N” is for Napoletana

NI was absolutely nervous before my 17-hour flight to Italy from LAX. Watching my parents and my sister wave goodbye to me (for what very could have been the last time) nearly forced the tears welling up in my tear ducts to fall out onto my face. I couldn’t stand flying. Flying meant making deals with the Universe and praying the rosary a million times all why attempting to get drunk enough to knock out in case the plane I was on crashed.

I managed to pass out for almost the full 17 hours, thanks to the lifeblood that is red wine, and woke up in an entirely new country. I grabbed my bags off of the carousel in the luggage claim and made my way toward the exit. I didn’t really know any of the other students that I was traveling with, but realizing the fact that, for one, I hadn’t died on the plane, and two, that I was about to embark on an adventure in an entirely new place, calmed my nerves. It was later, right in front of the Florence airport exit doors, that we were divided into the several groups containing our fellow roommates. The fact that the four other girls in my group seemed nice erased any remaining nerves that I had about studying abroad.

After everyone was split up into their groups, what seemed like a never-ending line of taxis, came and picked us up to take us to our apartments located around various parts of the city. Two or three students along with their luggage were piled in taxis driven by men and women who barely spoke any English. One of my roommates and I had grabbed a taxis driven by a really sweat old man with a lead foot.

We spent the next several minutes swishing through the city of Florence passing cars, dodging very lucky pedestrians, and speeding by the famous architectural feats of the city. I grabbed a hold of the car door’s inner handle, peered out of the window at the slightly blurry sights, and thought to myself, oh shit I’m in Italy. Read the rest of this page »

“M” is for Milan

MLoud noises consisting of people yelling in all different languages filled the Italian train station as I took cover from the excruciating heat. I had nothing but my ratty purse, well spent from traveling, and a backpack for my weekend trip to Barcelona, Spain. Written down on a piece of binder paper were walking directions from my Florence apartment to the train station, and from the train station in Bologna to the airport where I would meet up with a group of other traveling American students.

I was standing by myself with my backpack and purse held tight. I leaned up against the wall so that the zippers couldn’t be accessed without knocking me over. I was nervous and very concerned for my safety. Never in my life have I wandered off in a foreign country by myself, and I’m very sure it showed all over my face.

Then, from behind my overgrown side bangs, and out from the corner of my eye, I saw a young man approach me. He stood directly in my blind spot, and I started to quietly panic. Read the rest of this page »

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