Personal narrative from one of my little special ed students who for some reason or other just has a special place in my heart. It makes me sad :(.
I had a tragic event is when my mama died she was a loving, carring, and trust worthy She helped me with school work homework even class work if I didn’t finish it in class I loved her but she ahs past away on New Years. She was kind and she trusted me my brother my sister my dad every body she Knew I will never forget Her and I will cherish what she told me taught me and she didn’t break under presser either she was a Golden Holy angel. She Helped and carred for my Dad my brother and every body in my family So who is tonya Edmond brooks to me she is my mother.
I want this for my classroom.
So you want a first-year teacher with no background in teaching to magically teach 2 core subjects to 100 kids at a charter school with high expectations and long hours but limited resources and no 8th grade English curriculum in a testing year when the scores actually matter but no one knows anything about the mysterious new state test?
Oh, ok, cool, let me go dust off my Superman cape, I think I left it in my closet the day I realized I’M ONLY HUMAN.
Quiz Question: What were 3 reasons for the European voyages of exploration in the 1400s and 1500s?
- so people can fight
- so people can fight to settle their difference
- so people can get what want gold, jewlery, people, land.
Quiz Question: Who conquered the Aztecs and Incas?
Student Response: Mexico
Student: Miss, do you have kids?
Me (out loud): God no!
Me (in my head): Yes. Yes, I have 120. All of you crazy kiddies. I don’t need any more of my own!
I think it’s more interesting to see people who don’t feel appropriately. I relate to that, because sometimes I don’t feel anything at all for things I’m supposed to, and other times I feel too much. It’s not always like it is in the movies.
I feel you, man.
Me: Who’s doing something fun this weekend? What have y’all got planned?
Student raises her hand.
Me: Yes, ma’am?
Student: I’m going to visit my brother and I’m going to Houston.
Me: Oh, cool! Does your brother live in Houston?
Student: No, he’s in jail.
Me: … Oh…
Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her daughter, as the American public stands by in shock and awe. In other news, millions of sick and dying American children and adults still don’t have healthcare, to the shock and awe of absolutely nobody.
Jon Stewart, 5 July 2011
Without music, life would be a mistake.
The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.
I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.
OH MY, it’s been a while since I’ve Tumbl’d. Teach For America keeps me so busy my social media interactions have been drastically reduced (sad). Well, my interactions with any/everything/body have been drastically reduced, let’s be real. Sorry if you’ve texted me/wrote on my Facebook wall and I’ve ignored you for a while, don’t take it personally! I’m just trying to figure out how to NOT be a horrible teacher/ruin 15 kids’ chances for success in 8th grade next year. Y’know.
BUT I had to take a minute to reblog this because I love Freddie Mercury. In fact, I think I shall play “We Are the Champions” for my class on Monday. We could all learn something from the great Mr. Mercury.
I’ve also been meaning to start a blog, but that will probably have to wait until after Institute :(. I have so many thoughts about this entire experience, but I’m always too tired to tell them to anybody, and I definitely don’t have time to blog about them. Once I’m back in Dallas and life starts to ease into some kind of normality, I’ll probably start a new blog, which I HAVE been thinking about! (Sad?) I’m going to call it “Mind the Gap.” That was the name of my London blog, because the tubes there say “mind the gap” when you get off, so I always minded the gap. Now I’m minding a different gap: the achievement gap. CLEVER, RIGHT?! (I didn’t come up with it, I won’t take credit. Why do I have a conscience? Le sigh.)
Final note: Every day I ask my kids, “What do we do, always and forever?!” and they have to yell “FIGHT ON!” They think I’m crazy/silly/psychotic, but it’s music to my ears. One day they’ll get it.
I have obviously failed to update my thankfulness blog daily, and for that I am genuinely disappointed, especially because I have been thankful for so many, many things on all the days that went post-less.
But I think this thing served its purpose for me.
I started it because I realized I needed to be more aware and appreciative of the great things in my life, whether big and life-changing or small and ordinary but nonetheless wonderful. I started it because I was turning into someone I didn’t want to be, someone negative and unhappy. I started it because I knew I needed to be more optimistic.
I am happy to report that I am! I am much more aware of the things that make me such a truly lucky person — which is why I’m slightly bummed I haven’t toasted to each of them with a Tumblr post every day. This thankfulness project halted because I became very busy, and I know that I will only become even busier after I move back to Texas on Saturday and all my Teach For America training begins full-swing and then all of a sudden I’m a college-graduated working professional (WHAT?!?!).
I don’t like to make commitments I know I can’t follow through with properly, and so I will say here that the daily thankfulness part of this Tumblr is going on hold indefinitely. It never had any sort of time limit, and I will always be thankful for a million things, so I’m not going to say there won’t ever be a thankful post. Just not daily.
And in conclusion, just because I can, I present to you a non-exhaustive list of some of the things I know I’ve been thankful for lately and deserve a mention:
- The Dalai Lama’s visit to USC.
- My last DOZ meeting and the opportunity to say a proper goodbye (even though I ended up crying — lame).
- Senior Week!
- The publication of my last issue of Bamboo Offshoot as editor-in-chief!
- Bamboo’s solid new 2011-2012 editorial board, who I have the highest hopes for and utmost faith in. I’m so proud of all the progress we made and they’ll keep making!
- Finishing my last undergraduate college class EVER. And paper, and project, and final.
- Anyone who actually reads this.
- Turning in my camera kit and tripod to Annenberg for the last time. No more lugging a ridiculous amount of equipment around campus and stumbling into class late and sweaty and being completely disruptive and flustered at all times!
- My family, who came out to see me graduate and who made that day — the culmination of 4 years of crazy hard work — possible at all.
- My lovely and completely undeserved roommate, who I was randomly paired with freshman year and has turned out to be one of the most important people in my life, and who I will miss very, very much in a mere few days. Any future roommates have seriously large shoes to fill.
- The ability to actually feel proud of myself (and for once making no apologies for that) for surviving USC’s broadcast journalism major alive and graduating from an amazing university magna cum laude.
- The Asian Pacific Graduate Celebration, at which I got to give a speech the night before graduation and we all got to celebrate our heritage.
- PALMSPRINGSNORULES part 2 — a weekend filled with fantastic company, a ridiculous amount of time spent either in the pool or hot tub, a ridiculous number of Coronas consumed, mini golf, inappropriate jokes, and hours and hours under the sun, which browned me enough so that I now actually look like an Indian person.
- My new job as an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher at Hampton Preparatory in Dallas! Off to new adventures :).
- All of the wonderful, beautiful people who are part of some of the best memories of these past 4 years, for whom I could never find the proper adjectives for, who humble me and inspire me and motivate me and who, to be frank and cheesy about it, have completely changed my life in all the best possible ways.
They liberate the vision that’s already in their constituents. They awaken dreams, breathe life into them, and arouse the belief that we can achieve something grand.
IF YOU SEE THIS AROUND CAMPUS…
Pick up a copy and then take a few more for your friends! It’s Bamboo Offshoot’s Spring 2011 “Innovation Issue.” My last issue ever as editor-in-chief (or as anything, really, since freshman year)… It’s been a wonderful experience! :)
I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Cool, so, MLK didn’t ACTUALLY say this (so much for all the fact-checking I learned to do as a journalism student… haha), but it’s still worded nicely, so I’m leaving it!
This seems very fitting right now. At least, it’s fitting for me and how I feel about all this hullabaloo since yesterday.
I don’t get enough of it.
But I’m tonight I’m thankful that I’ll be getting 8 hours sleep. SO EXCITED. I’ve barely slept in the past few nights, but things are starting to wrap up. I got a lot done in 3 days. Now, tonight, I can sleep. Huzzah!
You know that episode of Sex & the City where Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha eat at the hip new vegan restaurant “Raw”? And they wait hours to get in and the food is completely awful? And Miranda and Carrie are forced by their aggravated stomachs to get a late-night pizza to make up for the palatal abuse?
Bliss Raw Café & Elixir Bar is absolutely nothing like that.
You won’t wait hours, the food is anything but awful, and the last thing you’ll want afterwards is a greasy pizza.
The tiny brown shack of a restaurant is nestled along busy Greenville Avenue in Dallas, across the street from A 7-Express drive-through. It’s rather unassuming, and you’d probably miss it if not for the blaring, Skittles-green “BLISS” sign. The place only has two parking spaces. I swerved around to park in a facing lot, then my friends and I trudged across the intersection to be seated on the patio on a triple-digit day.
Sweating and swerving aside, my first experience at a vegan, raw foods restaurant was… well, blissful! (You’ll have to forgive me for that one, I couldn’t resist). Bliss Raw Café opened just months ago on May 1, 2009. The cozy, brick-and-wood establishment was founded by a group of ambitious raw food enthusiasts who found each other on the networking Web site www.meetup.com. The newborn raw food community found an investor and Bliss became a reality.
Bliss’s current menu boasts soups, sandwiches, pizza and noodles, even dessert, all made without meat, nuts, dairy products, sugar, gluten, or heat above 115 degrees. “Inconceivable!” you say. But Bliss does it and does it well.
Some of the café’s prices might seem a bit steep: my Rawko-Taco Plate set me back a hard-earned (ok, not so hard-earned) $15. But you’re getting your money’s worth in fresh seasonal, organic, and often local ingredients, a rare feat in today’s world of processed quick-fixes doused in preservatives. Efficiency, expedition and excess seems to be the mantra we live by, but at what expense? Bliss Raw Café is a lovely reminder that minimally and purely is sometimes the best way to live. Back to the basics, if you will.
My tacos consisted of lettuce and tomatoes piled on tortillas made of corn, red peppers, flax, onions and spices and smothered with a sun-dried-tomato-and-sunflower-seed spread. My sister ordered the Yo! Greek Rap: zucchini-tahini hummus, avocado and olives on two leaves of romaine lettuce. My friend Megha opted for the Bliss Burger, a thin, neat burger consisting of a patty sandwiched between two sheets of kamut, agave and olive oil “buns.” The patty is made from sunflower seeds, avocado, celery, “superfoods,” and tomato concentrate.
“Superfoods” are those rich in phytochemicals – chemical compounds found naturally in many plants (i.e. lycopene in tomatoes and beta-carotene, the stuff that makes carrots orange), some of which have been shown to help ward off disease.
Bliss also stocks elixirs, what our waitress described as “nutrient-dense” drinks and what Bliss’ Web site calls “powerfully nutritious and medicinal liquid potions.” Sounds so very Snow White, no? I tried a sip of Megha’s Chocolate Bliss – a concoction of a cacao superfood blend, vanilla agave, tocotrienols (part of the vitamin E family), cacao butter and orange oil – and wished I’d ordered my own.
We ended our meal with a good old-fashioned blueberry sheezcake. No, I didn’t mean to say cheesecake – this rich dessert has absolutely no cheese in it. It’s a creamy blend of cashews on a crumbly crust – you’d never guess there’s no dairy in this dessert.
The dishes at Bliss are dense and energy-packed, abounding with raw vegetables providing plenty of fiber – and thus, less is more. Your meal won’t be spilling over the sides of your china. Instead, you’ll see a tidy assembly of just the right amount of food sitting on an elegant white plate. You’ll probably think for a moment, “This just isn’t going to cut it, not today, no sir!” But then you’ll dig in and quickly realize your own capacity for gravely erroneous judgment.
“You don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan, raw foodist, or dynamite chef to enjoy great tasting, healthy cuisine,” boasts the café’s Web site.
I happen to be a vegetarian, but like any good American, I do love my share of fried foods and processed snacks. But we’ve probably all grown up eating some homemade food: for me, it was my mom’s paneer (Indian cheese) and dahi (yogurt), and fresh crabapples and figs from our backyard. So subconsciously, we likely greatly appreciate things that don’t come from a can or a box or a bag with a manufacturer’s date on it – and that’s exactly what you get at Bliss.
Earlier this year, I saw Dr. Vandana Shiva, a leading, world-renown ecofeminist, speak at USC and she emphasized a point I’d never considered before: access to good, healthy food is a right, not a privilege.
So if you’re feeling limber, exercise your right and give Bliss Raw Café, where the message seems to be simplicity, a try. Set your skepticism aside – you’re certain to be pleasantly surprised.
Eat well and live well!
Disclaimer: I realize “love stories” and Serendipity together is pretty clichéd. Which is why this isn’t a “love story” — I don’t know how to write those, nor do I really care to. It’s just a story about some people from Oregon.
“Methink’st it best we toss caution to the wind and throw down silver for the Golden Opulence Sundae. What say ye?”
“Why do you talk like that?”
“But of course to irk thy person, m’dear. Thou dost grow ever lovelier when thou art goaded by the likes of me.”
“The Golden Opulence Sunday costs $1,000. I refuse to spend a grand on something that will melt in my mouth.”
“But we have travelled – with two l’s – such a distance from yonder Oregon with but meagre and humble expectations. Shall the Great Lord not permit us this expenditure? Hast he forbode us this merest gratification?”
“Seriously. You need to stop talking like that, you sound ridiculous.”
“Alas! Thy vile utterances shent me and rend my heart.”
“Let’s just get a frozen hot chocolate. That’s what this place is famous for, anyway. Not some insanely overpriced sundae that Paris Hilton once bought. Besides, look, it says you need to give 48 hours’ advance notice for this thing! We’re here now, not 48 hours ago.”
“Right you are, m’dear. Thou hast proved me a ninny once again. Thy intelligence far surpasses that of thy counterparts. I shall waft a waiter hither to do thy bidding.”
“Honorable waiter, sir! We shall feast upon thy frozen hot chocolate, that divine creation whose intoxicating liquor we have travelled cross-country to put to our lips.”
“This is delicious! It’s probably better than the Grand Opulence Sundae anyway. And it’s only $8.50! A little steep for hot chocolate, but this thing could probably feed a small family.”
“Ay, indeed. Thou speakest the truth.”
“Um… what are you doing?”
“Lookest on if thou will, m’lady. Seest me drop to mine knee! Seest me take thine hand in mine!”
“Seriously, what are you doing? People are staring at us…”
“Thou art ever the sunshine in my every day. If God wills it, and if thou wishest it so, I should like that every day henceforth be baked by thine scorch.”
“Please speak normal English, I’m freaking out right now, I don’t know what you’re trying to say!”
“I shall declare unto thee but one thing, m’lady, and if though understandest mine meaning, thou shalt know thy reply: ‘If you wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.’ I am but a simpleton, a fool at best.”
“Oh my god. Oh my god. You are a fool. You’re such a fool. I don’t even know if I understood what you just said. I think I did. I’m talking to myself. I can’t really breathe right now. Maybe if I understood what you said I really do know my answer. If I understood what you said maybe there is such a thing as soul mates. Ha! That’s false.”
“But your damn Olde English annoys me so much! How can I possibly live with that forever? Every single day?! It’s too much for anyone to handle. Except maybe your mother. And all the psychotic people in your little Shakespeare society. I never even liked Hamlet. And I firmly stand by my belief that Romeo and Juliet were colossal morons in the truest sense of the word. Everybody’s staring at us!”
“I patiently await thine answer, my prickly rose.”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this…”
“But of course! I shall be the proudest lady in the land to be forever thy sunshine, thou scullion, thou rampallion, thou lily-liver’d toad!”
There exist hundreds of different varieties of cheese and every one has its own name.
The word “cheese” comes from the Old English “cyse,” from the West Germanic “kasjus,” from the Classical Latin “caseus,” from the Proto-Indo-European root “kwat,” which means “to ferment, become sour.”
The word for cashew in Portuguese (cajú) is almost exactly the same as the word for cashew in Gujarati (kaju), one of the 14 official languages of India. This might seem strange until you consider the fact that cashews are native to northeastern Brazil, where they fall as fruit from a tree indigenously called “acajú.” Admiral Afonso de Albuquerque founded a settlement on the western coast of India in 1510 and the Portuguese ruled the colony of Goa for 451 years.
Is every word just a muddled version of another word, born of human error? Are we all just slightly altered versions of each other?
In 1961, the Indian Census recognized 1,652 different languages in India. That means that at any given moment in 1961, sunbrowned people discussed the weather, the neighbors, the government, dinner plans in 1,652 different languages. The country must have sounded like the ill-fated construction site of the Tower of Babel that God cursed with linguistic chaos.
Such is the world of cheese, like any other world: linguistic chaos. Paneer, limburger, bleu, havarti, feta, manchego, cheddar, American, Muenster, Gruyère, Swiss, pepper jack, Roquefort, asiago, mozzarella, ricotta, raclette, brie, camembert, gorgonzola.
Cheese can be made from cows or sheep or buffalo or goats. It can be hard, soft, spiced. It can be Turkish, Greek, Norwegian, Indian. Really, there’s an infinite amount of possible cheese variations, like there is an infinite amount of possible human variations. But we are not so systematically reproducible. Curdle, process, age, repeat.
The Latin “caseus” is also apparently the father – or some other long-lost relative – of casein, a protein found in cow’s milk.
No one is certain about the origin of cheese, but it was supposedly stumbled upon between 8000 and 3000 BCE. As one story goes, an Arab trader making an arduous trek across the desert on camelback stored milk in a pouch made from an animal’s stomach. The rennet lining the stomach turned the milk to curds and whey while the trader was busy shielding his skin from the sun and his lungs from the sand. Sometimes things happen when you’re not looking.
The Arabic word for cheese is “gibn.”
It would be all too fantastic if photographers’ use of the phrase “Say cheese!” to coax an elusive smile out of crabby children (circa 1930) was somehow etymologically related to the roots and meanings of the word. But I suspect “cheese” was chosen at random for its double-e construction and the smile-like muscle contractions it induces.
“Cheesy,” meaning trite, cheap, or kitschy, is also surprisingly notrelated to what we know as cheese, despite its misleading spelling. British soldiers in India in the early 1800s picked up the Urdu and Hindi word “chiz,” meaning “thing,” to imply “a big thing.” Eventually the meaning morphed into “showy,” and now here we are.
The French word for cheese, “fromage,” comes from the Medieval Latin “formaticum,” from the Latin “forma,” which means “shape, form, mold,” referring to the 14th-century practice of deliberately pressing and molding cheeses with rinds.
Cheese, it seems, like words and language and humans, is rather more complex than it lets on.
Did I ever tell you I think you’re nine kinds of wonderful?
You’re wonderful because you check the lock on the front door at night before you go to bed. You probably didn’t think anyone noticed, but I noticed.
You’re wonderful because you try to make excuses for my mistakes even though I said you didn’t have to justify them. Sometimes you can tell me I did something stupid, you know. But you shrug it off, and you’re wonderful.
You’re wonderful because you laugh at everything I say. It’s probably your fault that I think I’m hilarious and when other people don’t laugh at my jokes, I just think it’s because they don’t understand my humor, not because maybe I’m not very funny.
You’re wonderful because you let me have the last piece of everything. You’re selfless like that. I never used to understand how you could give things up so easily, even if it’s just the last Lorna Doone, but I think maybe I could be selfless like that for someone. I think maybe I am selfless like that for someone. Sometimes I’m a lot like you.
You’re wonderful because you order razzmatazz milkshakes and you take forever to finish them.
You’re wonderful because you have lines on your face.
You’re wonderful because you’re perpetually optimistic, because life is like a milkshake, it comes in a thousand million flavors and sometimes it gives you toothaches and headaches when the cold hits the back of your mouth, but you can put whatever you want in it and I want you in my milkshake.
You’re wonderful because you write the way you talk and it’s good English, too.
You’re wonderful because you like your coffee black. I think it’s gross, but I also think you’re wonderful.
Well, now I’ve gone and told you! I think people should know when they’re nine kinds of wonderful.
I almost died the night I went to Spitz.
And by “almost died” I mean, of course, that I made a risky move by deciding to test the limits of my stomach’s ability to expand.
Spitz is a Mediterranean restaurant and self-proclaimed “Home of the Döner Kebab” burrowed in a crevice between shops dangerously close to Yogurtland in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo.
The options on the narrow, one-page menu are somewhat limited for a vegetarian like myself, but the few things I can eat are so delicious, I’m willing to overlook the fact. My vegetarian wrap was a crunchy combination of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, bright yellow peperonchinis, and kalamata olives. Everything, smeared with humus and feta cheese, was tucked safely into a chewy lavash (a soft variant of flatbread) wrap and the whole thing dripped the most divine Tzatziki chili sauce I’ve ever tasted.
And the sweet potato fries. There simply are no words to describe the sweet potato fries.
But what exactly is this “döner kebab” upon which Spitz so prides itself? According to the Dictionary of Food and Nutrition, it is a dish that hails from the Middle East, Greece and Turkey and includes “slices of lamb, highly flavored with herbs and spices, wound around a revolving spit, cooked in front of a vertical charcoal (or sometimes gas) fire.”
At Spitz, the “delectable sandwich” is made from minced lamb and beef, ground chicken or falafel, according to the restaurant’s Web site.
A Turkish döner is very nearly the equivalent of a Greek gyro or Middle Eastern shawarma. In a traditional Turkish döner restaurant, a chef might hoist a huge chunk of lamb onto a rolling vertical spit first thing in the morning and slice off slivers of it until closing time. Unsanitary? Maybe. Delicious? So the European masses contend. (I wouldn’t know – I’ve sworn off meat. (Actually I was just raised vegetarian. (But swearing it off sounds so much more hardcore.)))
Spitz’s döner kebabs are modeled after the Spanish version of this dish that seems to have percolated all of Europe. In the bustling capital city of Madrid, kebab shops are “as ubiquitous as Spanish tapas bars,” says the Web site. In Spain, chefs use electric knives to cut away paper-thin slices of meat – and that is the so-called “Spanish version” of döner.
Spitz in Little Tokyo was named one of the “Best New Restaurants of the Year” by Los Angeles Magazine’s annual restaurant awards issue. Citysearch.com dubbed it the #1 Quick Food Spot in L.A. in both 2007 and 2008. Zagat, a restaurant survey with legitimate clout, voted Spitz one of the top 5 “best values” in the city.
What more can you want from a restaurant than accolades like these and crunchy orange sweet potato fries snuggly tucked into a little woven basket next to an unassuming foil-wrapped sandwich that is secretly the most amazing thing you haven’t tried yet?
If you think you can stomach any more food after a night at Spitz – a feat I thought I could handle despite my small frame (I tend to grossly overestimate the limits of my body’s food intake capability) – Yogurtland is just around the corner. I told you Spitz was in a dangerous place – don’t say I didn’t warn you.
For more information: http://www.eatatspitz.com
Harold watched two cubes of sugar dissolve into his tiny cup of tea. He dipped a gilt spoon into the cracked cup – the two really didn’t match very well, he noticed distractedly.
Everything about Harold’s life was somewhat mismatched. Shiny golden silverware and chipped china. Hawaiian macadamia nut cookies every day and a chest full of ribs. A daguerreotype camera in the living room and countless London Underground tickets to Bickerton-Astbury Engineers. Harold and Marion.
His life was constructed perilously and almost entirely from thin sheets of irony.
Harold heard the low roil of a dying engine faintly from his good ear. The left one had been nearly blasted to deafness by the constant clanging and bustling of civil construction.
Twinings English breakfast tea. The smell was delicious and hardly describable. It smells almost exactly like Winston Churchill, thought Harold. Winston Churchill was a cat that, after spending countless hours in Uncle Thurmond’s kitchen, smelled faintly of powdered sugar, honey and cardamom.
“Hm,” said Harold to nobody in particular. Then, more to himself on account of the room being empty besides, “Is it odd that English breakfast tea reminds me of Winston Churchill?”
He took a sip of the steaming tea. The porcelain cup was warm around the outside, belying the scalding nature of its contents.
It tasted milky and sweet: perfection. Even in mid-afternoon, without bacon, fried eggs, toast and black pudding, it held its own.
Harold heard a gravelly click. If Marion kept hitting the mailbox, she’d leave a dent in the place where all the paint was shivering off.
“Full-bodied, rich and robust,” boasted the tea manual Marion had bought for the coffee table – oh, the irony – which had since been surreptitiously piled by the fireplace, then even more surreptitiously swept, then kicked, under the couch.
Some say the tea and its name originated in a faraway land called America, where a transplanted Englishman called Richard Davies set up shop to sell tea in 1843. The tea merchant’s blend of Congou, Pekoe and Pouchong sold at 50 cents a pound in New York City.
Black patent leather Mary Janes clacking on worn pavement sound oddly musical, like after years of abuse, the gravel has decided it’s giving up the fight, it’s going to join the orchestra after all. Harold felt much like the pavement. Nobody, really, is a match for black patent leather Mary Janes.
Something grumbled. This sound Harold did not immediately recognize. The metallic, hollow twist of the doorknob should have followed the clacking, not this strange grumbling. But it was no cause for concern – just his stomach. Perhaps some fried tomatoes and black pudding would be nice after all.
Black pudding is a sausage made of congealed blood. It’s really sort of disgusting, except that it’s delicious. Black pudding and black tea. Blood and caffeine. Tried and true.
The metallic twist, then a heaving, grating, irritated whine from the door as it swung open at the hands of a tired and tousled woman. Marion was officially home.
Harold downed the rest of his tea and set the cup on the coffee table. Really, it was the tea table. Nobody here drank coffee, except Marion.
English breakfast tea left a numbing taste of Ceylon, Assam and Kenya on Harold’s tongue and lips. The sweet and spicy undertones of foreign escape, the remnants of which lingered in his mouth when he looked up to find Marion standing in the doorway.
“Tea?” he asked.
She nodded. She looked flustered, exhausted, puffy and at the same time impossibly thin. She looked cold.
Harold stood and his knees cracked in protest at the unexpected movement – except it really wasn’t unexpected because every day at 4:37 in the afternoon, Marion came home looking worn and withered and Harold offered her tea and she nodded and he stood and his knees cracked.
In the kitchen he stared at all the chipped china and chose one at random. At the bottom of the cup he plunked three sugar cubes and lay on top of them a bag of blueberry green tea, thinking it was complete rubbish. Blueberry green tea? What a joke.
Marion’s escape wasn’t nearly as desperate as his.
Harold doused the tea and sugar with hot water and brought the cup and saucer into the living room, where Marion had settled into the slouchy dent in the couch Harold had left in his wake.
“I’ve got business,” he said blandly. “I’ll be back.”
The doorknob on the inside was newer than the one on the outside – it made a brassy ringing noise. More people came in than ever left this place.
Harold’s brown loafers hardly disturbed the pavement and the change in his pocket for a tube pass sounded much more promising than the abuse Marion’s car inflicted on the mailbox.
At Waterford, he settled into a corner table, squeezed between wall and window.
A too-bright waitress arrived and asked in an unidentifiable accent what he’d like.
“Full Monty, please,” said Harold. “With English breakfast tea.”
The waitress smiled skeptically, barely revealing too-white teeth. “English breakfast even at 5?”
As if she knew anything about tea.
“Especially at 5,” he said.
This is where part of my fragmented self belongs, in the white-and-glass kitchen of my mother’s house, the house I lived in for 13 years.
Here, when I was 18, I sat at the dining table with my parents when it was still too early to be light outside, staring into my mug of milk. I didn’t really drink coffee back then, not yet anyway. I had 5 almonds, too, because my mother says they’re good for your brain. I don’t really know how much they helped, because I think my memory’s getting worse, but almonds still taste good. Here is where my dad sat across from me before I headed off to school that morning and told me that if he were me, he’d give USC a shot. The deadline for my decision was the next day.
Here is where I was more confused than ever about the baffling state of my life.
Here, when I was 15, I watched my mom find out her dad was very sick, but in another state. He was usually in Texas, but not when he got sick. Then, he was far away. Far away and his nurse daughter who could have helped him couldn’t help him. I watched my mom cry on one side of the segregating island stove and I watched my dad stand on the other side watching her. I think I thought he must have been concerned, but he didn’t hug her and he didn’t tell her everything would be ok. I remember wishing he’d at least hug her or hold her hand or even awkwardly pat her on the back – anything to close that gaping abyss called the stove. If he’d have hugged her, then maybe I’d have ended up more cuddly and lovable.
I never told my mom’s dad I loved him. I never really told my parents I loved them until I left for college and they were safely 1,400 miles away. I have issues being emotionally vulnerable. I think I get it from my dad.
Here, when I was 14, I had a breakdown. I crouched on the kitchen floor and I covered my head and I cried and I cried and I couldn’t stop, and my mother came to sit with me and she didn’t seem surprised at all. I guess I should have known that she knew me better than I thought – I still forget that. A lot of people think I’m sort of a mystery, but I am after all my mother’s daughter.
Here, when I was 13, I spent hours and hours trying to mold a replica of the Alamo out of clay until my fingers hurt. Of all the projects born of that kitchen, this one was probably the ugliest. But I think my Texas History teacher felt sorry for me because I really did try and she gave me a decent grade anyway – for effort.
Here, when I am 20, I still help my sister with the dishes. She washes, I dry. It’s a pretty good system.
Here, when I am 20, I sit with my family for dinner. We have Gujarati food. We say a prayer before we eat – a prayer I never understood because it’s in Sanskrit. Nobody speaks Sanskrit anymore, except in their dreams and in their prayers. I’m not at all very religious – but there’s a difference, you know, between degrees of religiosity and degrees of spirituality. I don’t ever really pray, but here, when I am 20, I sit with my family and I say that prayer because my mother wants us to and after 20 years it’s the least I can do.
Here, when I am 20, I help my mother and her friend make chakris for a party. I get pretty good at it and think it’s sort of fun. My mother and her friend are gossiping about other Indian people. I’m in my own world – I’m getting really into cranking chakri dough out of the nifty little golden machine from India. India produces a lot of nifty golden things. It’s a dusty country, but a lot of it glows inexplicably. My theory is it’s the nifty golden things.
Here, when I am 20, there’s some dough left over after all the chakris have been fried. I roll some of it into a ball; it gets fried. I pat the rest of it into a heart; it gets fried.
Here, when I am 20, I’m not sure who ends up eating my little fried heart, but I hope whoever did thought it tasted good.
Here, for the rest of my life, I will come home and I will run into the kitchen because that’s where part of my fragmented self belongs, in pristine walls, in the glass-bottom-boat dining table, in nifty golden things and in little fried chakris.
First, before the official update & farewell to this blog, let’s go back in time…
June 5, 2010 | 11:35 a.m.
When you leave a place in which you’ve buried a little piece of yourself, it only becomes something frightening to have no idea when you will ever be back.
It’s why my heart broke a little leaving London. Not knowing.
I’m on the plane right now, American Airlines Flight 51, direct to Dallas, seat 32B, next to a small Italian woman from Naples whose wrinkles are indistinguishable from her laugh lines, so it looks like her whole face is smiling. Her fingernails are painted hot pink. She tells me she moved to Hertfordshire, just north of London, 52 years ago when she fell in love with an Englishman. I really like her.
I’m in the aisle, but I strained to see the green English fields out of the small window until the pilot decided it was time for me to let go, and the plane veered off to the right and I couldn’t see England anymore. Who knows when I will see England again?
See, the thing is, I don’t even understand the life I lived last fall. Constantly stressed out. Disappointed left and right. Perpetually exhausted. Frustrated and confused. And, if I’m honest with myself, unhappy a good bit more than I should have been. I wasn’t entirely myself, and I regret that for a number of reasons. I probably wasn’t much fun. I am generally pretty self-sufficient, but for maybe the first time in my life, I really, really needed somebody to help me keep myself from falling apart, or at least help me pick up the pieces if and when I did fall apart, and maybe that was too much to ask.
I don’t really remember that Nimisha, I don’t understand that Nimisha. I was kind of a hot mess.
That’s why I loved London so much, why it was difficult to leave! What might have been one of the worst semesters of my life (though don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of great stuff there, too) was followed by one of the best. Bipolar much?
In a much less abstract way, when I say I don’t understand the life I lived in the fall, I mean that I looked at several American dollar bills today in God knows how long and they looked too long and too thin and too green! I’ve got 4 different kinds of money on me right now: American dollars, British pounds, European euros and Hungarian forints. I didn’t have time to exchange all my money since I ended up rushing to get on an earlier flight because my original flight to Dallas got cancelled this morning (yes, more transportation woes, believe it or not!).
July 2, 2010 | 10:19 p.m.
I guess the food truck must have come around at about that time, because that’s where I stopped writing!
Well, it’s been just about a month since I’ve been back in the United States, since my dream of a semester came to a perfect end: Marcos, Melissa and I didn’t sleep our last two nights. We partied, we celebrated, then we watched the sun rise over a pier on the beautiful River Thames before catching a ride to Heathrow. I can’t imagine ending my semester in any better way, in any better place, with any better people. Since then, I:
- Spent 6 days in Flower Mound, which wasn’t nearly enough. Only got to see my sister for a few days! And I won’t go back until December . Definitely didn’t get my fill of Texas this time around.
- Got over any jet lag in a matter of hours… Seriously, I think people who claim to be jet lagged for days just use it as an excuse to sleep excessively… haha. I guess when you have a life schedule as ridiculous/irregular as mine, your body doesn’t register things like jet lag.
- Readjusted to life back here surprisingly quickly. Nothing felt weird, not even seeing my parents after 5 months. I think I adapt perhaps frighteningly well… The only things that took me a while to get used to were American money and not having to calculate 6-8 hour time differences. I still find myself pulling out two quarters and thinking they equal $1. (In my defense, two 50p pieces equal 1 pound in the UK.)
- Almost cried tears of joy drinking my first cup of good coffee in months. Went to Starbucks for an affordable cup o’ joe mere hours after landing in the US.
- Finally got a haircut, went to the dentist and the doctor (who looked at my damaged toes and told me I need new shoes. Thanks, Europe, for your damn cobblestone streets.) Learned I didn’t gain nearly as much weight as I thought I did!
- Discovered a drawer-full of clothes I didn’t take to London that I forgot I had — it was like Christmas!
- Roadtripped from Dallas to Los Angeles with my parents for the second time in less than a year. I love that drive. The American Southwest continues to fascinate me! I could ramble on about it and everything I think about those dusty deserted towns, but I’ll spare you the extra words.
- Started my internships at KNBC and GOOD in L.A. my first week back!
- Roadtripped by myself to NorCal — the 5.5 hour drive is really not bad! I only started getting bored/lonely after the first 2-3 hours. Reunited with Nehali in Stockton, spent a day in San Francisco (which I fell in love with — what is it with me and cities/why can’t I be that way with human beings?!) with the parentals & other family, roadtripped back to L.A. in a matter of days.
Now, I’m finally settling into some kind of regular schedule after 6 months. I generally work 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays. Both my internships are great and my supervisors are awesome, which is a huge relief. I’ve spent the rest of my time obsessing over Bamboo Offshoot, of which I am the editor-in-chief for the 2010-2011 school year. I am determined to make that publication better if it’s the last thing I do at USC, dammit!
I’ve also been reuniting with people whose lovely faces I sorely missed, I’ve been a tourist in L.A., I’ve been to La Barca for margaritas more in the past 2 weeks than I have in my entire time at USC.
I miss London all the time, but… Life has been good! I am good. The weather is beautiful, and so are the purple flowers that are everywhere. I’m loving being at USC in the summer. I feel like myself again, and in fact, I think I feel like a slightly better version of myself. A version of myself whose faith in people is maybe a little more guarded than it used to be, but who’s learned a lot of important lessons that needed to be learned the hard way.
I left for England in January a little jaded and a lot exhausted by life for various reasons. My head was a mess, and London was the best thing that could have happened to me. While I was away, I learned to look my demons in the face, recognize that they exist, and I learned to make peace with them. It’s good to be someone you really like being again. I’m so very excited for senior year! The greatest, most valuable, most relieving thing is –
I am optimistic again.
And that is where I will leave that. That is where this entire adventure — and this blog — come to an official close.
P.S. I used enough words in this blog to last a lifetime, and I gushed about life/London/my feelings more than I’ve ever cared to since my semi-emo middle school Xanga days, so no more of that, I’d like to crawl back behind my gauze of slightly reticent mystery. But I’m not completely disappearing from the e-world! >> http://nimishathakore.tumblr.com
Don’t look at me like that, London. We both knew this had to end eventually.
I have been bracing myself for a couple weeks now to leave you tomorrow. My bags are packed, heavier than they were in January: heavy with souvenirs and sorrow. I am ready to go home after 5 months, but knowing I likely won’t be back for a long time… That still hurts my heart a little bit.
To think that I applied to study abroad on something of a whim, that I wasn’t completely hell-bent on going like others who plan this sort of thing when they start college, that I never actually made up my mind, I just let the decision deadline pass and make up my mind for me — that all means I might not have done this. That’s terrifying. I very well could have stayed in L.A.! I would have had a great semester, no doubt.
But I wouldn’t have had these months, isolated in the span of my life so far as unique, to live pretty much entirely for myself and no one else. I’ve had my fill of it and am ready to return to a life that involves obligations, considerations, give-and-take relationships with other people, but I’ll return having learned a valuable lesson: It’s nice, sometimes, to be selfish, because life is a two-way street. (That sounds awful, but I hope you get my meaning.)
I wouldn’t have been able to visit so many beautiful cities across Europe.
I wouldn’t have met so many interesting and wonderful people.
I wouldn’t have had you.
I wouldn’t trade this semester abroad for anything.
Things I’ll miss, among others:
- The tube, even though it breaks down all the time.
- Underground stations — they each have a personality of their own! They’re like people.
- Buskers: musicians playing all kinds of music in tube stations. They have to audition for the part, so they’re actually really good.
- Walking, walking, walking. Looking up and seeing old Victorian buildings.
- Pubs & pub culture. Ordering pints/halfs of beer.
- Seeing Melissa and Marcos pretty much every waking moment. Viva Marlisha!
- People saying “Cheers!” for everything, including hello, goodbye, thanks, you’re welcome, when it hardly even makes sense…
- Groceries marked with a “V, Suitable for Vegetarians.”
- Afternoon tea. Especially the vanilla black tea and scones with clotted cream and raspberry preserves at Bea’s of Bloomsbury. Yummm.
- My split-level flat, and always having someone around, though sometimes 6 people in 1 flat got stuffy.
- Kebab shops with the friendliest Turkish owners ever (particularly Farringdon Grill). Falafels to curb middle-of-the-night hunger attacks.
- Knowing that at least one channel is playing Friends, no matter what time of day it is.
- Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut Clusters cereal, available only in the UK.
- How green/environmentally-friendly this place is!
- The River Thames.
- People who might seem standoffish to affable Americans, but who, if you talk to them, are cheery and helpful. I love people like that — people who prove you wrong, people you have to figure out.
- Ridiculous street & pub names, like Lamb’s Conduit and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
- Constant use of the word “whilst,” which I’m particularly fond of. The use of words like “alight” and “query,” which are in danger of extinction in America.
- Banksy Bagels and the really nice Irish woman who works there.
- Portobello Market.
You’ve been terribly good to me, London. You taught me a lot about myself and you gave me plenty of room to grow – something I really needed. You gave me a lot of opportunities. You quenched my thirst for adventure, and in fact, you amplified it. I have every intention of exploring Los Angeles now the way I explored your streets and suburbs.
After all my travels this semester, I was always happy to come home to you. I was always glad I chose to study abroad here (despite your expensive British pound, which is my only complaint). There is nothing, really, that you lack as a great city.
I think you’re a million kinds of wonderful. Your diversity, your history, your humor, your cosmopolitan charm, your good-natured welcoming of tourists and transplants: these are the qualities that endear you to anyone who’s had the pleasure of your acquaintance. I know I am not the first, nor will I be the last, to have fallen unavailingly in love with you.
I sincerely hope one day we cross paths again. You’ll carry on without me, no doubt, and I’ll carry on without you… But at the risk of sounding desperately cheesy: you will always, always, always have a special place in my heart.
P.S. I love you.
Days abroad: 140
Cities visited: 21 (probably forgetting some, too)
- Glendalough Valley area
Articles written: 16 (approximately)
Photos taken: 2,132 (and counting
Spring internship maintained: 1
Summer internships acquired: 2
New best friends made: 2
Feet irreparably damaged: 2
Life lessons learned: endless.
I’d say it’s been a pretty good semester!
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY: April 21-24
On Wednesday, after checking out Galileo’s finger at the Museo di Stella della Scienza (what, you wouldn’t?) and getting our last fill of Florence, Melissa and I boarded a train to Venice at 5:30 p.m. After a 2-hour layover there, we got on the second leg, a 14-hour overnight train ride to Budapest. Friendly advice: don’t ever take a 14-hour overnight train anywhere, if you can help it.
This was, without a doubt, the longest and most uncomfortable train ride of my life! We met some cool people in our cabin, but trying to sleep was a nightmare. Cramped seat. Cold cabin. Passport control waking you up every time you cross any sort of border (and we went through various Eastern European countries). Finally, we arrived at Budapest’s Keleti Station at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, April 22.
We spent a couple hours getting our lives in order: booking hostels in Budapest and Prague, buying train tickets to Prague, exchanging money, and getting a late lunch because we hadn’t eaten in many, many, many hours. After lunch, we wandered. We knew nothing about Budapest – I didn’t even know what its currency is (forints) until we got there. All the other cities we’ve traveled to, we’ve done research beforehand. I went into Budapest pretty much blind. We saw the White Bridge, Buda Royal Palace (and its museum, which we got into for free!), and the Chain Bridge. We also ventured into the dark tunnels of the Buda Castle Labyrinth armed with nothing but a single lantern. Inside, it was wet and eerie and we actually did get a little lost… haha.
For dinner, we met up with Danny and his roommates Evan and Roy. It was really nice to see another DOZer abroad, especially sort of unexpectedly! I wish it had been a bit more planned so maybe we could’ve hung out more, but it was still nice nonetheless. After dinner, Melissa and I took a funicular (the second oldest funicular in Europe!) up to Fisherman’s Bastion, where we got a gorgeous moonlit view of the beautiful blue Danube River (:)) and the glowing Parliament building, which is huge. Budapest has its own sort of beauty, I think, but it is definitely beautiful. It is so very different from the other cities I’ve visited, but I don’t know that I can say how, really. It’s just… Hungarian! Despite the cold weather, I loved it.
Friday was our only full day in Budapest, so naturally, because it was me and Melissa, it was a packed day! We went to the National Hungarian Museum, had traditional Hungarian food at a restaurant called Rubens (I was sad I couldn’t try goulash – one of the few times I wished I wasn’t vegetarian!), took a Duna River Boat Tour, walked along Andrassy Ut, a street that’s another UNESCO World Heritage Site, and then – my favorite part of all of SPRING BREAK 2010, probably – we went caving!
Apparently, the “Buda” half of Budapest (Buda sits on one side of the river, Pest on the other) sits atop a myriad of natural underground caves. Caving, or spelunking, involves donning a really attractive (not) suit and hardhat with a flashlight, then crawling/shuffling/running/climbing/squeezing through crevices for 3 hours! It was so much fun! We met some cool Australians and our guide gave us some interesting tidbits about Hungarians (who created Bic pens and Rubik’s cubes, FYI). Near the end, we all turned off our flashlights and climbed for several minutes in complete and utter darkness. We only had each other’s voices, hands and spoken instructions to trust. It was awesome! I came out of the experience with scratched elbows and knees and hair full of cave dust, but I loved every minute of it .
That night, we went to a Fedde le Grande concert at Café del Rio that Danny had told us about the night before. I’d never heard of this DJ, but he was really good! Even though I was exhausted, the concert was fun. We saw Danny and Evan there again and we were there from 11 p.m. to 3:15 a.m. when we finally got a taxi back to our hostel.
Then we did what probably no other tourist/traveler would ever do, besides me and Melissa, and probably Marcos if he’d been there. We crawled into bed around 3:45 a.m. and woke up at 5 a.m. just so we could go to a bathhouse before catching our 9:30 a.m. train to Prague on Saturday morning. Call us crazy, but we didn’t want to leave the City of Spas without having spent some time in a spa! We were at Szechenyi Baths just after 6 a.m., where we relaxed a bit and watched the sun rise over Budapest in a lukewarm outdoor pool and then sweated off the stress of the past week in the sauna. I don’t at all regret getting only an hour of sleep for that experience!
We got on our train to Prague – the last train I hope to ride for a very long time – and fell fast asleep.
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: April 24-27
Prague is beautiful. Prague is adorable. Prague was the perfect way to end SPRING BREAK 2010!
We reached our hostel at 5 p.m. on Saturday, still pretty worn out from our utter lack of a solid night’s sound sleep. For dinner, we met up with Ariel, another DOZer (and my little! ) who’d come to visit me in London, who was studying abroad in Prague. I can’t really describe what a relief it was to have Ariel there… haha. By this point, Melissa and I had been traveling for 22 days, constantly on the move, running on very little sleep, our bodies and feet especially sore. Needless to say, our minds were worn out, too; we were in no shape to plan out each day and attack it with our usual enthusiasm. Thankfully, Ariel a wonderful tour guide and generous host, so we didn’t have to do a lot of thinking! And, as I’ve said before, it is always, always nice to see a familiar friendly face.
After dinner at a great vegetarian place and a glass of Staropramen, one of Prague’s famous beers, Melissa and I were clearly dying a slow and painful death by exhaustion, so we called it a night. For the first time in I don’t know how long, we got what could be legitimately considered a good night’s sleep. My body has never loved me so much (although it would hate me again by the end of the next night…).
The next morning, we went on a Sandeman’s New Europe free walking tour, which covered all of these main sites. Sandeman’s should make us their official promoters: Melissa and I have been on their free walking tours in Amsterdam, Dublin, Prague, Paris, and London! The weather was absolutely BEAUTIFUL, so we had a leisurely lunch outside in a beer garden, where I tried some Pilsner. We rented a paddle boat and lounged on the Vltava River (also known as the Moldau! The Moldau by Bedřich Smetana was long one of my favorite classical songs, so I was really excited to finally see this river that inspired Smetana’s piece) under the glorious sun. We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Vyšehrad, an old castle on a hill near Ariel’s dorm. The cemetery there is home to both composers Smetana and Antonín Dvořák.
That night, the three of us went on the infamous Prague Pub Crawl, determined to make it all the way to the end. Strangely enough, we ran into another London study abroad kid who’d been in one of our classes! It was an odd turn of events. I won’t say much else about the evening except that 1) I have no intention of ever consuming absinthe again and 2) we didn’t make it past the second pub. But it was fun while it lasted, and I got a free t-shirt out of it!
Monday was a lazy day, and not nearly as beautiful. Melissa and I woke up late and had “smaz,” or fried cheese sandwiches that are all the rage in Prague. Czechs really seem to love their fried cheese. We tried to find Mozart’s house and failed, so we checked out the Franz Kafka Museum. Kakfa is a fascinating person… I’ve only ever read his The Metamorphosis, but it’s one of my favorite short stories. What I gathered from the museum is that Kafka was so self-aware it was painful. We met up with Ariel on the Charles Bridge and went to see the Lennon Wall. Apparently, when John Lennon died in 1980, a grief-stricken Czech fan graffitied a portrait of him onto this wall. Since then, all sorts of people have smothered the wall with Lennon portraits and Beatles lyrics and their own signatures. Of course we left our mark! Ariel and I even signed the wall on behalf of DOZ.
We spent a few hours meandering around the various parts of Prague Castle. I tried Czech potato dumplings at dinner and was incredibly disappointed. I tried very hard to like them, but the fact that I couldn’t finish them says a lot. I can usually finish all my food, but I couldn’t down these dumplings. We were definitely not up to another night out, so we had the most delicious milkshakes ever whilst playing Monopoly (I won! I never win) at The Globe Café.
Tuesday was glorious because it was the day we were going home, the day the month-long SPRING BREAK 2010 would finally come to a close. The singular image of my bed in my corner in my flat in London was enough to energize me for the day. Melissa and I had a gigantic breakfast at Café Louvre, the self-proclaimed “crowning jewel of Prague café culture,” then walked to Petrin Hill. Here, we took a funicular to the top of the hill and climbed up the Observation Tower there, which looks like a mini-Eiffel Tower. We walked back to Prague Castle to finish seeing the parts we’d missed the day before.
Then it was back to Old Town Square to see the Astronomical Clock, Prague’s pride and joy, strike the hour. It’s a very pretty clock, parts of which were constructed as far back as 1410, that chimes on the hour every hour. And when it chimes, so begins the “Walk of the Apostles” (video #10). After all the raving I’d heard about it, I was expecting something maybe a bit grander, but it was still cute. Afterwards, we checked out of our hostel and walked all the way to Ariel’s dorm for a last goodbye.
Then we were on a bus to the airport. Then we were at the terminal. Then we were on the plane. Then we were in London! HOME, SWEET HOME. It was truly a beautiful moment. I thought I’d cry tears of joy. Somebody should make a movie about it. I never thought I’d be so happy to see our cramped little flat, or my squeaky bed that jabs me in the ribs every night with its metal mattress frame. But it doesn’t even matter. It’s my bed, not some hostel’s. And I could speak English. And I could take money out of ATMs without being charged. And I could do laundry! Sweet, blessed laundry.
I feel like I sort of rushed through the last few cities in these blog entries, but we just did way too much in these 26 days! All in all, SPRING BREAK 2010 was all kinds of wonderful. It was full of incredible sights, more history and culture than you could imagine, fantastic food, and plenty of curveballs. We had our fair share of transportation woes, group discrepancies and clashing personalities. But the way I see it, it’s those curveballs that make the experience just that: an experience. I saw a lot, I did a lot, I experienced a lot! And in some way, I guess I can say I backpacked across Europe… or at least across parts of southern and central Europe!
So concludes the saga of SPRING BREAK 2010: me, passed out face-down on my bed in London, wearing the dust, grime and heart of 5 different countries on my back, clutching my pillow like it’s the long-lost love of my life. End scene.
CONT’D, FLORENCE, ITALY: April 15-21
Sunday, April 18, was the day plans began to unravel.
We decided to embark on a daytrip to Siena, a small city encircled by walls in Tuscany a couple hours outside of Florence by bus. Siena was relatively quiet, despite a fair number of tourists wandering about. We had lunch and then strolled along various streets, saw Siena’s own Duomo and Piazza del Campo, which is one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares. The center of Siena, the piazza is like a beach without any sand or ocean. People were lying out on the huge swath of open plaza as if they were on a beach! Don’t quote me on this, but I think the piazza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (we saw a ton of these on our trip).
At one point, Britt and Claire ducked into an internet café to check their e-mail. Claire had been keeping up with news about the Icelandic volcano, which had erupted while we were in Pisa. I’d heard about it – two British women at our hostel in Pisa couldn’t get back to England because their flight had been cancelled – but I didn’t think anything of it. I naively didn’t think we would be much affected. It’s funny, actually, because when Marcos, Melissa and I ran into those British women in Pisa, we thought, “Good thing we’re not flying back until Monday, a good 4 days away!” HA! Joke was on us. Good one, God – you won that round.
Anyway, Claire had been a bit nervous about our flight back the next day, and at the internet café in Siena, she discovered our flight was likely to be delayed. This, for some reason, caused us to become restless and we cut our Siena daytrip short. We thought it would be best to be somewhere we could act quickly if we needed to, if our flight was cancelled. I still didn’t see any need to panic, but I think sometimes I am too calm when I should actually be freaking out and coming up with an action plan. This was one of those times… haha.
Just hours later, back in Florence, Claire informed us that our flight had indeed been cancelled. Until that very moment, I didn’t think it would be. Melissa and I rushed to the train station to get in a long line with people thinking just like us, hoping to get seats on the next train to Paris, from where we could get on the Chunnel to London. There, on Sunday night, we were told all trains to Paris were booked until Friday, and the only negotiable seats were 1st class tickets going for 200 to 250 euro. We rebooked our flights knowing those new flights would probably also be cancelled and we were basically stuck until further notice, but there was nothing else we could do.
Hearts started to sink a bit. Stuck in Florence until Friday? Missing two final exams this week? I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, boohoo, you were stuck in FLORENCE on VACATION, poor you!” But I’m not asking for any pity, and I’m not saying our situation was awful. All I am saying is that it is a little bit disheartening when you have been living out of a backpack for 17 days, you haven’t slept in the same bed for more than two or three nights in a row, you are more than ready to go home, and all of a sudden you’re told that there is no way home. When there’s no assurance of anything and you are stranded for God knows how long, home starts to seem pretty far away.
We spent most of the next day checking on flights that were all being cancelled left and right. We brainstormed alternate options and were seriously considering driving from Florence to London. I was prepared to be the sole driver, as I was the only 21-year-old in our group with a valid driver’s license. I think we would have done it, too, if all the rental cars in Florence hadn’t already been rented! We went to Hertz, we went to Avis, we went to smaller companies – nobody had a car for us. Finally, it was time for our group to break up There was no way we were going to get all 5 of us onto a train, or a flight, or a spaceship. Britt started looking into flights from Venice to Liverpool; Claire bought a train ticket to Zurich the next day, hoping to get a train or flight out of Germany; Marcos was still hoping to get to Paris somehow; Melissa and I started considering a train to Prague if our rebooked flights were cancelled.
Melissa’s and my plan probably seems like the most ridiculous, but really, it made quite a bit of sense. The two of us had already bought tickets on a flight from London to Prague that coming Friday, but it was becoming increasingly likely that we wouldn’t make it back to London in time for that flight. So we thought, why not get on a train to Prague and fly out of Prague the following Tuesday on a flight we’d already booked before spring break?
We chewed on this for the rest of the day, everyone slightly unnerved. That night, we had dinner at a Mexican restaurant called Tijuana (God, how I’ve missed Mexican food), then met up with one of Claire’s USC friends studying abroad in Florence for drinks. It was fun to see some new faces and it got our minds off our predicament for a while!
The next morning we learned the volcano had spouted more ash. REALLY??? Our rebooked flights were cancelled. We were definitely going to Prague. It was nice at least to have some sort of plan of action! We said goodbye to Claire and checked into a new hostel for another night in Florence. Britt napped in the afternoon, while Marcos, Melissa and I decided we might as well explore while we were trapped in Florence! We went shopping, walked around the Piazzale Michelangelo, which offers breathtaking views of Florence, and got into the Basilica di Santa Croce church by saying we wanted to pray (it was closed to tourists). Don’t start thinking we’re awful human beings – we really did pray! I hid my om pendant to be safe, but churches and temples are all the same to me, so I prayed a little anyway.
Afterwards, we scrambled to get tickets to Prague. I’m not really sure why we waited… I guess we figured nobody would be buying tickets to Prague. As it turns out, all tickets to Prague were sold out. But this was only a minor glitch. We got tickets to Budapest instead! We figured we’d get to Budapest, then take a train to Prague. Both Melissa and I really wanted to see Prague anyway . Marcos miraculously managed to get on a special extra train to Paris – I still think there had to have been some ridiculous amount of luck involved for this to happen. The train was leaving in just a few hours, so he packed as quickly as he could and was out the door! Britt was still waiting on her flight to Liverpool on Thursday, and Melissa and I had tickets to Budapest in our hands.
With the knowledge that we had somewhere to go and something to do, we could breathe again. I spent at least a good 2 hours of the rest of the night in a couple of internet cafés, Skype calling a producer at KNBC and a woman at GOOD who I’d been corresponding with via e-mail about potential internships. I got sick of having to postpone interviews with them, and I figured if I really wanted those internships, which I did, I was fully capable of finding a way to make it happen!
It was interesting: because I had been so preoccupied with figuring out a way to get the hell out of Florence, I hadn’t had any time to think about or even much prepare for these interviews. But because it all happened so quickly, I didn’t even have time to be nervous, to psyche myself out – and they were some of the best interviews I’ve ever had! Got both the internships, too .
So, there I was on our last night in Florence, watching Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang and eating Indian food in our hostel, our group completely split up at this point, prepared to extend SPRING BREAK 2010 by another week. Spent my last moments in Florence hand-washing my socks and underwear in the sink (that’s how you know you’ve been traveling way too long). But I was so excited to go to Budapest, because it had been on my list of cities to visit, but I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it. I guess God really wanted me to go to Budapest.
Thank you, Eyjafjallajokull!
GENOA, ITALY: April 13-14
On Sunday the 13th, we were up early to catch a train to Genoa, which was of course delayed because of continuing strikes. When finally we reached our hotel, we were greeted by a friendly, wrinkled old lady from some other European country who loved talking to us simply because she could talk to us in English. She told us all about how she used to live in London, how her sister now lives in Australia, how she sometimes forgets proper English because she rarely gets to use it. The woman went on and on, but she was extremely generous and warmhearted . Italy got off to a good start with this hospitality in Genoa, but in Pisa and Florence, it continued to slip from its pedestal in my mind.
After depositing our luggage in the room, we walked around the city a bit and quickly discovered that there is not a lot going on in Genoa, Italy. Its only claim to fame is its being the birthplace of Columbus, and while this is an excellent claim to fame, it doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment. Somehow, we found ourselves playing UNO on the steps of the Palazzo Ducale. I lost, but not without a fight! I used to think I was too laid back to be a competitive person, but let’s be honest: I really like winning. After a rousing game or two of UNO, we were pretty much starving, but restaurants don’t begin serving dinner until at least 7 p.m. (another downside of Italy: you can’t eat meals whenever you want! Ok, fine, now I’m just nitpicking), so we killed some time at an outdoor bar before shuffling into a small restaurant for a bowl of the greenest pesto I have ever seen. The noodles themselves were literally bright green. Solid first real Italian meal! After dinner, we got gelato, which became a really bad, albeit delicious, habit for the remainder of SPRING BREAK 2010.
We hung out down by the port for a while afterwards, where we stumbled upon an incongruous statue of Gandhi. I am telling you, my people have left their mark everywhere!
The next day, we visited the tiny, cramped Casa di Columbo (Christopher Columbus’ house) and the Palazzo Principe. We split up after this because, as we often discovered, sightseeing with even as few as 5 people can get tricky. The thing about traveling is that everyone has a different way of going about it. It’s only natural to butt heads sometimes if your idea of a fun vacation is sleeping in until noon and mine is getting up early to see the sun rise over the mountains. Melissa, Marcos and I are pretty similar when it comes to traveling in that we like to experience as much of whatever it city we’re in as we can, we do a LOT of walking, we go to bed late and get up early, and even if we’re tired, we’ll keep barreling on because, after all, you can sleep when you’re dead! (After 5 months of this, we are all three of us pretty exhausted, but I’d say it was completely worth it .)
The three of us walked all the way up to the allegedly highest point of the city to get a panoramic view. This became something of an obsession throughout this trip. I think we managed to get panoramic shots from high points in every city!
Little did we know when we hopped on a train to Pisa that evening that what should have been a straight shoot from one Italian city to another would turn out to be an hours-long ordeal (the first of many, it seemed) that involved us being stranded between Genoa and Pisa for a couple hours in the middle of the night. I like to think everything is an experience, so I don’t really mind that we ran into so many glitches, especially since we emerged out of all of this unscathed (except my feet, which have taken a beating this semester) – but if I had a choice, I’d really rather not repeat those few cold hours waiting at a semi-deserted platform in La Spezia for a train that we could only hope would eventually show up!
PISA, ITALY: April 15
The train we expected to take us all the way to Pisa instead stopped at La Spezia. I still have no clue where that is, except that it’s not Pisa. We were the only ones left on the train, and the conductor told us we had to get off because this was the end of the road. So we got off, and we ended up waiting in the cold for what must have been at least 2 hours. I am not going to lie and paint a pretty picture so I only have good memories: it was a little bit miserable. Italian trains are confusing and unreliable. Most of the people we tried to ask for help weren’t very helpful or reassuring. It was dark and cold and Giovanni, the guy at our hostel in Pisa, was angry with us because we were late arriving, even though it was all out of our control.
When we finally got into Pisa at close to 2:30 a.m., we were greeted by a group of drunk teenagers hanging out in the piazza just in front of our hostel (“Welcome to Italy!”). Nothing like a drunken welcome, let me tell ya! haha. I went straight to bed because we had to be up early again to check out in the morning.
The next day, the weather was beautiful! Hot, even. We ventured over to the Field of Miracles, where we took the standard touristy photographs with the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I’m not really sure why the Leaning Tower is a Wonder of the World. I suppose it’s a wonder that it hasn’t fallen over yet, but really, the thing is just a big mistake. It’s not colossal like the Great Wall, eerily symmetrical like the Taj Mahal, or impossible to build like the Pyramids at Giza. The Leaning Tower is a miscalculation! haha
After lunch and more unnecessary gelato, we ambled around and saw l’Università di Pisa, established in 1343 and one of the oldest universities in Europe. Pisa is even less happening than Genoa – which is completely fine! You take a city for what it is, I think, and experience it the way it’s meant to be experienced. Claire and Britt took an earlier train to Florence, but Marcos, Melissa and I decided to stay back a bit and enjoy our only day in Pisa. We rented a 3-person bike/car contraption and peddled around the dusty streets of Pisa (video #9)! There wasn’t anywhere we couldn’t go, so of course we biked everywhere, meaning we ended up sandwiched between cars on regular roads. I’m sure we irritated the drivers of said cars… haha. Although we had several near-death experiences, it was a lot of fun!
At 6 p.m., we got on a short train to Florence, which gave us some gorgeous views of the Tuscan countryside. Florence is a great and beautiful city, but this was the point in the trip when I was finally starting to get tired of traveling – I can push myself to all kinds of extremes, but I do have a limit, after all… Thankfully, we only had a few more days before our return to London. Or so we thought. But we had no idea that a friendly neighborhood Icelandic volcano was about to throw stranded travelers all across Europe into a frenzied panic.
FLORENCE, ITALY: April 15-21
Florence! Oh, Florence. Firenze. It really is a wonderful city, but it’s definitely not my favorite place in the world. Maybe it was bad timing: so much in life is about timing. When things happen at the wrong time, they can end up a mess. But I was a weary traveler when I got to Florence — add to that the fact that I got a 45 euro fine, that the people were pretty rude, and that we were trapped there for a couple extra days with no way out when this volcano erupted, and maybe you can understand why Italy is not on my must-revisit-someday list.
Our first day there, we hit a lot of major tourist attractions, including both the Uffizi Gallery, where we saw works by Botticelli, Da Vinci, Rembrandt and Michelangelo, and the Accademia, where Michelangelo’s original David lives. Both places were beautiful and definitely worth a visit. I didn’t understand why David is such a big deal until I was standing in front of it, amazed by its size and details and perfection. It really is awe-inspiring. We walked along the Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) on the Arno River, which is interesting because it’s one of the few (maybe only?) still existing that has shops built on it.
At various points during our stay in Florence, we also saw several other museums. I wish I could remember the names, but it was about this time that I’d been traveling so much that museums, palaces and churches were all sort of starting to blend together. I also stopped fastidiously recording everything we did each day (I am not writing all of this from memory… haha).
The next day, we went to the Medici Chapel. The House of Medici was a politically influential family that rose to prominence in 14th century Florence. The family tree includes no less than 4 popes – now that is a pretty intense family. The Medicis were never monarchs, but they might as well have been, as they dominated Florentine government. Florence wouldn’t be what it is today – a huge historical art house, really – if not for the Medicis and their encouragement of the Italian Renaissance.
Later, we went inside Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, more commonly known as Il Duomo, and its accompanying museum, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. We climbed the 414 steps to the top of Giotto’s Campanile (an arduous task when your daily sustenance consists of pasta and gelato), from the top of which we could see all of Florence spread out before us, and some of the Tuscan fields on the edges of the city. I could have stayed up there forever, watching the miniature people below me, whose umbrellas made them nothing more than colorful blotches on cobblestone, wander between weary old buildings that have seen and weathered so much but are now just buildings.
Also in the Piazza del Duomo and opposite the cathedral, we saw replicas of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, the gilded bronze doors of the Florence Baptistry. Some of the door’s original panels, along with many other artifacts and pieces of the Duomo, are now in the Museo dell’Opera for preservation purposes.
It was on our way to the chapel that Melissa and I got tickets for not having a bus ticket. We were waiting directly behind the bus driver with money in our hands to pay for our tickets, but these bus drivers look at you like you’re annoying when you try to pay them. They just usher you onto the bus and start driving before you’ve given them you’re money. You really have to go out of your way to pay them, and I think it’s because they want us tourists to get caught so they can fine us. Which is exactly what happened. The 2 policemen who talked to us pretended not to speak any English, so we couldn’t even explain ourselves. We went to the station’s police department when we got off the bus to pay, and even there, suddenly nobody spoke any English. We couldn’t argue our case at all, and these officers and our bus driver (who was apparently in training, looked like he was 18, wore fancy sunglasses and giant studs in his ears, and might very well have been a cast member of Jersey Shore) were pretty much laughing at us. It made my blood boil. I am normally a calm person and it really takes a lot to genuinely piss me off, but in this situation – excuse my language – I was ready to flip a bitch. I thankfully didn’t because I was dealing with foreign police and wasn’t particularly in the mood to get arrested or escorted away… haha. But clearly, this put a bit of a damper on my Medici Chapel experience.
It’s a sorry thing that this is one of my more prominent memories of Italy, because it’s a great country. This, and the incredibly rude salesman at a stall in one of the markets who refused to sell a purse to Melissa. This, and the messed up, inefficient trains. This, and rude Giovanni in Pisa (though he redeemed himself a bit by apologizing for his attitude the next morning). This, and the woman at one of the clubs we went to who shortchanged me 10 euro for my ticket and then refused to listen to me. This, and the fact that people were curt, they didn’t smile, they seemed perpetually irritated by any kind of tourist. A city can be full of the most beautiful things in all the world, but if its people are rude, that city is no longer beautiful to me. Dublin is significantly less attractive than Florence, but Dublin’s people are the absolute nicest people I have ever met, and for that reason alone, Dublin ranks higher than Florence in my mind. I miss the warm people of Dublin; I miss nothing in Florence.
Well, that’s a lie – I miss the 45 euro I had to cough up for that ticket.
CANNES, FRANCE: April 8-10
That first night in Cannes, we had dinner at a place that served American-sized portions – gasp! Claire, Marcos, Melissa and I walked around the city and sat by the beach for a bit before going to bed. Beaches at night are always lovely . I read a chapter or two of Watching the English, which was an excellent book to read while not in London, where I tried to keep the cover of the book concealed at all times out of a concern that the English would think I was attempting to study them and their mannerisms like a nosy foreigner (which I was, but they didn’t need to know that).
Then I laid down for a glorious 8 hours of sleep, which I hadn’t had in God knows how long!
Cannes provided a nice break from the go-go-go that had been the rest of our trip so far. The sun was out and it was hot the next day, so we grabbed sandwiches and made a beeline for the beach to take advantage of such great weather. The beach was just like you’d expect a Mediterranean beach to be: pure blue and sand and sun, flush-faced kids, topless women, old ladies in bikinis, ice cream stands, a man playing an accordion on the street.
Claire and Britt spent the majority of the afternoon there, but Marcos, Melissa and I got a bit restless, so we opted for a petit train (small train, video #8) tour of the city. The train wound up to Suquet, the highest point, down the oldest street, and all along the Promenade de la Croisette, a famous sea-side avenue that’s home to countless expensive hotels where actors and other rich people stay, as well as the Palais des Festivals where the Cannes Film Festival is held each year.
Afterwards, we tried to catch a ferry to the Ile St. Marguerite, where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned, but we were too late. Instead, we got espresso and gelato and people-watched and bonded (not that Marcos, Melissa and I needed any more bonding time). We reunited with Britt and Claire for dinner and that night, we took a couple bottles of wine down the beach. I like going out and dancing, but I am always even more down for chill nights that involve nothing but wine on the beach .
Cannes was lovely, and like you’d expect it to be: pricey meals, no shortage of high-end shops, and people sporting all sorts of designer labels. It’s oddly overflowing with a large number of tiny old ladies who are always dressed to the nines. They definitely put me and my ankle socks, Keds, unruly hair and makeup-less face to shame, that’s for sure!
NICE, FRANCE & MONACO: April 10-13
I think that Nice is one of my favorite places in the whole world. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly, the Mediterranean Sea is sparkling and endless, and there’s a village-like Provençal quaintness to everything. One of my favorite English words is “lovely,” and Nice is the definition of it.
Our first day in Nice, we walked around and saw the Cathedral Ste. Reparate, Palais Lascaris, and walked up to the Parc de la Colline du Chateau, which is gorgeous! After staring down at the blue-green waves lapping at a sandless beach of smooth gray rocks, we decided the only logical next move was to make our way down to the beach. Claire and Britt stayed back a bit, but Marcos, Melissa and I walked all the way down to sit on the rocks. We stepped out into the water and discovered it was absolutely freezing despite the sunshine, but just dipping our toes in wasn’t enough. Earlier, we’d seen a group of people diving into the sea off some cliffs, and Melissa decided she wanted to do the same. Somehow, she managed to convince Marcos and I to join her, and I am forever grateful she did!
Alas, we didn’t have our swimsuits on hand, but we made do without them. One by one, we climbed out to the edge of this cluster of rocks, stripped down to our underwear, took a deep breath, and jumped into the ice cold Mediterranean Sea! The water hit me like icicles, but it was completely exhilarating – definitely a highlight of this trip (minus the buzzed group of guys trying to take pictures of us and hooting and hollering – gross)! We stretched out on the sun-warmed rocks to dry off, but when it was time to head back to the hostel, putting my skinny jeans back on was not the most comfortable experience. But completely worth it!
That night we discovered clubs in Nice are completely overpriced, so we hit up a few bars and called it a night. It was a good thing we got our fill of the sun and sea, because the next day was pretty windy. We made the longish uphill trek to Musée Matisse, had afternoon hot chocolate, éclairs and pistachio cookies, then chilled at the hostel for a couple hours. My old grudge against naps resurfaced, so while others slept, I read, washed my underwear in the sink (hey, you’ve got to improvise when traveling!) and called home. After dinner, we saw a movie called Chloe with Amanda Seyfried, which turned out to be one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen!
The next day, we took a daytrip out to Monaco. The status of this place is somewhat confusing. It’s officially the Principality of Monaco and is a city-state, which means the country of Monaco is synonymous with the city of Monaco. They are one and the same: Monaco is the only city in the country of Monaco. It is ruled by a constitutional monarchy. Monte Carlo is simply a region of Monaco. Whilst in Monaco, we saw Le Grand Casino in Monte Carlo (but couldn’t go inside, unfortunately), the Musée Oceonographique et Aquarium, the Jardin St. Martin, the Vieille Ville (old part of the city), Palais Princier, and Centre Commercial de Fonteville.
We missed the last train back to Nice, except Claire, who managed to jump in before the doors closed in our faces! The rest of us took a bus back. Monaco is beautiful, nestled into mountainsides overlooking the sea, but it’s probably much more fun if you’re old and rich – not exactly a #1 destination for student travelers on a budget!
The south of France really is just like it looks in pictures, and I was sad to leave for Italy the next day, though we’d already begun eating Italian food. Turns out the regions are so close that everybody eats lots of bread and pizza and pasta, which, by the end of SPRING BREAK 2010, had wreaked havoc on my body. This semester, really, has wreaked havoc on my body (though last semester wreaked havoc on it in an opposite extreme: not enough food + too much coffee = one frighteningly thin Nimisha).
I didn’t think to buy any souvenirs there, though, which is maybe unfortunate. My only souvenirs from France are a rock from the beach in Nice, a toothbrush because I lost mine, and an expensive French deodorant. I don’t know if French people just aren’t into antiperspirants or something, but I had to search long and hard for any deodorant-type product, and all I could find was this dinky little thing that cost twice as much as it should!
Ah, well, at least my teeth and my armpits now get fancy French treatment everyday.
At long last, I shall attempt to catch up on blogging about my travels! It’s a daunting task. I’ve been waiting for the opportune moment — large blocks of spare time — in which to blog extensively about Amsterdam, Dublin, SPRING BREAK 2010 and Paris, but it looks like that opportune moment does not, in fact, exist. I am leaving in exactly 1 week, and I’d like to unburden my conscience of these untold stories! I’ll do this by cities instead of by days, like I did Venice. There were just too many days involved in SPRING BREAK 2010. Twenty-six, to be precise. That’s too many.
BARCELONA, SPAIN: April 2-6
To describe Barcelona in the briefest way possible, I should say that Barcelona feels like home. That’s just it, there’s no other way to put it: Barcelona feels like home. The streets, the crumbling buildings, the sunshine in some way reminded me of India. The fact that I could communicate in a language other than English also helped (except when the language was Catalan, which is nothing like Spanish). Spring break allowed me to dust off my ol’ Spanish and French, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could get by! I think I could probably reach some degree of fluency if I spent enough time in either a Spanish-speaking or French-speaking country.
We arrived in Barcelona on Friday night (after an unsavory episode at the airport in London that involved overweight baggage) and went straight to Sant Jordi Hostel, where we were given maps and fun little pins with the Sant Jordi dragon on them. After a team meeting to plan out the next couple days, we just went to bed at 3 a.m. The next morning greeted us with gorgeous, sun-drenched weather! We walked along Las Ramblas, which is the city’s uber touristy street (all cities seem to have a tourist central), and through La Catedral Barcelona. Next, we toured La Casa Batlló, designed by the famous Spanish Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí is pretty celebrated in Spain and rightly so! His buildings are incredibly unique and otherworldly, like they’ve been lifted out of some Dr. Seuss book. La Casa Batlló is full of windy, smooth ergonomic designs that make the house seem like a living, breathing dragon of some sort.
Throughout the next couple days, we saw La Sagrada Familia (skimped out on seeing the inside – honestly, a church is a church is a church); took a funicular up to the castle in Montjuic, from which we could see the whole of the huge city and its seaports; saw the Magic Fountains of Montjuic (video #7); got into the Picasso Museum for free, where I gathered that Picasso wore rather interesting pants; toured El Palau de la Musica Catalan, a gorgeous building with a stained glass skylight; picknicked on sandwiches and fresh fruit juice in Park Güell, which is huge, lovely, and full of life (and also where, I believe, an America’s Next Top Model final runway show was once filmed); wasted money to see the Gaudí House Museum, which wasn’t worth it at all; lounged and relaxed on the beach, even though it was a bit chilly despite the sun – it was still nice to be on the sand and have Santa Monica flashbacks; ate tapas, paella, churros with chocolate and drank sangria.
As for nightlife… On our second night in Barcelona, we went on the city’s version of a pub crawl, except it was clubs and bars. We got on a party bus with a bunch of other tourists, met some friendly Spaniards from Pamplona, hit up several clubs and collected our free drinks (including a glass or two of cava, a Spanish sparkling wine), and danced the night away! It was a lot of fun, but I didn’t get to bed until 5 a.m. On our third night, we took it easy at the hostel. For our last night, we got into some random club on the beachfront for free, where I met Josep, the Spaniard from Valencia who lived in London for 5 years who I met up with for ice cream a few weeks ago. Didn’t get to bed until 4 a.m., and we were up in about 3 hours to catch a train to Marseilles in the most rushed and panic-stricken way possible (what can I say, we like to live life on the edge).
Our 3 days Barcelona were some of the best days of the whole Eurotrip – but I don’t know that I could continually live on the city’s schedule of 9-10 p.m. dinners, then just heading out for the night around midnight or 1 a.m. and stumbling in at some wee hour of the morning. You’d never see enough daylight! Regardless, Barcelona was one of those places I missed before I even left. You know, one of those places your heart aches to even think about leaving.
MARSEILLES, FRANCE: April 6-8
Marseilles was significantly less fun than Barcelona and I think I was alone in my group in that I still liked the city, despite the misadventures and torrential downpours we experienced there. Before I get into that, though, I should briefly discuss the bane of my existence that are French railway strikes.
Of all the weeks in the year the SNCF could strike, it had to be when I was traveling across France by train. I should have expected this, as I learned last semester that God holds some sort of grudge against me and likes to trip me up whenever he can (YOU CAN’T DEFEAT ME, FYI!). We ended up stranded in Montpelier for 3.5 hours en route to Marseilles and almost had to cough up ridiculous sums of money for last-minute tickets on the few trains that were running, despite the fact that we already had Eurail passes (which, by the way, I’m not sure are worth their cost). Little did I know at the time that this was just the first of many transportation problems to come!
I will say this much, though: the French, even in the midst of strikes and cancellations and general hullabaloo, are more efficient and helpful than the Italians. But I will save my gripes about Italy, which really just rubbed me the wrong way, for when I get to that point!
We eventually made it to Marseilles, had an excessively large Indian dinner, and called it a night. We were up early the next morning for a ferry ride to Chateau d’If, where the fictional Count of Monte Cristo was imprisoned. The little island, despite being home to a lone prison, is actually quite beautiful. Calm, clear blue water crashing on shores of strewn rocks, the only other sounds being the occasional squawking of seagulls (which, according to several all-caps signs are DANGEROUS! and should be left alone).
After arriving back at the docks of Marseilles, which were bustling with fish markets, we played (yes, I’m 21 and I like playing in parks) in the park at Palais de Longchamp; I tried panach’, a drink made of beer and lemonade and really quite good; we went up to the Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde, where we got a stunning view of Marseilles and its ports; tried navettes, traditional orange-scented Marseilles cookies, from Four de Navettes, the bakery where the cookies were invented in 1781 – I was dismayed to discover the cookies are unfortunately floury and gross; walked around the Vieux Port area; boarded a 2.5 hour ferry tour of the calanques, which are like Mediterranean fjords, according to Wikipedia.
Now is where things started to fall apart. The moment we boarded the ferry, it got very cold and windy. Then it started to pour. The waves were rolling and the boat was rocking a ridiculous amount. As it turns out, Marcos and I were the only ones in our group who don’t experience any sort of seasickness – Claire ended up feeling pretty sick and Melissa and Britt also weren’t doing too well near the end. The thing is, once you’re on this ferry, you can’t get off. So despite the fact that the calanques were actually quite beautiful and trying to keep our balance while attempting Titanic-esque poses at the head of the ferry was fun for a while, by the end of the nearly 3 hours, everybody just wanted to be somewhere warm and stationary. Oh, and the tour was entirely in French. Of course.
Claire and Britt went back to the hostel after that rain-soaked fiasco, while Marcos, Melissa and I went to the Hotel Belle-Vue, where we tried pastis, a traditional licorice-flavored aperitif. We went to the tiny restaurant in which Colin Firth proposes to the Portuguese love of his life in Love, Actually and disturbed the regular patrons by taking touristy pictures on the steps After dinner we headed back to the hostel to nap and shower and so I could be at a computer at 10:15 p.m. to register for my fall classes at USC.
The night progressed very strangely from here on out, and we didn’t really sleep. I laid down for a nap at 1 a.m. (yes, a nap at 1 a.m.), was up at 2:15 to go out (yes, to go out), but we discovered nightlife was somewhat dead, so we walked down to Cours Julien, which was also dead at 3:15 a.m. All the while it continued to rain, and the only people on the streets were somewhat sketchy… haha. Back at the hostel, I went to bed at 3:30 but was up again at 5 a.m. to be the first in line to ensure we could get on a train out of Marseilles that day. Melissa was nervous the strikes would mess up all our travel plans, and it’s a good thing, too: the original train we were supposed to take was cancelled and people were trying to get on trains left and right.
We hopped onto a train to Aix-en-Provence, then switched to a different train to Cannes. We were crammed like sardines on the second train: all the seats were full and people (including us) lined the floor up and down the aisles and the stairs. It was a bit of a hot mess. I spent several hours on that train unable to fall asleep, with my long body folded into an awkwardly small space. Unfortunately, this is a skill that will help me in life never, like my other skills of whistling and solving Rubik’s cubes.
Needless to say, when we finally reached our hotel in Cannes after much delay and had settled into our hotel (NOT hostel, for once!), I promptly passed out for an hour.
Six — count ‘em, 6 — new videos added to the Videos page:
- Magic Fountain of Montjuic in Barcelona
- Petit Train Tour in Cannes
- Bike Ride in Pisa
- Astronomical Clock in Prague
- Street Dancers in Paris
- My flat in London
These videos are all relatively boring. But they’re memories for me, which is the purpose of this entire blog, after all.
Today I finally visited the British Museum. Excellent! Yesterday Marcos and I spent hours reading down by the Thames. I got significantly darker/no longer look anemic. Also excellent! The day before that I went to Piccadilly Circus to see a movie in theatres by myself for the very first time (how have I never done this before?!). The movie I saw was Kites, a Bollywood film set in Las Vegas about Mexicans and Indians, in which everyone is speaking a mash-up of English, Spanish and Hindi. Not so excellent.
Crossing things off The List one at a time! Success. If I do everything, maybe I will be ready to leave when the time comes? Here’s hoping. But it’s much more likely that I will just burst into tears and melt into a blubbering mess on June 5. Countdown to the USA: 12 days.
I’ve run out of words. A random assortment of photos from just a few of the moments in the past weeks that I failed to capture in writing:
We finally, finally made it to Harrods, the most famous department store in all of London. Harrods has the most beautiful food court I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. I can’t describe it. You’ll have to see it for yourself one day. It’s like heaven full of cheese and chocolate and tea and musical tins stacked with shortbread biscuits.
That Friday, May 14, we took a daytrip to Stratford-upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born and lived for a while. This picture pretty much captures the place, I think: beautiful, colorful flowers and rickety old buildings constructed entirely from poetic charm, nailed together board by board.
The pain of such excessive standing was somewhat alleviated by the consumption of apple pie, which we brought with us. Along with bottles of cider, a package of cookies, and a bag of tortilla chips. We came prepared! People eyed us as we forked apple pie in the pit, but I think really they just wanted a piece.
At the Tate Modern Museum, Marcos & I joined in the interactive art . We also saw a very disturbing film, but that is another story entirely. Oh, modern art!
Oh, yeah, and I went to Paris in my spare time. Took an 8-hour bus there and back — that’ll have to be its own blog entry. Here’s our crew in front of the glass pyramids at the Louvre. Paris is — as expected, as the world knows it, as I remembered it from when I was 11 — charmingly romantic .
When I got back from Paris, London was in flames. Ok, not really — it’s just really hot here now. I’m not complaining! Today, Marcos and I spent a warm, lazy day lounging in the grass along the River Thames, reading and soaking up the glorious sun. This amazing weather is only going to make it that much harder to leave this wonderful place in two weeks!