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 :)
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.
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.
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|
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.