What A Girl Wants

It’s been such a hectic week that I haven’t been able to post about my awesome trip to England last weekend! I instantly loved England. First of all, it was a relief to be in an English speaking country. When I arrived in Birmingham, I was on my own for most of the day so getting around and exploring was much easier knowing the language. Secondly, I found everyone I spoke to to be incredibly charming and sweet. It was awesome to see my friend from San Diego as well; seeing familiar faces in an unfamiliar place is a great feeling. Though it was a chilly night, we went out to eat and grabbed a beer at a British pub (eeep!) and went to bed for an early morning to London.

London has always been at the top of my list of places to see. Whether it’s my obsession with the Beatles, or the accent, or the fascination with double decker busses, I had to go. Arriving in London, I felt like Amanda Bynes in What A Girl Wants, one of my favorite movies. She was in awe of everything around her, and so was I. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace, where I felt, for lack of a better word- royal. It was gorgeous. And then it was full on tourist mode for the rest of the day. We hit the Big Ben, a photoshoot at a telephone booth, the London Eye, navigated the tube to Abbey Road Studios, to King’s Cross Station, and Platform 9 3/4, so I could take off to Hogwarts (but actually just back to the airport).

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Buckingham Palace!

A very special moment for me was going to Abbey Road Studios and walking across the iconic street that The Beatles walked across in 1969. My dad raised me on The Beatles’ music, and I have always dreamed of walking on the same spot that those 4 lads made so famous. It was a surreal moment.

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But even with all of that, what was my favorite part of the day you ask? Chipotle. IMG_4564

No, it is not a tourist attraction (though it might as well be with all the Americans in there), but with my struggle of getting sick of Italian food, the best lunch I could have ever asked for was my chicken burrito, chips, and guac. It was majestic (and yes, I will be making a stop at the Chipotle in Paris as well).

I spent the most lovely day in London, and I can not wait to make my way back to England some day. I’d love to explore Liverpool and Manchester, and enjoy the lovely city without being so rushed. Guess I’ll just have to go back to see Ben!

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Study Abroad Struggle: Detachment

Personally, one of the hardest parts of being abroad is being so detached from culture and news back in the U.S. When I’m in the States, a vital part of my day is watching the news, keeping up on current events, and during a presidential campaign, being more involved and aware. Yes, I still get my CNN updates, Twitter keeps me informed with short headlines from the Huffington Post, Associated Press, and more. But with no TV, many U.S. sites not working overseas, and the huge time difference when trying to watch a debate or a playoff game really contributes to a feeling of detachment. When my parents came to visit, the first thing I asked them was, “Okay, so what is happening back home?” They responded with, “Trust me, nothing important.” They emphasized that I was in Rome, and it shouldn’t be a concern of mine.

It goes further than just political news, national headlines, and the presidential campaign. Even things like entertainment; new music, new movies, keeping up with your favorite TV shows, and sports like the MLB Playoffs. I couldn’t tell you who has the #1 song right now, nor what major film is coming out next month. My sports updates are a few short clips and ESPN notifications. These things, back home, I was always aware of.

In retrospect, maybe I put too much effort into keeping up with the media’s view of the world around me, but really never look up and learn from what I actually see. Being in Europe has made me feel detached, but I have also learned to put my energy and passions into traveling and learning about the world from this side of the globe, meeting new people, having conversations with international students, and discussing the world with a new perspective. Detach, and learn something new. 

Falling in Love with Venice

They say that when you meet the person you’re meant to be with, you know. 

I feel like every city I’ve stepped into, I’ve fallen in love with. First, it was Rome. Then it was Positano. Then it was Munich, then Amsterdam. But now I know. I have fallen in love with the magical city of Venice. Why, you may ask?

  • I love being around water. And I can’t really avoid that even if I tried.
  • Gorgeous and detailed Venetian masks cover the city. I’d throw a masquerade every weekend.
  • Gondolas and attractive gondoliers. Enough said. (See below.)IMG_4357
  • Piazza San Marco. Well, because look at it.

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  • Boats, boats, boats.
  • And enough romantic vibes to make even the least admirable person, fall in love.

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Granted, I am not in love with any human being at the moment but Venice will have to do for now. I honestly did not know what to expect. I’ve always heard about Venezia’s beauty, but it was more than I could have ever imagined. A day and a half just wasn’t enough for me. We got lost about 45 times in the tiny alleyways and dead ends. We rode a gondola and the 30 minute ride felt like 30 seconds. And we visited an island (Burano) that was more colorful than anything I’ve ever seen. Nothing has instantly made me so happy to be alive.

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Burano, Venice; known for its lace.

I keep saying I will be back to every city I’ve visited. And I hope I get the chance to. But Venice, I know I will be back.

Why through it all, my dad is my saving grace.

We fight a lot. My mom says it’s because we’re practically the same person. Most conversations end in a bickering match about who is right and who is wrong. But today, when I called him, freaking out because my card wasn’t working online, and stressing about school, and begging the universe to let something go right, he just told me to stop. He said “I’ll do anything for you.” And just like that, I put all my trust into him. Because as crazy as he drives me, he constantly reminds me that there is a resolution to everything, and to just let it be. 

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Speaking of let it be…. Guess who’s going to Abbey Road in London in 2 weeks?! THIS GIRL!

Life is still life, even while abroad.

From the outside, studying abroad seems very magical. Traveling to different countries every weekend, barely going to school, eating all the food you want, and not a single struggle in the world. I know because that’s how I always saw it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m having the greatest experience of my life here. I’ve honestly never been happier. But life is still life. Things happen. Your card will probably stop working and you have to figure out how to get into contact with your bank. You will have bad days where it seems like everything that can go wrong, will, and sometimes you will want to cry. You will run out of money, at least for a weekend. You will stay up all night studying for midterms because you didn’t have the motivation to keep up with school for the first month and a half, and half way through your semester, you will start feeling homesick. These are all things that happen to me when I’m at school in San Diego, and it happens here too. Because life is still life, even while in Rome.

I am so happy here even if it has been stressful balancing my parents coming to visit, going to Sicily and missing some school, traveling, midterms, and taking advantage of the incredible city I’m living in. It’s important to remember that studying abroad is not all glitter and gold. We still have school, and responsibilities. We still have to do our laundry, and buy groceries, and keep up with every crazy plan we’ve made. And it’ll all work out because it always does.

I Amster-damn happy to be alive.

I had an amazing weekend exploring Amsterdam.

It is such a beautiful city. It is incredibly unique, and unlike any place I’ve ever visited. Besides the obvious fact that prostitution and the use of drugs is legal, Amsterdam is full of incredibly nice and helpful people and it is stunning. It’s also very cold, so I’ll be investing in a coat.

Our hostel was located right in the middle of the Red Light District. Prime location, huh? But it really was. Everything in Amsterdam is walking distance and the walk, in any direction you go, is beautiful. Over the weekend we did some exploring, took a tour through the canals, visited Anne Frank’s house, went to the Heineken Experience, and checked out the Sex Museum- and THAT was interesting. There isn’t a city quite like Amsterdam. I amster-damn sure going back. Check out some pictures from this weekend!

I love you and all your waffles, Holland. I will be back for you someday.

Blessed Is an Understatement

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to understand that I am very blessed to be in Rome. For me, it’s the little things. The tiny, narrow, cobblestone streets, the cars that almost hit you, the vines hanging across medieval buildings, the shitty service, and the delicious wine. Sure, the Colosseum is great, the Trevi Fountain will make your jaw drop, and the Vatican is a piece of art. The pasta, the pizza, the wine. It’s all great. But the little things, the things I see everyday going to school, each time I trip on the streets that aren’t paved, every time I stop for gelato even though I say I shouldn’t. That’s why I love Rome. It isn’t the tourist attractions, it’s living in Rome and taking the tram home at night and trying to keep your balance on roads that haven’t been paved since the 15th century.

Tonight I was sitting outside of a little restaurant, having a drink with my friend Emily. We grabbed some drinks and a cheese platter (if that’s not a blessing, I don’t know what is), and sat, and talked, and watched, as Vespas hurried by and groups of kids were going out starting their night. It’s in simple moments like that, which seem straight out of a movie, when I remind myself of just how lucky I am.

It’s an early night tonight. I’m gonna be up at 4 am to catch a flight to Amsterdam, the city I’ve been dreaming of seeing since I knew I was coming abroad. Blessed is an understatement. 

Welcome to the homeland. 

If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m very Italian. My parents were both born in Sicily, and I’m incredibly tied to my Italian culture. It was clearly a simple choice when choosing where to study abroad. And unlike a lot of students coming abroad, I can really relate to being in this country, and it’s given me a very important opportunity to see where I come from. My parents came to visit me in Rome last week (which was surprisingly a blast), and we took off for Sicily where I got the chance to see the house where my dad was born in and the house he spent his summers in growing up in the mountains of Palermo.

My dad outside of the house he was born in!

My dad outside of the house he was born in!

This was the first time I have been able to visit his home with him, and it was incredibly special for me. My dad hasn’t been back to Palermo in 20 years, and seeing the connection he has with his roots was amazing. I really enjoyed getting to meet a lot of my dad’s cousins, and especially his last living uncle, Zio Pinuzzu. He was the sweetest, kindest old man, and when he saw my dad he started crying because he was happy. I really did feel so lucky to be there with my dad, seeing him so happy to be reunited with his family he’s been waiting so long to see.

I also got to celebrate a really amazing weekend in my mom’s town of Porticello.

The Madonna Del Lume is an incredibly important part of my family’s culture. The celebration of the patron saint of my mom’s town of Porticello, was something that I could have never imagined. We’ve always celebrated this weekend in San Francisco, but obviously on a much smaller, somewhat mediocre scale. My mom always told me about how amazing the actual celebration in Porticello was, and I finally got to experience it. My dad’s good friends from California were in Europe, and they joined us for a day as well! It was really great to share such a unique, local experience with friends. The small, boring town I always knew became alive with performers, carnival rides, food vendors, and more. Firework shows, canons going off, and marching bands were the soundtrack for the weekend. One of the festivities of the weekend is a game called “La Cantina” where young men compete by walking on a plank over the water, which is covered in soap, to grab the flag hanging off at the end! The crowd was huge, and it was a really fun spectacle.

The big feast day starting when they bring down the picture of the Madonna in the church, and thousands of people are trying to touch and kiss it, while it makes its way outside to be mounted on the platform it will be carried on during the procession. I was

The men carrying the Madonna during a 6 hour procession through the town.

The men carrying the Madonna during a 6 hour procession through the town.

right at the bottom of the big stairs leading up to the painting, and I got to touch and kiss it multiple times. It was a really emotional moment, especially having my mom right next to me. One of my favorite parts of the weekend was watching the “Acchianta ru Zarcuni”. During the feast day procession, where almost 50 men who are barefoot, carry an incredible heavy float-like platform carrying the picture of the Madonna for 6 hours, they reach a point where they have to run up a hill. They run, because the piece they are carrying is so heavy that walking would result in gravity bringing them back down. It’s a really emotional moment of the procession. People have gotten hurt in past years, having tripped or being trampled. The moment gave me goosebumps. Check out the video:

           

The church of Madonna del Lume in Porticello.

The church of Madonna del Lume in Porticello.

And of course, a trip to Sicily is not complete with a Cassata Siciliana. My nickname for my family is Kassata or Kassatina, and this is my favorite dessert, so it’s a must every time I’m in the vicinity. Look at its beauty. Another popular food in these parts is “Pane con Meusa”, or a spleen sandwich. I’ll refrain from adding the picture

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Porticello is a beautiful town, and seeing it now that I’m older (I was 12 the last time I was there) and during a celebratory time made me appreciate where I come from a lot more. I hope to return back for the festa at some point in the future, and experience it all again.

It’s really amazing to find a piece of home while studying abroad. Sometimes this place can be feel almost too distant. The time difference, the way things work here… But having my parents in Rome for a few days, and getting to travel to Sicily with them was just what I needed. Now I’m back in Rome, and it’s midterm week! Back to reality until Friday, where I’ll be heading off to Amsterdam! xoxo