Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Parks, Tea, Politics, and Travel

I have lots to cover in this post, so bear with me! I apologize that the pictures do not necessarily correspond to the text, but that's because I had too many pictures to share :)

Park Güell
After I returned from Ireland, I received a message from Michelle. She had been staying in Spain with some friends before seeing the rest of the world, and needed a partner to see Barcelona on her last weekend. Naturally, I obliged and booked a spontaneous trip four days prior to my flight...

The flight there was interesting. The primary activity of interest of almost everyone traveling to Barcelona from London on a Friday evening is partying. So that made for kind of a rowdy flight, complete with someone's Champagne spilling on my lap. I was much less interested in the clubbing scene, but instead very interested in Antoni Gaudi.

La Pedrera Rooftop

La Sagrada Familia
Inside of La Sagrada Familia
Gaudi was a Spanish Catalan architect that died in the 1920's. His architectural style is so unique and fantastic. So, Michelle and I planned our one full day that we had together in Barcelona around which Gaudi masterpieces we could see when. First, we went to Park Güell, a park that Gaudi designed complete with a couple of houses.

Then, we went to La Pedrera, a 'Gaudi-house' - an apartment complex he designed. The inside was fairly normal. Lots of emphasis on natural lighting. But the rooftop was the coolest...

The entire interior of La Sagrada Familia is stained glass
The most anticipated sight was La Sagrada Familia. It is a cathedral that Gaudi began, but did not finish. In fact, it is still under construction. I can't really say much about it in words other than that we spent three hours just in the cathedral. My pictures won't do it justice, but I'll try...

Overall, Barcelona was a blast. It was great to spend more time with Michelle, and to see such amazing feats of architecture.

Regent's Park
After my trip with Michelle in Barcelona, I had three full weeks in London with no traveling. One of my favorite parts about London is that there are parks everywhere. In the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city, you're pretty much always within a mile of a park. So in my uninterrupted London time, I explored quite a few of these. I went to Shoreditch Park, Hyde Park, Battersea Park, and my absolute favorite, Regent's Park.
Battersea Park

Regent's Park is huge, and is gorgeous in the fall. I went once by myself on a run, and then went along with my friend, Alex, one weekend. We explored the park and then browsed Camden Market towards the end of the park. The market is wonderful - food, clothes, trinkets, basically anything you could want. We also found my new favorite tea shop. I kind of bought a lot of tea, and probably won't be able to finish it by the end of the term.

Elodie and I at the Tower of London
I also went to the Tower of London with my friend, Elodie. The Tower was cool, but my favorite part was just getting to talk with Elodie. She is from France and is studying Political Science. I really enjoy learning about politics in France from Elodie, and how they are both similar and different than in the U.S. One of the main points I take away from my conversations with her is that political parties, although different, have similar values and goals. There is no political polarization like with Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. For example, Elodie told me that regardless of who you were talking to (far right or far left), anyone in France would think you were a crazy person if you said you didn't support gay marriage.

Throughout the entire three weeks I was looking forward to UCL Reading Week - a week of no classes in the middle of the term - because I had a trip planned to visit my family in Italy for the second time and meet Jonny in France. So I'm going to speed ahead to that, since I don't remember much of the time leading up to it.

On a Saturday night, I flew into Naples and was picked up by my cousin, Carmen, and her parents Ingornata and Michele. They took me to their home in Montesarcchio, and also showed a stunning view from the top of a mountain.

Chiara and I in Pietrelcina (neighboring town where
they have their stores)
Then Giuseppe and Chiara (father and daughter) took me to their home in Pago Veiano where I would stay for the next four nights. In my time with their family, I hung out in their store, took trips to Naples and Benevento, and even attended an Italian Zumba workout class. When I went to Pago Veiano with my mom, it was a dream. After it was over it was hard to believe it had happened. Going back a second time confirmed for me that it was real...that the place and the people exist, and that they are family.

I learned a lot more Italian this time, because I still remembered some words from last time. I actually started using verbs rather than just pointing, using nouns that sounded like a mix of Spanish/English/Italian, and miming. I still have quite a ways to go though... They all wanted to hear about my mom, and we were able to Skype with her a few of the nights. They want her to come back soon as well.

Pago Veiano cemetery on
All Soul's Day
A couple of highlights/thoughts from my time in Italy:

1. One of the nights we went to the cemetery in Pago Veiano, which is a gigantic cemetery for such a small town. It was All Souls' Day, so the entire cemetery was adorned with lights, decorations, and flowers. It was beautiful. And then they told me that they already have a plot set out for Zia Grazia... Zia Grazia also was very frank about the fact that my mom needs to come back soon before she dies. I was horrified at both of these comments at first. But what I've realized is that in general, they are just not as afraid of death as other cultures may be.

Francesca, Carmen, and I in Naples
2. After eating lunch at Zia Grazia's, she kept telling me that men are pigs. All men are pigs. I kept reassuring her that my boyfriend is absolutely not a pig, but she remained unconvinced and basically told me I couldn't be confident in that. At first I was a little frustrated, but then I talked to Carmen after I left. She told me that Zia Grazia says that because her mom told her that all men are pigs, which reflects the fact that there is a huge problem with domestic violence in Italy (not sure if it's just Pago Veiano, southern Italy, or Italy as a whole). They call it feminicide, which means male killing of women. In this context, her comments made a lot more sense.

With the Sindico of
Pago Veiano
3. On my last night, Giuseppe and Chiara took me to meet the political leader of Pago Veiano. We went into the government building and they actually were able to give me copies of my great-grandfather's birth certificate, and my great-grandparents' certificate of a family. It took them about two seconds to find the certificates in file cabinets about as big as the ones I have at home. But if you think about it, Pago Veiano has only been an official commune since 1863, and it has a current population of 2,800.

And of course, the food was unreal. My favorites were blocks of cheese, especially parmesan, and stuffed squid.

Gardens at Palace of Versailles

Gardens at Palace of Versailles
On Wednesday, I flew from Naples to Paris and spent the night in a hostel. The following morning, I went to Château de Versailles. The Palace of Versailles was very beautiful, with lots of gold, bronze, diamonds, velvet, etc... but I had kind of seen it all before at this point. It was very similar to the Vatican and other historical, royal buildings. What I thought was SO cool were the gardens. The gardens behind the palace are spectacular. I spent about two hours just wandering them by myself and getting lost. I can't even fathom how much it must cost to maintain the grounds.

Shakespeare & Co.
On Thursday night, Jonny arrived! We did some big Paris attractions including the Lourve, the Arc de Triomphe, the opera house that inspired Phantom of the Opera, the love lock bridge, the Notre Dame cathedral, and Shakespeare and Company. But easily my favorite part was just walking around the city and catching up since we hadn't seen each other for about five weeks. I had no idea that Paris was so beautiful - and it is especially beautiful in the fall with the changing leaves. It's also huge... its tube system is almost more extensive than London's, which is pretty hard to beat. I would live in Paris in a heartbeat.

U.S. Memorial in Normandy
We spent two nights in Paris and then traveled to the Normandy region for a tour of Omaha Beach and the Battle of Normandy U.S. Memorial. It was a really informative tour, and quite intimate as there were only eight of us. Learning about the history and actually walking on Omaha Beach was incredibly impactful.

That night we stayed in Lisieux, a town in France that is the birthplace of Jonny's mom's namesake, St. Therese of Lisiuex. The following morning we went to the Basilica dedicated to her. I loved the Basilica because the interior was almost entirely covered in mosaics rather than gold and jewels.

Jonny and I at the Eiffel Tower
After the Basilica, we hopped on a train back to Paris and spent the rest of the day there. We had an amazing time and both of us want to go back to France. We might need to get better at French first though...

All for now! Time to go do actual schoolwork.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

I'm an official Londoner!

I've officially found my groove in London. A lot has happened in the past three weeks since I have moved into my flat:

Living in London

A building in London near UCL
that looks strikingly like the UW Quad...
My housing is provided through UCL, so all of the people in my building are students (the picture to the left is, sadly, not my housing...just a beautiful building). There are probably about 200 people living in the building, where each flat has a maximum of six people. My flat is very diverse: my flatmates are from Australia, France, England, and Ukraine. It has been really great getting to know them because all come from such different places. Specifically, my friend from France, Elodie, is very interested in differences in language and culture between France and America. We've had some great conversations about common words, university customs, and how confused we are that people in the UK do not sleep with a top-sheet under their comforter.

I love the area that I'm living in. It's in the Borough of Islington, situated between two stations - Angel and King's Cross. Being only a 5 minute walk from King's Cross is quite convenient because that's where all of the major trains depart from (including a direct train to Paris), as well as about five different tube lines. But luckily I don't have to take transportation very often (it's incredibly expensive) because the UCL main campus is only about a 20 minute walk along the main road.

Borough Market - reminiscent of Pike Place Market in Seattle
I decided that after I was all settled in, I would start running regularly again. My goal was to do a new route every day so that I would get acquainted with the city. So one morning I set out to do just that and came across a bridge over a body of water about 5 minutes away from my flat. What initially caught my eye were two swans swimming with the current. I started taking pictures of them, and then found that I could go down to the swans. Apparently, the body of water is a canal that cuts across all of northern London, with a pedestrian path the entire way. My goal of exploring a new area every day has not been realized because this canal is the perfect running location - it's quiet, sunken down quite a bit from street-level, populated with plenty of other runners for safety, and there's lots of interesting waterfowl to meet.

Regent's Canal

I haven't felt too lonely either. I get to talk to my flatmates whenever we are cooking, I met up with a friend from high school who is also studying abroad in London, and there have been plenty of events at UCL, including a boat cruise for international students. Also, I was incredibly blessed to have my friend, Michelle, come stay with me during my second week in London. She's just finished a month-long study abroad program in India and is now traveling the world until Christmas. More about our adventures in a minute... It's also very nice to have my cousin, Kelsey, living here. She's been so hospitable and has really helped me understand and navigate the city. We've been able to meet up for lunch a few times (since she currently works close to UCL) at some delicious restaurants.

Alex (friend from UW) and I on the UCL cruise
UCL is an amazing university with so much to offer its students. I am enrolled in both the Institute for Global Health and the Department of Anthropology. The Institute for Global Health has been my favorite so far - the two courses that I'm taking are very similar to Global Health courses at UW  but all of the concepts are from a UK perspective. The courses resemble UW Honors courses: all are quite small with very engaged professors that want you to challenge their knowledge and expertise with your own experiences and opinions. They encourage dialogue in the classroom, and students are keen to participate.

One-third of the students at UCL are international, so you're bound to meet some really cool people. My favorites so far have been a girl my age from Malta (didn't know where it was...), and a young woman from Zambia who lived in Seattle for 8 years while she attended UW and worked for Fred Hutch and is now doing a graduate program at UCL in Global Health.

School work is not very demanding...yet... so I have been able to do lots of exploring and traveling:

Adventures with Michelle

Michelle outside Shakespeare's Birthplace!
England in a Day

My friend that stayed with me is a Theta from UW that graduated last year. Michelle wanted to get to know England as much as possible in the week that she had here. The first weekend that she was with me, we took a coach tour of "England in a Day." Our guide kept asking us if we knew what we were getting into because it was so long..

One of the Roman Baths
The first stop on our journey was Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace. We were greeted with scones and mimosas, as well as actors dressed up in Shakespeare-era attire reciting lines from his plays and sonnets. It was beautiful and so much fun. We toured his house and explored the city of Stratford-upon-Avon.

The second stop was the Roman city of Bath. The Romans built the city around a natural water spring to fill their bathhouses. Cool idea, but I probably wouldn't want to bathe in it now... We got to taste the water and it was pretty disgusting.

Our last stop was Stonehenge. The funny thing about Stonehenge is that due to its placement on the landscape, it looks incredibly unimpressive when you first see it. You come up on top of a hill from the shuttle and look down upon it. To quote Michelle, you see it for the first time and say, "wait, is that it??" But once at the same level as the world wonder, it becomes much more striking. It's absolutely mind-blowing how people could have built it so long ago...

The Lake District

The next weekend, we continued our adventures in England. Michelle researched a town up North (almost to Scotland) called Keswick. It's in a region called the "Lake District" because it's very populated with lakes - beautiful lakes! It's pretty much in the middle of nowhere though. It took a four hour train ride, then two bus rides. Michelle went a day before I did and actually missed the bus on the last leg of the trip...and it was the last bus of the day. So she had to walk all the way to the hostel we stayed at. At least she had a beautiful view!

The Lake District - Keswick
Overall traveling with Michelle was a blast. We were friends before our adventures just from living together at Theta, but we have become much better friends. Next weekend, I'll be meeting her in Barcelona!


The tour bus departed at 6:50am.
So we got to see this amazing sunrise!
This last weekend, I met up with Jonny in Dublin, Ireland! We both arrived on a Friday night and we stayed in a very quaint bed and breakfast about twenty minutes outside of Dublin. I had been told by multiple sources that the Cliffs of Moher on the west side of Ireland are a must see. Jonny and I weren't sure if we wanted to see them though because the weather forecast was pretty grim for Saturday. Nevertheless, we booked a coach tour that would take us across the country, stopping in a few different towns on the way.

It was so worth it!! First, we stopped in a town on a river with the remains of a castle. It was very pretty. Next, we went to the "Barack Obama Plaza." Apparently many American presidents have Irish roots, including Obama. So, they named a plaza after him. Pretty cool! The Kennedy's are also really big in Ireland.

Driving through the Irish countryside
After that was the cliffs - the most anticipated part of the tour. And they absolutely surpassed our expectations! It's difficult to describe just how amazing they are and pictures cannot do them justice. Not only was it not raining, but it was sunny with just a few clouds when we arrived. Then all of a sudden as we were walking, we saw a storm coming. The coolest part was that you could actually see the storm - you could track it because there was a line on the ocean made by the rain that would come closer and closer. On the way out on the cliffs we didn't walk behind the barrier because we wanted to get as close as possible. It was a different story on the way back because the ground was so slippery...

We left the cliffs and then went for lunch at an authentic Irish pub. Jonny and I both got fish and chips which were delicious. We ended up eating lunch with a couple from Vancouver, Canada. It was great to meet them - they've been living and working in Prague for the last year or so, so they had lots of fun stories and advice to share. From there we drove a little further on the coastline. As you'll see in one of the pictures, we were amazed by how much rock there was...everywhere... we'd never seen anything like it.

The Cliffs of Moher
The last three stops on the tour were another pub, right on the water in a little marina area, an old cemetery, and of course - my favorite - a chocolate factory. The factory was in the middle of the countryside, so far removed from everything. The chocolate itself rivaled the chocolate from Switzerland. We liked it a little more than the Irish coffee we tried at the pub...

The next day, we wandered around Dublin going to a nice park, St. Patrick's Cathedral, and a great Italian lunch to top it off. Overall, I loved Ireland. I had no idea (I actually brought British pounds thinking that that was their currency...) that there were still tensions with Britain. It's mostly in the older generation, but you can definitely tell that because they gained their independence relatively recently (compared to other British territories), people still have bitter sentiments - especially if they or their parents lived through it.

Looking down at the water. Much higher than it looks.
In one of my global health classes the week before, we discussed how western, developed nations talk about and view developing countries - the view that 'the west knows best' - and how that shapes our actions and policies. My professor talked about his experience working in Nigeria for his PhD. He said that it was perfectly normal for him to go to Nigeria and simply observe and study them, and then write a paper critiquing how they do things, talking about his observations, etc. He contrasted that with the idea that if someone from a different nation, especially a developing nation, came to the US or UK to study us or tell us how to do things, people would think that was very weird. He said it would make people feel uncomfortable.

I was thinking to myself during that lecture, of course it would be acceptable! I would love it if that happened! I critique America, I don't care if anyone else does it - that would be great to get someone else's opinion!

The amazing rock plains that stretched on forever..
When Jonny and I took a taxi back from Dublin to our bed and breakfast, we had an African cab driver who openly criticized US foreign policy, and it made me feel so incredibly uncomfortable. He told us he hadn't been to America, he's never lived there - and I kept thinking you have no idea what you're talking about. It's seen as normal in the eyes of developed nations for your average American to go on trips to the developing world and tell people how to do things, regardless of their experience or expertise.

I was quite of upset that I felt uncomfortable because I thought back to that lecture from my global health professor - how confident I felt about the fact that I would be open-minded, unaffected by the western 'norms' - and I realized just how ingrained the sentiment of 'we know better than you' is in my mind. It was a really strange feeling, but overall a good learning experience.


To top off my adventures for the past three weeks, I have finished the Harry Potter series! I never read them as a kid, so I started reading the books at the beginning of the summer, at Jonny's suggestion, and I got hooked. They are absolutely magical. I finished the last book in King's Cross station. What I didn't know was that the book ends right in King's Cross station!! It was a wonderful experience. Now I'm on to the movies... two down and six to go before I am able to go to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in November. And now there's rumors that JK Rowling is coming out with a new book.........

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Germany & Switzerland

My boyfriend, Jonny, is studying abroad in Mannheim, Germany for the semester. I was very excited to visit him after being apart for a month. Our goal is to make the most out of our time together on the other side of the world, so we're traveling to as many places as we can! I arrived in Mannheim during the evening, and we had a great dinner at a Greek restaurant. The next day, we were off to Switzerland!

The University of Mannheim - where Jonny is studying for the semester

Jonny with his cappuccino by the river :)
Neither of us had ever been to Switzerland, and we knew very little about it - except that it was supposed to be really pretty - and it certainly exceeded my expectations.

We got a very early start taking a 6:30 am train from Mannheim to Switzerland. First we went to Berne, Switzerland, the capital. We checked into our hotel and then went off to explore for the day. Switzerland is an awesome place. It's beautiful, and it has a sense of peace and tranquility.

Berne from the Rose Garden
In our one day in Berne, we visited the house of Albert Einstein, wandered the streets, watched huge brown bears eat watermelon for lunch, and had a cappuccino by the river. The rivers in Switzerland were breathtaking - I have never seen water so calm and so clear as it was in the river. It all looked like glass - it's hard to believe that the water was moving.

The streets of Berne were very quaint and just about every single window had a flower box filled with gorgeous flowers (mostly red or pink). And buildings were color-coordinated with their flowers! In the evening, we went to the Rose Garden up on a hill that overlooks the entire city of Bern. Besides it being a wonderful view, the roses were very nice themselves. It was quite a magical experience.

River through Berne, standing down on the riverbank
At the restaurant we went to for dinner, our server asked us where we were from. When we told her Seattle, she gave us a half-frightened-half-shocked look and said, "I hate that city." We were a bit taken aback by this and asked her why, not at all anticipating her answer. She's from Poland and tried to go visit her friend in Los Angeles, with a layover in Seattle. When she arrived in Seattle, passport control put her in prison for three days until she could be deported, all because she didn't have her return ticket booked yet.

It was really interesting to see the other side of the high security that we know so well in the U.S. In biostatistics I learned about the statistics behind cutoff points for biological markers. For biological measures like blood pressure, blood sugar levels, etc. there are individuals on the low and high extremes, and most people fall into the middle. For measures such as these, there has to be some cutoff point where you determine who is "diseased/needs further testing/at risk" and who is "healthy." But the caveat is that those cutoffs will never be perfect, because some people who are healthy may be on the "diseased" side of the cutoff and vice versa. You can use statistics to minimize the number of people falsely diagnosed, but there will almost always be false diagnoses. This woman from Poland was one of those false diagnoses - she was not at all a threat to the United States, but because the information used to make diagnostic decisions (not having a return ticket to her home country) never perfectly predicts "threat" / "not a threat," she was sent home and banned from returning to the U.S. for ten years. Just interesting to think about, because those stories are rarely heard.


For our second day in Switzerland, we traveled to Interlaken (town between two lakes). I'm not sure which was prettier - Bern or Interlaken. Bern had that old city feel, but Interlaken had glass-like lakes (just like the river) and the Alps in the background.

River running through Interlaken. A good example of the
beautiful Switzerland water!
Originally we were going to take a two-hour train to Jungfrau, a mountain peak in the Alps called the "top of Europe" because it actually is one of the tallest peaks in all of Europe. It's covered in snow and is supposed to be absolutely magnificent. But after finding out it was about $200 per person, we decided to stick with one of the shorter mountains and save Jungfrau for another time...hopefully with more money...

The peak that we did go to was called Harder Kulm. It was not covered in snow, but we had a spectacular view. It looked over both lakes of Interlaken and onto the Alps in the distance. As we were standing out on the ledge that jetted out from the mountainside, we decided that no picture would do the view justice, but we tried anyways.

From the top of Harder Kulm
In both Bern and Interlaken, the air was noticeably thinner than in other parts of Europe. I've never been to Colorado, but I imagine that's what it feels like there as well. The air was even thinner at Harder Kulm (I can't imagine what it would be like at Jungfrau...). We spent a couple hours at Harder Klum and towards the end we hiked a bit, during which we moved very slowly because we became winded so easily.

Switzerland is an incredible country. It has amazing scenery and there is definitely a feeling of serenity. However, it is ridiculously expensive... the Swiss franc is approximately equivalent to the U.S. dollar, but everything in Switzerland is about twice as expensive. It was almost impossible to find a meal for two (no drinks) under $45.00. The food was quite good... For our last meal, I had the best salmon I have ever eaten in my entire life. Oh, and the Swiss chocolate is unbelievable. I would definitely go back to Switzerland :)


View over Heidelberg - castle on the left
The day after we returned from Switzerland, we took a day trip to Heidelberg, Germany. Heidelberg is pretty awesome - and it has a cool castle on the top of a hill, overlooking the city. We spent the day wandering around, eating, and enjoying our time together. The next day, I explored the University of Mannheim while Jonny attended his classes.

I left Germany in the evening, bound for London to begin the next phase of my adventure! I am very fortunate that my cousin, Kelsey, lives in London. She had a bed, food, and a warm flat waiting for me when I arrived, because I couldn't move into my student housing until the following day.

Next up, London for real this time - moving in, navigating the city, and beginning my studies as an official student at University College London!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

London, first as a tourist

My mom and aunt on the hop on
hop off tour bus
When I arrived in London, I did not arrive as a student - it was too early! I don't start actual coursework until September 22nd, and I arrived for the first time on the 7th. From the 7th to the 11th, my mom and I saw some sights and explored where I would be living and studying.

Day 1 // hopping on and hopping off...

My cousin Kelsey lives in Blackheath in Southeastern London with her significant other, Joe. We were not only excited to see them on our trip, but also her mother (my aunt) and my grandma! The two of them were traveling as well, and fortunately we were able to cross paths.

Grandma and I on the hop on hop off tour bus
On our first day, my mom and I took the "hop on hop off" tour bus in London with both of them. The bus definitely gets you from point a to point b, but it tends to take a while - London traffic is horrible. That's why the tube (London's highly sophisticated underground transportation system) is so nice.

We hopped on the bus in Waterloo (where my mom and I were staying) and rode it north across the Thames River, east past St. Paul's Cathedral, the "City" of London (the smaller sub-city that is home to the bustling financial district now but was once the Roman settlement, Londinium), and hopped off at Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We didn't go inside any of the landmarks because we had a lot to see. This worked out well for me because now I have a taste and can further explore places that especially interested me over the next few months.

Tower Bridge
From the east side of the city, we hopped on a boat that took us west on the Thames all the way from Tower Bridge to Westminster. There we saw Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament - two amazing buildings that I would like to see again. We then moved on to Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace. Well - we tried to get to Kensington Palace, but at that point it was rush hour and the tour bus was moving at a sloth-like pace. We grabbed a snack, switched to the underground, and headed off to Blackheath to meet Kelsey and Joe for dinner. It was wonderful to have some of the family together where everyone was able to catch up and share their adventures.

Day 2 // UCL

Cats playing in the window
at Lady Dinah's

The morning of our second day had been planned since last Spring... which is when I made reservations for London's most popular cat café, Lady Dinah's. A cat café is exactly what it sounds like - people sitting around in a parlor drinking tea and eating finger food, surrounded by cats. I'm not kidding - I made the reservation about five months in advance because they were filling up so quickly! Lady Dinah's was a blast. Although we weren't able to pick up any of the kitties (Lady Dinah's is very responsible when it comes to caring for their cats - if everyone picked up the cats all the time, it would really disturb them), some came to us to play.

The main event of the day was seeing where I'll study and where I'll live! I will be studying in both the Anthropology Department and the Institute for Global Health at University College London, one of the University of London schools. I was fortunate enough to also receive student housing (apparently that can really be an issue) that is only about a 15 minute walk from campus. My mom and I walked from Lady Dinah's to my housing and then to my school. By the end, I was so excited to move in and start learning!

University College London - Main Entrance
Another building at University College London

Day 3 // More sights

Olivia and I
Only one other girl from my sorority back at UW is studying abroad during fall quarter, Olivia, and she happened to be visiting London right when I was! We got coffee in the morning, at Pret a Manger (the London equivalent of Starbucks - except I think it's better than Starbucks). It was so great to catch up with her and share our experiences so far. She's studying abroad in Granada, Spain for the full year and then graduating from UW at the end!

After I met up with Olivia, my mom and I visited the British Museum, the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, and Westminster Abbey. All were wonderful. The British Museum was so extensive - you could spend a week and not see everything.

Day 4 // Departure

Then came the day we had both been dreading...when we had to say goodbye. My mom's flight took off at 12:30pm for Boston where she would be meeting my dad and my brother for my cousin's wedding. My flight took off at 3:00pm for Frankfurt where I would be visiting my boyfriend, Jonny, who is studying abroad in Mannheim, Germany. We were both incredibly excited about our next, separate adventures (and of course being reunited with people we love), but we were so sad to leave one another.

I am incredibly thankful that I was able to travel around Europe with my mom. The experiences by themselves were amazing, but it was even more wonderful to be able to share them together.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Firenze, Italia

From Rome, my mom and I traveled to Florence. We only had two nights in Florence, so we planned out our days very carefully. Here's what we did:

Day 1 // Exploring
View of the Duomo

When we arrived in Florence, it was already the evening. However, we were able to do a little bit of exploring. We stayed at a bed and breakfast by the Duomo. This was the view from our hotel room...

The owners of the bed and breakfast were so helpful and sweet. They recommended a couple of restaurants for us, and I'm glad they did because they were wonderful! For our first dinner, we ate at a very traditional Italian restaurant and coincidentally were seated next to a couple from Toronto and a woman from Colorado. What are the chances!

Day 2 // Museums

On our second day in Florence, we saw both the Uffizi and the Accademia. We did the Uffizi early in the morning. It was a great museum with lots of amazing paintings and sculptures. Both my mom and I were shocked at how old some of the items in the museum were.

Arno River in Florence - Ponte Vecchio in the background
After we did the Uffizi, we still had a lot of time to explore before the Accademia. We walked quite a bit around the city. Mainly we wanted to see the Ponte Vecchio - a bridge over the river in Florence that is lined with tons of shops. We shopped there for a while, and also looked for a store owned by a family friend. Unfortunately, we found that the store had closed a few years ago, but we still were able to see where it would have been.

Michelangelo's "David"
 In the evening, we visited the Accademia. It was significantly smaller than the Uffizi, but it had the David, which was the most magnificent sculpture we'd seen throughout our entire trip. If you've only seen pictures, it's hard to get a feel for how big the statue is...

Our time in Florence was much shorter than our time in Rome, Sorrento, and Pago Veiano, but we were able to get a good feel for the city nonetheless. It was definitely smaller than Rome, but there was still a lot to see and learn. Both my mom and I enjoyed the quaint, old city feel.


Reflection on Italy in general ~

Our trip to Italy was a once in a lifetime experience. I learned so much, and it was so meaningful to spend that much time with my mom and share the experience together. Throughout the trip, my mom and I would ask each other what our favorite city was so far. We quickly found that we needed to take family out of the equation, because if we didn't, it would always be Pago Veiano. So, once we did, my mom's favorite city was Sorrento, and mine was Rome. I loved Rome because of all of the history, the culture, and the people.

My mom and I in Piazza della Repubblica, Florence
In the days after we left Italy, I reflected a lot on family and culture. Not only were we able to explore where our family is from, but we were able to actually connect with and spend time with family. My great-grandfather left Pago Veiano for Seattle in early 1900. His children tried so hard to conform to American culture, leaving their Italian heritage behind. They stopped speaking Italian and forgot many of the traditions. Reflecting on this now in 2014, this is sad to me. Although we are family, the cousins my age in Pago Veiano are very different from myself because we have grown up in two different cultures.

Immigrants to the United States are expected to conform to American culture, which is necessary in order to function in society. After connecting with my family in Italy, I have realized how important it is to also stay connected to your heritage, especially in the American melting-pot. It is crucial to maintain diversity of beliefs, values, traditions, and languages. My grandparents didn't want to be known as Italian because of the pressure put on them by society to conform - and I wish it hadn't been that way. Many immigrants are ridiculed for staying true to their heritage. Now, I will be much more understanding of immigrants in the United States. It must be so difficult to learn a different way of living and simultaneously maintain connections to your roots.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Roma, Italia

After we arrived in Rome from Sorrento very late at night, we checked in at our hotel and ate dinner at a restaurant in the same plaza. Also in the same plaza was the Pantheon. This was our view from dinner that night...

View of the Pantheon from dinner (it's way bigger than it looks) - our hotel is the far left building
Rome is a beautiful city with so much history. Here's what we did each day in Rome:

Day 1 // West of the River Tevere & Vatican

On our first morning in Rome, we slept in. We were exhausted from the past week and the sleep was just what we needed (however, we found out later that by sleeping in, we missed the Pope that morning in St. Peter's mom was not very happy about that).

Palazzo di Giustizia
We traveled west of the River Tevere to the Vatican. On our way there, we saw Piazza Navona, Castel Sant' Angelo, and Palazzo di Giustizia (the Palace of Justice - Supreme Court). We had been told that in Rome ruins, castles, and churches pop up out of nowhere. They literally do...they are everywhere! And they are gorgeous.

We had an appointment with a private Vatican tour guide at 1:00pm. He was recommended by my mom's friend from high school who grew up in the Naples area as the "best tour guide in Rome." He certainly lived up to the hype!

For one, it was wonderful to be able to skip the lines and not travel in a giant group. But more than that, he was so informative and knew just what to show us. We began at the Vatican Museum and worked our way through Vatican City to the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica.

One of the 50+ galleries in the Vatican museum. My mom
thinks that my photography skills are lacking.
Opinions? :) I'll admit, this one could have been better...
Neither my mom nor I realized how much was in the Vatican Museum before we began (quite frankly, I didn't even know it existed). It was just packed full of sculptures, paintings, and other artifacts from Ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. And the museum was practically an ancient artifact itself, as it was built in the 16th century. I'm not sure what was more amazing: the ceilings, floors, and walls of the museum or what the museum contained! The walls and ceilings were adorned with velvet, paintings, and gold, and the floors were first or second century A.D. mosaics.

Probably my favorite artifacts in the museum were those from Egypt. Our tour guide, Giovanni, told us that red marble (kind of looks like maroon) was originally from Egypt. When the Romans found out how rare and valuable that particular marble was, they took it all, and it was used only for royal purposes. A few of the sculptures in the museum were from this red marble. It was so wonderful having Giovanni explain all of this to us in an entertaining and concise way. He even let my mom sit on an original, 2000+ year old Egyptian Sphinx (even though she wasn't supposed to). I learned more history from Giovanni than I had in any of my history classes.

Sneaking a picture of my mom on the
ancient Egyptian Sphinx
After making our way through the museum, we arrived at the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was an absolute genius. Giovanni was telling us about how he did his work and how creative/talented he was. Although the chapel was beautiful, it wasn't that much better than the walls and ceilings of the museum...everything was so amazing. I think my mom and I had our mouths hanging open the entire three hour tour.

From the Sistine Chapel we entered St. Peter's Basilica which was breathtaking (well, everything was breathtaking, but the Basilica even more so). It is huge, and every inch is covered in gold, garnishments, sculptures, etc.

However, I felt uncomfortable in the Basilica for two reasons. The first is because it felt like it was almost entirely dedicated to the papacy. There are a few crucifixes and paintings of Jesus here and there, but past popes were obviously the center of attention. I'm glad that Pope Francis is much more humble than his predecessors.

The second reason the Basilica made me uncomfortable is because of just how grandiose it was. The museum was as well, but I looked at the museum through more of a historical lens, of how things used to be. I should have expected the same from the Basilica, knowing the time period that it was built in, and the corruption in the papacy at that time - but it was still shocking to me how much the Basilica demonstrated the church's focus on money, material, and power when it was built.
One of the sculpture halls in the Vatican museum -
the walls were lined with busts and full body sculptures:
Roman on the left, Greek on the right!

In the Sistine Chapel, half of one of the sections of Michelangelo's work is dedicated to the old testament and the other to the new testament. Giovanni was pointing out how they wanted to show the difference between the time before Christ and after Christ. Michelangelo did this by depicting old testament religious leaders with lots of material possessions, and Christ shunning material possessions. Ironically, I think that the papacy missed the key message there when they re-constructed the Basilica...if Jesus were alive today, I don't think he would approve of it one bit (nor the focus on the papacy).

Regardless, the Basilica was beautiful and the history was fascinating. It was very interesting to see how they chose to build the Basilica and what they highlighted in that time (1500-1600's), from a historical perspective. I chose to view it more historically than religiously, because to view it as the utmost sacred place of worship didn't feel right to me given my reasons above.

Day 2 // East of the River Tevere & Colosseum

Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II
On our second day in Rome, we walked 21,256 steps, according to our step-counter. This is mainly because we could not for the longest time, no matter what we did, find the Spanish steps. My mom really wanted to see the Spanish steps, so we marked it on day one in Rome on our map from the hotel. We probably spent about an hour looking for them - wandering aimlessly, asking Italians that didn't know what we were talking about.

Finally, someone was able to direct us. The whole time, we had been going to the eastern side of the city, to Palazzo dell Esposizioni. In my haste marking the map, I thought that was the Spanish steps (the picture looked like it). The Spanish steps are actually at the Trinitá dei Monti, in the northern area of the city - marked Piazza di Spagna. A silly mistake by me - at least we got in a lot of walking! Unfortunately, the Spanish steps were not very impressive.

The Colosseum
We also saw the Quirinale, the residence of the president, while we were searching for the Spanish steps. We found this out after we got WiFi and were able to use Google to search what we had just seen. However, I should have gathered what it was earlier, after I asked one of the Italian guards what "that" building was and he responded "Quirinale" in a, "are you seriously asking me this question" tone. Probably similar to pointing at the White House and asking an American, "what's that?" We also saw the Monumento a Vittorio Emauele II. Unfortunately, Trevi Fountain was under repair with no water :(

Arc of Constantine
Our last landmark of the day was the Colosseum. It was amazing to see inside of it and know how old it is. However, I wasn't incredibly fond of it just because of what happened inside - the fact that Romans watched people die for their own entertainment. I just don't get it. The ruins around the Colosseum were really cool, though - especially the Arc of Constantine.


The next morning, before we left for Florence, we ate at the BEST restaurant thus far. It was called, "il Barroccio." We found it totally randomly on a street behind our hotel. When we sat down, we were their only patrons. But the restaurant across the street was full! The entire time we were there, we watched the hostess try and get people to come to the restaurant. And no one came for at least twenty minutes. I felt so bad, and was so confused because the food was amazing. Then I looked down the street and all restaurants on our side of the street had no patrons - and every restaurant on the other side of the street was packed. The strangest thing. I made sure to leave a 5-star Yelp review after we left :)

We took a train to Florence, which was quite the experience at first. When we walked into the train station, I was approached by someone who I thought worked for the station. All she said was "can I help you?" and I asked where our platform was. She then showed us the whole way there and helped us with our bags (even when we didn't ask her to). Well, she then came onto the train with us and demanded 20 Euro for her service. It was incredibly uncomfortable and we ended up only giving her 5. Apparently, you're supposed to bargain with people that do that, but still, I did not like the experience. I thought it was so shady that she didn't tell us she would charge us, or even what she was doing. Oh well, I learned.

Beautiful sunset over the Panthon from the rooftop bar of our hotel - Arrevederci, Roma!
Rome was so wonderful, and I hope that I get to go back someday - because really you need more like a week or two to really get to know the city. So, we said "arrivederci Roma" as we drove away in the taxi at the prompting of the driver, instead of "ciao," because arrivederci means "until we meet again."