Rome Sweet Rome

A lot has happened since I last blogged. We found out just how much we loved Amsterdam. We both agreed it was our favorite city. Compared to Paris and London, there weren’t quite as many historical sites to make the hike to, which was nice. We had time to stroll around the city and see what we wanted to see without feeling stressed out or feeling like we had to rush to the next thing (or pay a lot of money for admission). Plus we could walk everywhere and not worry about public transportation and getting lost (this was a huge plus). 

We did make it to the Van Gogh museum and the Anne Frank house, which were both well worth the admission. 

 

ImageAbove everything, though, I think what made it our favorite was our hostel. We stayed in the Flying Pig Downtown and it was the best decision we could’ve made. The staff was so friendly and accommodating. There was a bar in the hostel, which made it super easy to meet other people. We made friends from Argentina, Canada, South Africa, and some from the U.S. too! It was our most social hostel and had a great location – plus it was clean and had all the necessities. There were great drink deals, which we weren’t used to (drinks everywhere else were so expensive). We also noticed the best hostels have staff that come and hang out when they aren’t working. All the staff seemed like best friends and like they really loved their job and each other. That kind of attitude really makes a difference (it was 10x better than some of the other hostels we stayed in). It was more expensive than some of our other hostels, but I can’t stress how big of a difference it made – it was very worth the extra money. This atmosphere combined with the overall feeling of the entire city was just amazing – so relaxed, so fun, just so happy. Everyone was helpful, happy, and positive. 

Our next stop was Milan – and I don’t think we could’ve had a harder time with it. Our post-Amsterdam depression rubbed off on us and it was rainy the whole 24 hours we were in Milan – plus we paid $7 a night and (surprise) got a horrible hostel – so Milan was not the best experience. I would like to give it another chance some time, if I get the opportunity. We just weren’t there long enough to get to know the city or any people. We booked the earliest morning train we could to Florence.

Florence was amazing and beautiful, just like everyone had always told me. We met more Americans and drank wine, walking and laughing in the streets of Firenze – it made for a pretty unforgettable night and city. 

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The view of Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo.

Now we are in Rome and I am officially moved into my apartment, with four other roommates. I’ll be living here for the next four weeks and taking two courses about Roman art and culture at the U of A Campus in Rome. It is a huge change to go from a completely spontaneous, freedom-filled, hostel trip through Europe to a study abroad trip where there are suddenly mandatory meetings and classes. I’m not quite used to it yet. Especially not used to actually unpacking and living in one place for more than three days. But I’m so excited to get to be in one city for longer and get to know our neighborhood, the people, and the city more intimately. It will be different but in a good way – it will be very comforting to not be thrown into a new culture and situation every few days. It will be comforting to actually have a home for a bit. 

I do miss home. I miss my family, my friends, my boyfriend. I miss my soda of choice. I miss my typical food and snacks. I miss watching TV. But I love Europe. I love having so many new experiences every day and meeting people so different with stories from all over the world. I love trying to adapt to the Italian culture and trying to figure things out in Italian. There’s a rush during the day but when it comes to dinner, it is slow-paced and relaxed. I love being able to drink wine in the streets and make friends. I just love it. and I feel like I’m finally getting the hang of it. I wouldn’t change anything about this trip for the world. It has been hard at times, exhausting and frustrating. But this is what I’ve started to tell myself: “Non mi interessa che oggi sia nuvoloso ma che il domani sia sereno.” I do not care that today is cloudy but that tomorrow is clear.

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Outside of the Pantheon in Rome!

Until next time! Ciao!

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A London Adventure

Our time in London was, overall, much more relaxed than Paris, something we hadn’t been expecting.
We stayed in St. Christopher’s Camden and loved it! There is a bar in the bottom of the hostel we went to almost every night just to grab a drink and hang out. It seemed like some locals actually go to the bar too, along with most people from the hostel so it can be a nice mix of people all from different places. There was also a pub-crawl starting at the hostel. We didn’t do it but it sounded fun!
We stayed in an 8-person mixed-dorm room, and our roommates the first night were an American from Washington D.C., a Brazilian couple, two French guys and one guy we never met because I’m guessing he only came in to sleep. I loved staying in a larger room (in Paris we had a room by ourselves with no roommates) because it automatically gave us a chance to meet people from somewhere new and learn things about them.
Our Brazilian friends told us an iPhone cost about £500 here, which is about $750 we think! That blew our mind because they are relatively cheap in the states.

Our first full day out, we went to Camden Market, a local market very close to our hostel that is held in old horse stables. It was so fun! The booths all had some similar things but every once in a while you’d find something unique and special at a booth. The atmosphere was just really fun and we got a chance to try haggling with sellers, although I don’t think we were very good at it.
After that we headed into the more central area of London and started sight-seeing! We went first to Trafalgar Square and went inside the National Gallery.
then, we started to walk to Big Ben and found the horse guard building and came across a special ceremony remembering fallen soldiers in the British guard. We talked to a guard later and found out this ceremony happens once a year. And we just happened to stumble across it at exactly the right time.
As in Paris, the best things have tended to happen to us at times like this, when we are looking for something different.

We did a lot in London. We made a list and it’s pretty long.
But one of my favorite moments was when we were looking for Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana used to live, and found a beautiful, sunny (which was rare on this trip) spot in Kensington Gardens. It was a spot with trees and grass lining the road and the sun was golden and shining, right before sunset. It had been cold pretty much the entire trip, so when we felt this warmth, we took the chance to sit down in the grass and just relax for a second. It was so peaceful. Plus we were in this park with people walking their dogs and jogging. It didn’t feel like we were tourists…for once. It was nice.

We felt less rushed to see sights in London. We had more time to get dressed up and go out. We met so many nice people and saw so much while also just getting to relax, like we were actually on vacation!

I am sad to leave London. It is a really fun city with lots to do and a great atmosphere. The people were very helpful and fun and I feel like it will hold a special place in my heart.
But we have to move on. We’re on the train to the airport to go to Amsterdam now. It’s all part of our trip – just when we get used to a city and want to stay, our time there is gone and we have to jump on the next plane. I’ve realized I will definitely want to return to London, and not just because we missed a few sights on our list. I can’t wait to come back just for fun.
Now on to the Netherlands!

Must-do’s in London:
– Eat at an authentic British pub and try a British beer
– Camden Market
– Kensington Gardens
– Bring warm clothes (scarves!)
– St. James’s Park
– Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (11 a.m. every day, just a cool thing to see)
– Big Ben (of course)
– Southbank
– Oxford Street/Circus (shopping!)
– Ben’s cookies (SO good. thanks to my friend Brennan for the suggestion)
– If you’re on a budget, I recommend St. Christopher’s Camden – or even if you’re not trying to save money (the bartenders and staff are very cool and helpful and it’s a great location)

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The City of Light…and Music: Our Last Night in Paris

Our last night in Paris could not have been more perfect.
We had had our share of struggles in Paris, to say the least. The first day, our flight had been delayed so we missed out on several hours in the city and ended up getting out around 3 in the afternoon. We got lost more times than I could remember. One morning I felt so sick and nauseous from jet lag we couldn’t leave until 11. We took the wrong metro several times and, to top it all off, Kelly got stuck in the doors of the metro trying to get in at the last second. The last one was the funniest and the scariest experience we had ever had.

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Here’s our hostel: Arty Paris (which we couldn’t find without getting lost until our last day in Paris.)

But none of that (not even getting caught in a metro door) mattered anymore on our last night in the City of Light.

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We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower around sunset and it was breathtaking. The city truly is so beautiful. The buildings are all so classic and unique. We talked a few times about how easily you could tell apart the modern architecture of the city. The monuments were so massive. It moved me to be in such a historic and gorgeous city where so much had happened and so much inspiration and creativity had flourished.
We knew the Tower flashed the first 5 minutes of every hour and were looking forward to seeing that. All the sudden it was 10 p.m. and we were still inside the tower trying to find the “Toilettes” (which are a lot harder to find than you’d think), when the lights started flashing. We couldn’t see them from inside looking for a bathroom. We were disappointed we had missed it and we didn’t think we could wait another hour to see it again because we wanted to get plenty of sleep for our last few hours in Paris the next day.
We ended up leaving the Tower and buying a couple Nutella Crepes from a stand at the bottom. SO GOOD. We walked across the bridge to get a better view of the tower then decided we’d go home. But then we heard music coming from this place where people went to get a better view of the Eiffel Tower. We walked over and saw a street musician with a guitar and a few listeners. It didnt seem like much out of the ordinary, but eventually we sat down to listen for a few minutes…which turned into hours.
The musician started off by saying something like “I want you all to know I have a job, I work hard just like you, this is not something I do for money but because I love to sing with you all.”
More and more people came to listen and eventually it was a large crowd. He sang most songs in English, but occasionally one or two in Spanish. But what was special was each time he asked for requests, he asked the person who had requested the song to come up and sing with him because he needed help with some lyrics (his English wasn’t perfect afterall). It became so personal when crowd members walked up to help. Kelly and I felt like we were watching our friends sing.
He sang beautiful songs that reached everyone, because most people around were of different backgrounds. A guy from Moscow requested “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz. 5 girls from Brazil went up and sang a song popular in Brazil and called themselves the “Spice Girls from Brazil.”
Then he just sang songs like “Let it Be” and “Imagine” that truly made me feel thankful to be alive and sitting in Paris watching this man sing. Songs that made me feel so connected to all these people I had never met and probably never would again. It was moving and touching and gave me the clarity I needed to see one thing: I was right where I needed to be. This trip came at a great point in my life. I need to see different cultures. I need to broaden my experiences and meet those from other places. But not just meet them – relate to them on some level. This level was music. I almost cried from how perfect it all felt.
Paris had been hard. I’d never travelled anywhere outside of the U.S. essentially on my own. I’ve never had to figure things out entirely as I go. I needed this push and this challenge to move past who I am and into who I should be.
So this was all completely new to me. But I loved every second of it and wouldn’t trade the challenges for the world. I’m just thankful to be here. And thankful to see the way people from all over the world can relate to this exact feeling.

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We were having such a great time we forgot how late it was and stayed out until the tower flashed and sparkled again. Things have a way of working out when you stop worrying about them.

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Long Live College: How Growing Up Gets (Somewhat) Easier

One thing I’ve learned the past three years in college is that it gets easier each year to leave.

The past few days, as summer began for the University of Arkansas (sorry to those of you still taking finals), I’ve seen an endless number of Facebook statuses and tweets about how depressed people are to be done with their current year in college. How sad they are to move on. “Where did this year/this semester/college go?” seems to be a common thought.

That’s because Fayetteville is a town that draws you in. The University of Arkansas campus makes you feel at home, safe, secure, and happy. You have all your friends, clubs, sororities, parties, teachers you love, volunteer opportunities, dining halls piled high with cookies…all right there within reach. I’m sure this is true about most college campuses and college towns. But Fayetteville has a charm unlike any other.

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Freshman year, leaving is like prying you away from something you’ve glued yourself to. At least at the end of the year. When the homesickness has faded and all that is left is a deep love for your freshman year. You find yourself in May all of the sudden, realizing after your finals, your freshman year of college (by far the best year) has come to an end. And you refuse to believe it. You deny it, telling yourself you’re just going home for summer for a couple months, so things will be exactly the same when you return in the fall and there is nothing to worry about. It’s okay to admit it because I guarantee we all told ourselves that at some point.
Then you go home and all the sudden you’re back on campus as a sophomore. This is one of the hardest changes to deal with. You are still young enough to see all the new freshmen coming on board and living it up just like you had a few freaking months ago, but you’re not one of them. You’re older. And even though you’re actually only a few months older, you feel ancient. You almost resent the people younger than you for having what you want…freshman year all over again. And you also try to relive freshman year. This is by far the biggest mistake.
My advice is to just accept the fact that each year in college absolutely flies by. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be college. It would high school, or middle school – it would not be the amazing, best years of your life that we call college. Accept that you’re not a freshman anymore, and stop trying to relive it, before you miss out on everything about being a sophomore or junior. Each year has something special about it (especially junior year, when you and your friends turn 21) so find that special something and embrace it.

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Once sophomore year ends, it’s a little bit easier for you to pack up and head home or to an internship you scored for the summer, with one last, sad look back at the campus you love.
Junior year is similar, just feeling further away from younger people and living further away from campus. Not having a dining hall to make you food and cookies everyday is quite an awakening. You learn to actually buy your own groceries, find a way to get your own lawn mowed, and fix problems around your own house. Little by little, you grow in your independence and in your self image.

See, that’s the bittersweet beauty of how college works (and I guess life in general). It seems so harsh and just plain mean that we are put into this perfect little world that is campus and Fayetteville, and we get so comfortable and happy and then are forced to move on. But if we weren’t forced to take these little steps to move on and grow up each year, we would never be ready for life on our own.We would always expect a washer and dryer provided. We would never learn how to cook and clean and iron clothes and make our own doctors appointments and live by ourselves, without someone in the twin bed next to you. It is scary and frustrating but also invigorating and exciting to see the world laid out before you, just requiring you to find the independence and discipline needed to take advantage of it.

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Next fall, I am going to be returning as a senior. This concept is so strange to me. I would always look up to the seniors in my sorority freshman year and felt like they were so old. I do not feel like I am that old, I just can’t wrap my mind around it. And definitely can’t wrap my mind around the fact that freshmen will see me like that next year. I will come back and be in harder classes, will be working on my honors thesis I have to defend next spring before graduation. My biggest problem will change from buying outfits for pep rallies and functions to working on my resume and finding a real-world job. And I’m sure before I know it, graduation will be here and I’ll be tossing my hat up in the air with thousands of others wondering how they got there and where exactly college went.
But I know that it will be easier than ever to look at Old Main and Mullins and the Union and the Kappa Delta house with love and vow to never forget my memories here…but then to turn around, hop in my car and move on, to the next part of my life. Without even looking back. Because that is what leaving and moving on so many times has prepared me for. Not that it will not make me sad, because it will. Not that it will be a total breeze, because it will have its difficulties. But at least when that day comes, I won’t be in denial anymore about growing up.

Until that day, long live dining halls, long live carnivals at the Union, long live Razorback games in the student section, long live Fayettechill, hammocking at the Greek Theater, pulling all-nighters in the library, crazy Moses, Jimmy Johns til 3 a.m., Row Week…long live college.

 

 

Only Love Can Do That

There has been a lot of sadness, evil, grief and confusion in our country and in my community in particular recently. A few days ago, a fellow University of Arkansas student and a very close friend to several of my sorority sisters committed suicide. Before that, an explosion in Texas affected a lot of families and people in Texas and, as a result, in the U of A community. Before that, several people were killed and many injured in a senseless bombing at the Boston marathon, of all places. We see so many acts of violence toward innocent people and hear of so many lives taken far too early every day. Our world is filled with darkness and sadness, and we are reminded of this every time we turn on the TV or read the news of another tragedy on Facebook.

I have always found confusion in events like these, no matter how strong my faith in God and His plan and His eternal strength and comfort in our lives. I can know that those people are in a better place and I can know that those things happen for a reason – I can know these things deep in my heart, but I cannot escape a feeling of shock, sadness and, ultimately, confusion.

At times like these, I turn to God. I pray for those affected, that they may find strength in these trying times and, eventually, peace and happiness once again. I am confident that God will provide these things to those in need. But I also look to His word for wisdom on how to deal with such horrible, confusing, awful events. Tonight, I found a story that spoke to me emotionally.

Matthew 14:1-12 describes the death of John the Baptist. However, John the Baptist did not die peacefully or naturally – he was beheaded by Herod. The disciples take his body and bury it and then go to tell Jesus. What caught my eye was what happened next.

Matthew 14:13-14 “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

Jesus had just learned that his friend, his kinsman and the one who had proclaimed him as the Messiah had not just died but had been gruesomely murdered. He withdraws from the crowds temporarily, as most of us would if we learned of something like that. But then, the crowds followed him. Instead of further isolating himself, leaving the crowds again who had desperately sought him, or being frustrated or angry because he had been followed when trying to withdraw/grieve…Jesus has compassion for them. He feels for them. He heals those in need. He shows them love. Shows them love in a time that is dark and full of sorrow in his own life. In Mark 6:34, it is added that “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

These people hadn’t just lost a friend like Jesus had, at least not as far as we are told. These people were struggling with different things, however. And Jesus knew that. He knew they were lost and he put aside his own problems and put this entire, huge group of people above himself. The story goes on that he gave them each enough to eat, although they began with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. He feeds all 5,000 people.

In times like these, I now have a goal to strive to not focus on myself and my confusion but to focus on all those around me. I strive to show love and compassion to those lost without a shepherd, those grieving, to everyone I encounter – in the hopes that I can, through God’s glory, instill in others the strength, hope and love to keep going, to not give up, to love life, and to, most importantly, see God’s love and plan in everything. Perhaps we can save a life. Perhaps we cannot. But this is what Jesus did. He was full of sorrow, I am sure, but he did not get angry at the world and the injustice and pain and horrible things that had happened – he tried to further the love and goodness in the world. Instead of becoming pessimistic or angered at the world and the evil and sadness that surrounds us, we need to, more than ever, stick together and try to increase the good in the world. Life is clearly short and precious. If we all said a kind or encouraging word to someone today, it could make more of a positive difference than we know. I know that darkness and sadness exist prominently in our world but I believe with all of my heart that there is more goodness in the hearts of people and more goodness to be shown to one another than there is evil.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

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