Now I Know, New York.

Everything is scary until you do it.
New York is kind of a scary concept. Millions of people in a small amount of space. Crowded streets, crowded buildings, crowded subways. There isn’t crime around every corner waiting for you. But you do need to pay attention to your surroundings. The sheer number of people means there will be more poverty and homelessness, dirtier streets, more germs. It also means there will be loud, opinionated people. Or sometimes there will be loud, mentally unstable people sitting next to you on the Subway talking to themselves or yelling “You’re all going to wish you were dead!” at you and a friend in the street (yes, that actually happened).
There are a lot of unsettling things about New York. But, having just left, I can say I felt an overwhelming sense of security and like I was truly at home in New York.

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This summer, I did something I’d always wanted to do. A friend of mine asked me if I had known about my internship before I decided I wanted to live in the city. Basically, what came first: my job or the city? And my answer was the city. The city always came first. If anyone ever asked where I wanted to live most or where I wanted to visit, that was the first place to come to mind. I was just too afraid to really ever do it or say I was going to do it. Personally, I thank God for the courage and good timing to do it.

When I came to New York in middle school with my mom and a friend, I really saw it through rose-colored glasses. This idealistic view of the city continued as I grew up and obsessively watched Sex and the City and Gossip Girl. I viewed NYC as this glamorous oasis with constant excitement, lights, fame, love, beauty and opportunity. And that is absolutely part of the multi-layered cake that is New York. But only part.
Now I know so much more about this place than I ever did.

Now I know Times Square is not the coolest part of the city and it’s actually a death trap full of tourists and guys with comedy show tickets waiting to rip you off.

Now I know that the Upper East Side, Upper West Side and 5th Avenue are beautiful, clean, and well-deservedly famous but some of the coolest, most chic people and places in the city can be found in SoHo, the West Village and Chelsea. That goes for the most expensive apartments too.

My favorite street in SoHo
My favorite street in SoHo

Now I know that having a rooftop with a view is an unbeatable perk to look for, whether in an apartment, club or a restaurant. But I also know it’s impressive to find an apartment with a dishwasher and laundry in the building.

Now I know the other boroughs have tons to offer, you just have to be willing to look.

Now I know that, yes, there are 1.5 million Starbucks in Manhattan but to find the best coffee, you have to go looking. And coffee is always necessary. Always.

Now I know that you fold your pizza when you eat it. That’s really the only way to do it.

Now I know that black and white never go out of style. If you ever want to push your fashion boundaries there is no better place than New York to try.

Now I know that New York has some of the best bakeries and desserts you’ll ever find. Items like the Cronut and the Cookie Shot at Dominique Ansel’s are truly an experience just to get your hands on. But sometimes all you need is a classic black and white cookie, a dessert that I now know New York loves.

The Cronut
The Cronut

Now I know that anywhere unlimited sushi and sake is offered is guaranteed to be two things: 1) loud and 2) incredibly fun.

Now I know that you don’t really have to wait for a walk sign to cross the street. In fact, doing that is kind of weird.

Now I know that it might be worth looking like a weird newbie checking the street before you walk in order to not be pummeled by the bikers that fly by without stopping for pedestrians.

Now I know that you should never really feel lost in New York because no matter where you are, there’s something incredible to see and someone else equally lost to see it with.

Wings

Now I know that people don’t talk on the Subway. Ever.

Now I know that making a plan is overrated. I spent more days than not just wandering around my favorite neighborhoods with no specific destination in mind and that is when I enjoyed myself the most and when I found the coolest spots.

Now I know that the best things come when you’re least expecting it or looking for it. Seeing celebrities, for example, always happened at the most random times in the most random places. New York will always surprise you.

Now I know that if I made it in New York starting from scratch, I really can make it anywhere (Jay Z knew what he was talking about). New York challenges you and pushes you to be tougher and ready for anything.

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Now I know that if you don’t know what to do after college and you find yourself getting an internship offer in New York City and you see no possible way it could work out and you don’t really know what you’ll do after, there is only one thing you should do: make it work. Don’t even think twice.

Now I know that everything is scary until you do it. Then it’s just part of life you’ll look back on and always love that you did it.

A friend I met in New York shared a quote with me that I think perfectly describes the effect the city has on its explorers: “Once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.” – John Steinbeck 

Now I know.

Brooklyn Bridge

A Key to Rome: No Expectations

Our last week in Rome is finally here. It seemed to be going slowly but now I feel like it has flown by without warning.
This weekend we went to the Colosseum (finally) and yesterday I went with a couple of friends to mass at St. Peter’s Basilica. St. Peter’s is probably my favorite site I’ve visited in Rome. The incredible history and pure, simple passion of people from all over the world visiting this sacred site was very moving. It isn’t your typical tourist trap where people shove you to snap a picture of the most famous piece of work and then scram. There were lots of tourists, don’t get me wrong. But some of those tourists had been waiting their whole lives to make the trip to one of the most famous basilicas in the world, where St. Peter himself is buried, where so much of the history of their faith had taken place.

Michelangelo’s Pietà was just as beautiful as I’d heard and imagined. My friend, Tori, and I zoomed in (since we couldn’t get very close to the sculpture itself) enough to find where Michelangelo had left his signature.

Michelangelo's Signature on La Pietà
Michelangelo’s Signature on La Pietà
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Michelangelo’s Pietà
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Cross at the Colosseo

Other than seeing two of the biggest sites in Rome (which I should’ve already seen by now), this week does not hold a lot of new things in store. However, we started a Rome bucket-list our first week here and this is the week where we begin to realize how many things we still have left to do. This is the week to rush around like crazy and try to sink in every last second we have with Rome, with Trastevere, with our group of friends, with our fountain, with our apartment. When we try to accomplish things we felt like we would have ages to do. And when we realize there are just some things we won’t be able to do. But it is the process of making the list and dreaming these things up that makes it so memorable and fun. Half the time it is deciding not to go do something we should do or see something we should see but rather staying in or going to the neighborhood fountain to do what we want to do.

Part of what made this trip so great was learning to let go of expectations. You make these grand expectations about how your study abroad will go. Of course you’ll see the Colosseum at least 4 times and, naturally, you’ll make it to every single museum. You’ll eat nice Italian food every night, with a glass of wine and a bunch of Italian locals. You won’t have hard classes or need to study at all.

In reality, it is so much better than that.

You do have to study, but that is what makes hanging out with friends or seeing sites or going out at night such a precious relief. You won’t eat fancy Italian meals and drink expensive Italian wine every night, but if you did, would it be quite as special? It makes the nights where you buy cheap pasta at the grocery store and cook a terrible meal in your no-air-conditioning apartment even more fun and hilarious. You don’t go see the huge tourist attractions everyday but you’re not missing out. You’re gaining a true Italian experience because you learn to love and appreciate your local areas and attractions that much more. I went to a local flea market more times than I went to the Colosseum…and I’m totally okay with that.

At one market close to our apartment, we were there for just a few minutes but I found a really cool booth selling handmade keys. One of the signs read “Non c’è nulla di più bello di una chiave, finchè non si sa che cosa apre.” In English, this [roughly] means “There is nothing more beautiful than a key, as long as one does not know what it opens.”

This could mean a lot. But I felt like it related to my idea of expectations. There is something great about not knowing what is in store. Not having any ideas or expectations about what your trip will hold. Having expectations for something that should be so spontaneous is just asking for disappointment. My biggest piece of advice is to let go of any and all pre-conceived ideas you have before travelling. Instead, just do what comes to mind each day and each night without trying to plan it out or have a full understanding of it beforehand. If you want to change your routine, change it. If you want to go off by yourself and do something different from your group, do it. It may sound cliché to tell you to live in the moment but that is actually the best thing you can do and it’s something I wished I had been able to do sooner. The best part is that just trying to open yourself up like that helps you grow in itself. So no matter what, you’re making progress.

I hope to be able to take this lesson back to the U.S. with me and try to not have expectations about school, friends, weekends, vacations, birthdays, holidays. You have a key in your hand and that’s enough. That’s beautiful.

This trip was a key for me. It opened up doors to a lot of beautiful things – a lot of great memories, a lot of great experiences, pictures, laughs, emotions, friends and personal growth. Not knowing all of this was in store was what made it that much more beautiful.

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Life in Trastevere

I’ve been living in Rome for three weeks now and it is unbelievable how fast time has gone. I’ve had a chance to really explore Rome, but somehow have managed to not see some of the most typical attractions yet. Shockingly, I haven’t explored Vatican City yet or gone inside the Colosseum – two of the things people do in their first few days here. I guess I’ve just been trying to wait until I had a day with absolutely nothing to do so I won’t feel rushed. Those days are hard to come by when you have class in the middle of the day. 

My friends on the trip and I have fallen in love with Trastevere. There is a fountain right next to the church Santa Maria in Trastevere where we go to sit, talk, and meet people. We’ve found a small stop for pizza that stays open late at night – for when we’re coming home at 3 a.m., which has happened probably too often. We’ve even found the cheapest beer we could possibly find  (a real Italian has pretty much cringed when I mentioned it to him, if that tells you anything) and became obsessed with it. 

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Santa Maria in Trastevere
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Where Michelangelo died.

I’ve memorized the walk to our school, which takes about 30 minutes. I’ve actually been getting around pretty well without getting lost, so that’s a plus! School, thankfully, has been pretty relaxed. Both of my classes center around culture and art of Roman life, from ancient times to present day. They both also involve trips to sites every class period. Yesterday, we went to Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a private art collection located in a palace in central Rome with works by Caravaggio and other famous artists. We also saw the monastery where Michelangelo died in Rome (though his body was later taken and buried in Florence). Then we saw the church in which St. James and St. Phillip were buried. That’s a lot of amazing history for just one day of class. 

All in all, though, I’ve learned the most about Italian culture by simply living in it. Experiencing the “riposo” time during the day when shops close and people take a break. Seeing families and children playing at the park right outside of our apartment. Watching Italian couples start dinner at 8 and sit there for three hours, just enjoying each other’s company and not feeling a rush to go anywhere. Then having an entirely different feeling when you walk into the center of Rome and feel the rush and energy of the busy city. The way Italians walk, drive (scary), speak and interact with one another is all so different from what I am used to. But I have grown accustomed to it somewhat, and have begun to appreciate their get-straight-to-the-point attitude. 

This past weekend, I went on a weekend trip with 7 other friends down south to Sorrento, where we stayed (unexpectedly) in two trailers right by the Italian coastline. These trailers weren’t exactly what we were expecting (we were expecting typical hostels), but they turned out to be a great surprise. We were practically camping out at the beach, just like an Italian family “getting away” and going to the beach in their RV for the weekend. There was no cell service, no wifi, and very few places to get food or drinks. It was a true escape from the city and barely felt like we were in the same country. We took a day trip on a ferry to the island of Capri, where we each pitched in and got a boat to take us around the island. We stopped at various cliffs and caves, which were all beautiful. We got to jump in and go swimming in the caves with goggles and water so clear you could see for days. It was probably my favorite day in Italy so far. If you ever go to Capri, get a boat – it is a must. 

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Tomorrow, I plan on going to the Vatican super early in the morning with my friend Amy to see the Pope address the public and then to go to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museum. I am extremely excited to see this place full of so much history and significance.

I have begun to feel like Rome is a home away from home. It feels familiar yet still manages to surprise me everyday. Ciao for now!

 

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!

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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