Avoiding Endings

So, I have been avoiding doing this. I seem to think that if I just completely neglect my travel blog that then maybe my journey will not come to what feels like a screeching halt. But, alas, I need to write.

 

Feelings suck.

I hate them.

BOO EMOTIONS.

 

I think that the past few weeks have been the most emotional weeks I have ever had, but I cannot really do my feelings justice. Within my group of study abroad friends there is this presence of a profound need to explain the shift and turmoil that has manifested within us, however it becomes impossible when put to the test. In the end, the only thing that truly pacified this desperate need to explain ourselves was being with each other; as silly as it sounds we didn’t want to leave one another.

 

Study Abroad has been an array of things for me; when I began this semester in Florence I was extremely uncertain of myself. I spent the entire day before flying to Italy holding back a flood of tears, and the terrifying reality that I was going to be somewhere I knew nothing about. I am a planner; schedules and consistency are two aspects of my life I treat religiously. I read my earlier journal entries and look back on my worries and cannot help but laugh a little. It is really important to me that I can see that change, I can read and see my growth.

 

I could go through the dinners, locations, and sights I visited before I departed, but honestly that is not what I remember most about my last few nights in Florence. I don’t want there to be any confusion: I LOVE FLORENCE! In a lot of ways this city is more home to me than any other place I have lived. My experience here has given birth to a newer version of myself; a person I am proud to be and am honored to get to know. But I don’t think that I can give all of the credit to Florence for what has happened within the last four months. I have learned, through it all, that I could be anywhere in the entire world; Budapest, Krakow, Sliema, Barcelona, London, or Florence and it would be nothing to me if the people I loved weren’t standing beside me.

 

Student Life in Florence does this really awesome thing where they designate the last weekend a no travel weekend. I will willingly admit that when Carli and I saw this we scoffed, how dare someone tell us not to travel when we only had so many weeks in Europe? Ignorant adults, trying to keep us down (Sorry Shelley), we decided we were definitely going to travel, and we left a city in Italy for that last weekend. But then, as the days began dwindling and our focus was more on our SL family than traveling we finally understood; why would we leave this experience for any more time? We ate, drank, explored, laughed, cried, and breezed like we were dying, and at the end of that weekend it kind of felt like we were…

 

Coming home is something no one talks about. No one tells you that being back in a place you no longer fit is paralyzing; how does one explain to friends and family that this small space you can no longer occupy? No one tells you that jetlag on the way home is substantially worse than on the way to Italy; I spent many mornings exchanging texts with fellow Florence friends at 3 am, doing laundry and catching up on Greys Anatomy. No one tells you that a dark cloak of “there is nothing to look forward to” covers every recognizable aspect of yourself, and you begin to wonder when you’ll be excited again. But the life comes back in the small things; reuniting and reminiscing with study abroad friends, recounting stories to siblings and family, and catching up with people that you haven’t seen in almost a year.

 

As I make this final travel post, I know its about 3 weeks after I have finished traveling, I must express my appreciation for my people. Carli Pignolet, what would I do without you? There was a distinct time in my life, after the catty high school drama and the backstabbing and the petty girlish games, when I was certain there was no such thing as a true best friend. Someone who sees your highest highs and scary lows and still manages to get you out of bed for a dance party, or pops in a sad movie just to match your tears. There is absolutely no way I could have done Florence without you, and I hope you realize the genuine truth in that. You have stood by me and helped me and tried to understand my recovery for longer than I ever expected, and bottom line is, you have always showed up. While having a friend invest in me so much often scares me, it is humbling and quite astonishing to feel so unconditionally loved.

 

Even when we admitted to wanting to murder each other after being together for 4 months straight.

 

As sad as I am to wrap up this blog, it makes me confident that I will continue to excel and discover things through my life. Here is to taking chances, not playing it safe, and becoming unapologetically me.

 

 

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Fish, Whiskey, and What are the Odds?

I am having a hard time finding the words to describe how, exactly, I am feeling right now. As I am sitting in the student lounge at GIF, surrounded by friends I didn’t know 5 months ago, I am experiencing a battle within myself over being sad that my time is dwindling, and trying to be as positive as possible. It is a hard aspect of study abroad to navigate, and it is actually quite jarring how truly difficult it is going to be to readjust to home, much more difficult than it was to adjust to Florence.

I haven’t blogged in about two weeks, but it is for a very good reason! Carli and I have had an array of visitors coming in and out of SL. Thank goodness that Massimo and Silvia are the best pensione parents ever, because they host a lot of friends. Last Thursday I was literally shaking with excitement; in Italian my professor asked me if I was going to explode! HOW COULD I CONTAIN MYSELF? MY PUCKBUDDY WAS COMING! That’s right readers, Brianna came to visit me in Florence, and brought her amazingly introspective sister Ashtin. To say that seeing Brianna was just what I needed would be a drastic understatement. The friendship that this girl has given me has proven something I have never before experienced; Brianna offers a level of understanding, compassion, love, support, and heavily sarcastic humor that I really appreciate, and cherish too.

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So after a week of soaking her in, having sleepovers, and getting to talk face to face again, I had to say goodbye. The last time I had to do this we were at the Spokane Airport in December and it took everything for me not to burst into tears about the five month gap between seeing her. But this time it is only for one month, and I will be back to the dirty Spo sooner than I think! Having these two as roommates was so much fun, I got to cuddle up between two really remarkable women. I am really excited to have some adventures with Ashtin this summer because I simply can’t be away from her for too long!

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While I loved having them stay in SL with me, there was no way that I could have predicted what their actual time here would be like. It went really well, but then it was April Fools day and we have some very creative neighbors. When we returned to our room Brianna, Collin and I smelled something awful. We knew, right away, that there was a fish hidden somewhere in our otherwise clean room. We began looking all over when all of a sudden Collin found it right under my bed.

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This. Means. War.

For those of you who don’t know me too well, I have to admit there is nothing like more than sweet revenge. So the next day, Brigid and I went to the market and bought some little fishies. Right when we got back we went into Brigid’s room and our eyes watered from the absolute horrid scent of their bedroom. Angry and determined we started moving Sarah and Brigid’s beds to find three squid, suctioned to the floor and ink everywhere. Thank God for Brianna, she was the only one tough enough to pick them up…with gloves of course.

So then we did what any competent person would do.

We squished the squids behind Jack and Austin’s wardrobe. We hid fish under their beds, Jack’s hat, and Austin’s dresser. We threw the last squid on top of their closet, the best hiding place ever. Their room smelled HORRIBLE. Soggiorno Laura smelled horrible. The war is continuing, although I am really hoping the fish portion is over.

Brianna and Ashtin were awesome about it, and Brianna of course helped me plot my revenge. That revenge almost included pig intestines, but I am told sometimes I take it too far. My parents, who were visiting Florence last week, thought this was hilarious of course. Jack detailed out how everything went down when we were all at dinner at Dantes. I am so glad they got to experience my friends and my growth here in Italy. I can’t really put into words just how things have shifted, but I am eager to continue this journey when I get back home. The trick is, I have to remember to evolve and not devolve in any way.

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I feel on top of the world!

During dinner Collin introduced my parents to a game we play, a lot, in Florence. It is called what are the odds and basically if you lose the challenge then you have to commit to it. Collin what are the odds-ed me that I would take a shot with my dad. He won. Here is to Whiskey and a very rough Thursday morning.

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True father daughter bonding right there…I don’t really know how you can be any closer with your father than taking shots together. My mom was really fun to have around as well, and EVERYONE kept telling us that we were twins, that she is so young, that she could be my sister. Such a bittersweet compliment …. 🙂 Just teasing! I loved it.

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After a week in Florence I joined my parents in Rome. We toured the Vatican, the Colosseum, Palentine Hill, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. I had been to all of these places on opening tour, so I dedicated my day to taking selfies with my unsuspecting parents. T’was a grand time.

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I am, like, super cultured.

This past week was one for the books; it is one of the best weeks I have had in my entire life. Being around people who challenge me, accept me, love me, and support me has been the absolute biggest blessing here in Florence. It is something that has always been present, but I am just learning to accept it. Brianna is a huge part of that, and I am proud to say that we kicked pasta’s butt.

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Just think of it like long noodles…with some sauce.

Love you BriBanana!

 

 

Elaina Pignolet: The Little Traveler That Could

I’m Going to Stick to Carry-ons from Now On

There is a reason it has taken me this long to write my Spring break experience, I swear. On the plane back I was very busy watching children’s movies and when I got home and unpacked, I was much too tired to do anything but sleep after being up for more than 24 hours. Or maybe I am just procrastinating because there is so much to say and I’m not a writer. So please ignore how poorly written and lacking in good grammar this is.

The week I left for Florence to visit Carli and Cait was a whirlwind of midterm papers and projects, so I didn’t have much room in my brain to prepare for the big adventure I was about to embark on. For example, I panic packed almost my entire wardrobe and 5 pairs of shoes. I also did not get the address of where I was going (their pensione), which is wise to have when travelling. This will come in later.

After the stressful week, I was excited to get on the plane, watch movies, sleep, and not worry about anything more. Obviously, that was not in the cards for me. I get to the airport on the 6th and the attendant asks me why I am going to Paris on the 8th. Ummmmmm, I am definitely not going to Paris on the 8th. She informs me that someone has changed my flight plans. My flight to Florence had been cancelled so the airline without informing me, changed my plans to fly through Paris and to Florence 30 hours after I was supposed to get there originally, with a 24 hour layover in Amsterdam. No thank you. After spending so much time on the phone with the airline to figure out what had happened, we didn’t have time to get me onto an earlier flight to Florence. So the attendant ushered me towards security and told me to deal with it in Portland, where they then told me to take care of it in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam (apparently Amsterdam is below sea level—fun fact), I had to wait in a long line to talk to someone with a thick Dutch accent to get to Florence. There were no earlier flights with seats, so I settled to fly to Pisa. “My bag will get transferred there?” I asked, doubtful. “Yes, we will make sure it gets on the plane.” It didn’t.

Carli had told me to bus to the Pisa train station to get a train to Florence, but I got confused and got a bus ticket to the Florence train station. I didn’t have Wi-Fi to tell her I would be later than expected. When I got to Florence, Carli and I wandered Santa Maria Novella train station for about an hour and a half looking for each other. At one point we were in the same McDonalds at the same time, but in different parts. I was scared for myself that I would never find her and have to spend the night in the train station because I couldn’t contact her or get to her pensione. Thankfully, a nice police officer made me a Wi-Fi hotspot so I could contact them. He then tried to flirt with me. I was definitely not in the mood for that so I left and made my way to Carli and Cait with my backpack, pillow, and tear-streaked face.

Safe and sound we decided I really needed a drink—that was definitely the most stressful travel experience I have ever had—so we went to Zaza where we got wine drunk and had the best rosemary potatoes I have ever had. After dinner, we went out to wander the streets of Florence. As we were walking, I looked up to see the Duomo, right in front of me. The surprise and unexpectedness made the moment so beautiful. We all got chills. That was the way the night went; us wandering the streets and casually pointing out the amazing buildings, churches, and statues under the clear black sky. I remember getting a little ping of jealousy thinking about how Carli and Cait get to see these amazing buildings every day as they are walking to school or to the bars. Speaking of bars, we did go to a bar where I stole a pint class for my dad, a habit of his own. He will be so proud!

The next day we trained it to Naples, where we boarded another train to Sorrento. Well, we thought it was going to Sorrento. As Cait mentioned, we ended up in a very scary part of Italy. Thank god it was daytime.

The next day, Carli and I left our adorable (but cold—the heater in out room was broken) flat to go to Naples to try to retrieve my bag, which was supposed to have gotten there the previous day. After an hour of travel, we get there and my bag is not there. Great. They tell us it will be there at 4, so we decide to wait and kill 3 hours in the airport. So, we shopped and checked out Italian soccer boys and came back at 4. Surprise surprise, the bag didn’t make it onto the flight. Carli and I may have cried a little. When we told Cait, she asked us if we were being punked. It sure felt like someone was composing some evil experiment on how complicated my travel could get before I cracked. By the time we left around 6, we had arranged for my bag to be shipped to where we were staying. Although, this made me nervous because we were in a gated apartment community. I kept having visions of them trying to drop it off but not being able to and Carli and I having to spend another day in Naples. Naples is not the place to be. Don’t go. Ever. Or Pisa. We hate Pisa too.

When we got back, Marila and Cait had prepared a beautiful dinner. They even bought me a Kinder egg (my obsession of the week) and laid it on my bed. They are the best.

The next day, we got coffee (I had a lot of cappuccinos) wandered Sorrento, shopping, and having a photo shoot. It was nice to just see the town. However, the next day was what we were most excited about.

Capri. We ferried over early in the morning and immediately got on a boat to see the Blue Grotto. The weather was perfect and the splash from the waves was so blissful. It got much less blissful when they told us we had to climb into tiny canoes. The inside of the cave was huge! The captains’ (would we call them that?) chants echoed in the space. It was all just really cool and ewe spent the boat ride back wondering how nature can make such cool things. Also? Who finds them? We got to see the Arco Naturale, another cool thing nature made. This did take some hiking and my calves were definitely sore the next day.

The next day was Malta! Before we left, we had to make a little trip so I could get Limon cello so I could at least try it once (grossest thing I have ever had) I honestly don’t remember how we got there. I have taken so many trains and busses and planes this past week, I can’t keep them straight. But, alas, we did and our house was amazing. But again, cold. I also have 32 mosquito bites because the house wasn’t well sealed. We woke up, ate a bunch of Maltese bread, and waited for Tessa and Annie! We were all tired so we went grocery shopping, ate, and slept. In the evening, we went to the clubs! I had never been to a club before so this was a new experience. A really fun one though.

The next day we got group haircuts (Tessa is a blond now) and did some more clubbing.

Our last day, we went to Valletta, but we were all very exhausted and didn’t have it in us to see much. We went to some gardens, shopped and had lunch. Annie and Yesenia had rabbit, which grossed me out, but it is one of the traditional dishes of Malta. I do applaud them for being able to stomach that while making jokes about how the Easter Bunny won’t be coming this year because they ate it. That evening we said goodbye to Tessa and left for Florence.

I packed up and got in bed. Three hours later, my alarm went off to catch a cab for the airport at 4 am. Yay. Leaving was awful. It felt like I had barely gotten any time. Getting to see my sister and Cait was incredible. I didn’t realize how much I had missed them! Cait was my adopted older sister for the week and Carli and I only got in one fight!! Thanks Carli and Cait for letting me crash your spring break! You guys are the best. Can I come back yet?

Lemon Cello and Couchbeds

Finally, it is spring break! While it was difficult to say goodbye to groups of friends Carli and I were both ecstatic to embark on our spring break in Sorrento and Malta. Majority of our friends left on Thursday but Car and I stayed in town and anxiously awaited Elainas (Carli’s sister) arrival. We were so excited to host her for a week, and we were counting down the moments until we could pick her up. I won’t go into detail about the insanity that ensued because Elaina is going to guest blog at the end of her trip, but let’s just say that it was one of our lesser well planned moments of study abroad, and a lot of things didn’t go as planned. But, once we had Elaina safe and sound in our pensione we showed her as much of Florence as we could while battling her jet lag and annoyance with KLM. We ate at one of our favorite restaurants, ZaZa, filled up on wine, and took her to some of the bars and sights around the city. Watching her experience the Duomo for the first time gave both Carli and me chills; the wonder that fills a person when seeing it for the first time makes it difficult to absorb all of the details fighting for your attention.

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It was pretty cool.

The next morning we were up bright and early to take a train to Naples where we transferred to a smaller train to Sorrento. The train ride to Naples was uneventful, which is a good thing, but once we hit the Naples station things got weird. Lets just say I would never recommend staying in Naples longer than a train transfer. We loaded onto the regional train and headed toward Sorrento. Headphones in, bags piled on our laps and falling asleep we rode until the last stop…which wasn’t ours. Thankfully someone noticed our panicked faces and asked where we were trying to go. Turns out we got on the train that stops in Pomereggio and not all the way through to Sorrento. He helped us find the train we had to take back 5 stops, and then get onto a new one that would send us to our destination. He was extremely helpful and so kind…the only thing that ruined his credibility was when he casually asked if we wanted to smoke weed with him.

No thanks.

We arrived, FINALLY, at our little apartment and dropped our bags. We went out for dinner, close to falling asleep at the table, and went back to the apartment for a very much needed night of sleep. The next morning Carli and Elaina had to go back to Naples to finish a drug deal that fell through the day before, so Marila and I toured Sorrento waiting for them to return.

(Completely kidding, but they did have to go back to Naples for the day…the reason for which Elaina will explain in her guest blog.)

We walked into all of the small shops, souvenir stores, and to the beach. We got coffee at the cutest cafes and watched little kids pile gelato onto small cones. Sorrento was a dream.

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We finished our day by grocery shopping, which is not my favorite thing to do. But with Marila it was so.much.fun! This girl crashes, falls, and makes a joke about everything. I don’t understand how she manages to do it, but she can never stand upright and she is also rarely wearing pants so basically she is always making someone laugh.

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We cooked dinner all together and got a little wine tipsy and played heads up, just the four of us, and played around the apartment like children. We ran around until we were falling asleep, and we all went to bed yelling goodnight across the apartment.

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When we woke up the next day we headed out for a day of sightseeing. Marila went to get her nails done and hair cut, so Elaina, Carli and I explored the city more. Elaina, Carli and I spent majority of our time in a little Italian bookshop. The owner asked if reading children’s books was the way that we were studying Italian, which I guess isn’t that far off from the truth. Carli got the cutest book for her little second graders and it is adorable. It is really amazing to watch her light up when she talks about being a teacher someday. I have never been more certain in someone than I am in Carli; the amount she has invested in her future students is quite incredible. I can’t wait to see her in action some day.

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When we all met back up we napped and got ready to go out. We walked to the water and took lots of pictures, which we keep telling ourselves is for our parents, and we went out to dinner.

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When we walked down to the beach we had the pleasure of walking in on a cute little Italian couple gettin’ it on right where we wanted to take pictures…typical Italians. We still managed to get some cute photos in, and let me tell you Elaina has thee most photogenic face I have ever seen. Good work, Jodi and Wayne, I cannot take a bad picture of this girl! She is one beautiful little lady.

Once we got home we planned our outing the next day and we could barely wait to wake up! We may have woken up a bit later than planned and had to semi-jog to the ferry terminal. But hey, we made it! All four of us boarded the ferry to Capri with hopes for a sunny day and lots of cool sights, and we were met with just that! When we got off the ferry we went right to the tour boats for the tour of the Blue Grotto.

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Elaina still freaking looks good. See? I am not lying. Once we were out on the water the four of us decided we would be perfectly content staying on the boat the entire day…and possibly the rest of spring break. Being from hometowns that are located on the water, Browns Point and Sandpoint, we really miss the sound and feel of the waves.

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We made it to the grotto, and then quickly realized that we had to transfer into a smaller boat to fit into the grotto. I was not so confident in my ability to switch boats.

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This realization was quite terrifying because, well, we are not the most graceful women and I was about 1000000000% sure that Marila would fall into the sea. Good news, no one fell…but we did get soaked a few times. We then began our journey into the caves which were pretty damn beautiful. The natural light comes up from the bottom of the caves and lights the entire cave up with an electric blue.

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We boated around the caves as our Italian guide sang to us. It was great! After the caves we headed into the city to explore. We ended up hiking to the Arco Naturale, which is a bit of a hilly walk…and I was in wedges. Maybe not my best shoe choice but I managed to do it and I don’t have sore feet! We made it to the top and were amazed by the view. Carli and I were running around, taking pictures, and being goofy but Elaina and Marila were exhausted.

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We ended our day heading down the endless hills to catch our ferry back to Sorrento. We packed up and headed out to Malta the next day!

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When we got into Malta we realized two things: RyanAir will never, ever land smoothly and they drive on the wrong side of the road. We got to our little underground apartment around 1 am and tried to be polite as our host showed us around…but all we wanted to do was run to our beds. When we woke up we anxiously awaited Annie and Yesenia to come over and for Tessa to get in from London. It was such a treat to get to see Tessa, she is studying abroad in London, but seeing her makes it feel like it has been no time at all! We had some big plans to go explore the city…but we ended up making a couch bed and sleeping and eating all day. Only low point of Malta: no hot water…

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After sufficiently napping we decided to check out the nightlife in Malta which ended up being great! We had a blast bouncing from clubs to bars and Elaina enjoyed being legal! There were a surprising amount of American students in Malta and significantly less creepy men than in Italy.

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Our last day in Malta we were forced to get out of bed and actually see the city. We took a ferry from Sliema to Valetta and we walked around the gardens and through the small city streets. The views were incredible and the water was breathtaking…it was really, really hard to leave living on an island.

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We left Malta, and just got back to Florence last night. At four this morning we walked Elaina down to her waiting cab as she was heading back to the States today. It was a sad goodbye, and it was hard to see her leave, but we had the most fantastic time with her! When we landed in Italy I cannot describe the amount of relief we felt when we heard Italian again. Florence feels like home, sometimes more so than Spokane ever has, and getting back to Italy just feels like where I am supposed to be. Now, back to school.

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Fighting for Control

I have put off blogging all week, but now that Spring Break is in full force and I am not leaving Florence until Saturday I figure I should buckle down and face all that happened last weekend. We went on a Gonzaga planned trip to Krakow last weekend, and while we were interested in going both Carli and I really did not want to leave Florence. I cannot be certain where this feeling stemmed from, but we were both a little homesick for our pensione and all of our friends who were going to different locations.

There appears to be a presence of guilt hanging above our heads when we don’t want to leave Soggiorno Laura, or when we just want to rest. It is interesting to realize that study abroad comes with numerous pressures to have the time of your life, do everything possible, and always be traveling. We have most definitely been having the time of our lives, and we are trying to do everything! But sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we are human; we are taking 15 credits, teaching, doing service, learning a new culture, and traveling. Sometimes it is difficult to be okay with not feeling okay, as there is an expectation that absolutely everything will be phenomenal. I am constantly fighting to control each location, certain that I should LOVE everywhere I go, but the reality is that loving everywhere is simply impossible. Even though we weren’t sure we really wanted to go, we sucked it up and headed off to Poland.

We bussed to the train, shuttled to the airport and flew to Krakow. By the time we arrived it was 10 pm so we just checked into our hotel and went straight to bed. The next morning we woke up, ate breakfast, and met for our initial tour of the city. We walked through the old streets of Krakow and listened to the litany of history our tour guide presented us with. We explored the old University, walked through the cathedral, and saw all of the authentic Polish sights. We also noticed flags flying around the city that boasted “Krakow: Applicant City 2022” which we learned is promoting Krakow, Poland to host the next Olympics.

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Carli and I were excited, though, to have a weekend with Collin. As I am writing this Carli and I are laughing because Collin has dealt with more of our best friend fights, ups and downs, and drunk tantrums than anyone else we know. It is insane to even think that we didn’t know him a few months ago. We became really fast friends which has been amazing, but it has also served as Gonzaga in Florence’s rumor of the semester. Someone (cough, RORY) started a rumor that Carli and I are competing for Collin in a Hunger Games style battle of who is the best. Of course, when we heard this we almost died laughing. All three of us thought it was the silliest thing we had heard, and then we thought of ways to play it up.

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It has been quite entertaining.

 

Back to Krakow…so we went on a tour, and then grabbed some lunch and met up to see the salt mines. I had never been in a mine and I was really scared that it was going to collapse or something crazy, but nothing like that happened. We started by descending 500 stairs underground. We were completely surrounded by salt; the walls, the ceiling, and the floors at times were all covered in salt. We continued downwards until we were 135 meters underground. We walked through a salt church, which still holds regular masses, and even hosts concerts sometimes!

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Before we left we licked the walls, which is really actually disgusting, but it is also a part of going into the mines to verify it actually is all made out of salt. I tried not to think of the many tongues that had probably been there before mine…gross.

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It was really, really cool and slightly terrifying. When we were done I was relieved to hear that we wouldn’t be walking back up all 800 steps that we walked down, but rather we would be taking the elevator. Little did I know that meant cramming all 30 of us into a small metal box and praying to God we weren’t to heavy.

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I was a bit nervous. Collin liked it..I think that is what that face means?

The next day was hard. We went to Auschwitz and Birkenau to tour the concentration camps. While on the 40 minute bus ride to the camps tension filled our bus until I was certain I could feel it snake between my feet and render me incapable of walking; I did not want to go. Carli and I got into a fight we were both so on edge; to emotionally fragile to really acknowledge what we were feeling. As soon as we stepped off the bus a quiet fell over our group, not because anything happened but because no one was brave enough to test out their voices. We waited until we were told what to do. We entered Auschwitz I and began walking the camp. We saw different buildings that were made into museums of the horrors that were encased in the camp. There were rooms filled with the shoes, bags, and hair of the millions of Jews that were carted through these camps like property. I couldn’t bring myself to take pictures of many of these things as I could barely look at them.

The statistics hung from the walls reminding us that many people played into this sickening history and silently warned all of the visitors that this should absolutely never happen again. We walked through the gas chambers and even though I fought for control I pushed my way out of the heavy cement walls; I could absolutely not take standing in a place where millions before me died such a terrible death. When we left Auschwitz I no one wanted to board the bus to go to Auschwitz II Birkenau. My heart physically hurt from what I had witnessed in those two hours, and I could feel anger boiling under my skin as I resented every single person who remotely supported the Nazis. But, against our urge to run from this sickening reality, we headed to the second camp.

From the moment we stepped into Auschwitz II Birkenau our tour guide made it clear; the entire purpose of this camp was extermination. The camp was giant, and the size alone was a whisper of a reminder that millions of people marched through. Seeing the different rooms each gender slept in, the wooden beds, the carved names in the wall; I felt trapped in my own body. Our tour guide took us to the monument that was built as a reminder and in honor of all of those who died. In every language there is the same saying as everyone should be reminded; humanity is a fragile thing.

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The In Between

There always seems to be a before and an after. When people discuss anything significant in their lives the encounter comes readily paired with a “before…” or “after…” and it so easily becomes how we collectively measure time. I have been thinking a lot about before I came to Italy; anxious, unprepared, worried, and excited cover all of it and none of it at the same time. In light of midterms happening this week some students have started talking about the after, “after we’ve studied abroad staying in Spokane on the weekends is gonna suck!” It shocks and saddens me that sometimes the conversation ends there; a continuing spectrum of befores and afters and not enough time spent suspended in the thick of the in between.

A lot of my life has been dedicated to planning.

I. LOVE. SCHEDULES.

One of the biggest challenges of being abroad is the lack of planning right up until something is happening. This very fact works to enable me to immerse myself in the present rather than in the before or after that so easily draw us all in. In Florence I have made an audible commitment to spending more time within each moment rather than worrying about the before, or after. While at times I want to pull my hair out, scream at the lack of decisiveness, and throw a tantrum I don’t. Partly because this would not be socially acceptable behavior, and I may not have many willing friends. But also because I don’t have to function like that, I can live a life outside of rules and boundaries and be just fine.

Last week I had the pleasure of stealing a little piece of home away for myself. My grandparents, lovingly known as Chicky and Papa, made the trip to come and see me. They arrived on Wednesday early afternoon and were guests at a lecture my law class had hosting Amanda Knox’s attorney. The lecture itself was incredible, enough to give me a high for weeks. And that paired with Chicky and Papa sitting right behind me was the absolute best…I was in heaven!

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Chicky and Papa staying with me in Florence for three days; we toured the city, saw the sights, and of course snuck away for some shopping. We sat at dinner for hours chatting, drinking, and eating Italian food all while I was drinking them in. Everything about them reminds me of being little; the touch of Chicky’s hands, the sounds of Papa’s voice when he repeats his sayings, the way they remind me of my dad. I haven’t been homesick at all, but seeing them reminded me why I love home so much, and even though leaving will be terribly hard, I know I have somewhere fantastic to return to.

In Florence we enjoyed countless meals, walks, and jokes with my grandparents and delighted in being taken care of for the weekend. I don’t think I can thank them enough for each multi-course meal, glass of wine, cup of coffee, and tour we went on. I have some pretty kick-ass grandparents.

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On Saturday we met at the hotel and left for Venice. The past few weeks Venice has been celebrating Carnivale, which is a giant celebration of the entire city. Masked strangers are everywhere and children and adults alike are dressed in full costume throwing confetti and taking pictures, sharing drinks and dancing in the streets. On the train, though, we couldn’t let all of the excitement overshadow the fact that midterms are this week. So we diligently did our homework…and Chicky took pictures.

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When we arrived in Venice we were instantly awe-struck. Both Carli and I are in love with water, so being in Florence (and Spokane for that matter) has us feeling a little landlocked. We stepped out of the train station to a symphony of seagulls and waves and were greeted with a boat-bus (it is exactly what it sounds like) because, well, the entire city is on water. We checked into our hotel, took a quick nap, and began exploring.

One thing became glaringly clear: obviously we needed masks.

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Masked and ready to go we began walking the streets of Venice, which resemble a maze more than an actual city. We blended in while feeling like we were standing out, all because of the feathered, glittery masks allowing us to feel like we could truly be anyone. While circling back to the hotel we spotted my grandparents who were sporting masks that perfectly fit their personalities: Chicky’s a chic, silver mask with a classy netted veil, and Papa’s black “like Zorro” mask, he made sure to point out.

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We ended the night with antipasti, cocktail hour, and dinner. And Carli learned how to drink and eat like a Rosellini. I am not sure she anticipated a Bellini, red wine, lemon cello, and sambucca and coffee…but that is what she got!

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We said goodnight to Chicky and Papa and headed out to San Marco Square to embrace Carnivale and immerse ourselves in the party. There was a live band and an incredible amount of people dancing and living under the mask of another person. We retuned to our hotel sleepy and a little confused as we got lost in the maze of the city.

The next morning Chicky and Papa made sure to put us on a gondola ride, as they insisted that we should not do Venice without it. We laughed because last year, when we were in Vegas for the WCC tournament we visited the Venetian Hotel. Inside is surreal, it actually looks like Venice and it has gondolas running through a fake canal. When we were there we entertained the idea of going for a ride, but then reasoned we would be in Venice soon enough. Here we were stepping onto what a year ago was a dream.

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It was a gorgeous day, I was with my best friend, and we were riding through the ins and outs of a gorgeous city. What more could I ask for? We rounded back to the hotel, packed up and headed to the train station. When we departed from Chicky and Papa we said our goodbyes with the promise to see each other in June, and we stepped back onto the streets of Firenze. This weekend was incredibly fun, and I don’t think I can say thank you enough times.

 

Chicky and Papa, if you are reading this thank you again! For everything, but especially for bringing a piece of Seattle, Burton, and my family with you. I selfishly enjoyed being the only grandchild to soak up your attention…and in turn to have you all to myself. I love you, and I can’t wait to see you in June.

 

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The BudaBest

Well, I am officially moving to Budapest. So long America, Italy, and the rest of the world. I have two suitcases, my toothbrush, and my scarves and I am heading out tomorrow, Carli in tow, of course.

WE LOVED BUDAPEST. To say this city was enchanting just isn’t doing it justice; lets begin with the hotel, shall we? After last weekend in Munich and staying in the worst hostel in the entire world we were fairly certain that a nice cardboard box with a blanket would suffice. However, walking into the Intercontinental hotel was breathtaking. Doors were opened, the lights shined down on us, and we received our room keys. I walked into my room and saw this instantly:

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I almost wept tears of joy. Carli and I split up for the weekend; I roomed with Jill and she was with Annie. I immediately texted them and we talked on and on about how nice the hotel was…we did not want to leave. We all unpacked and went to a cute little dinner spot, in a boat, on the river just outside of our hotel. It was really difficult to get an accurate feel for the currency in Hungary. Their currency is called a Forint, but Annie and I called them HUF’s (which is their abbreviation) and Carli is still cringing whenever we say it. Basically, one US dollar is 225 Forint. So image that…I took out 22,000 forint for the weekend which felt kind of like I was powerful, and about to be in a lot of trouble.

We decided to head to bed early that night because we were exhausted and our travel day started at 10:30 am and ended at 7:30 pm. We headed back to the hotel and fell fast asleep in our plush beds after checking out the pillow menu of course! The next day was tour day! We toured some of the sights around Budapest and begged our tour guide to allow us to tour Starbucks instead of the “First European McDonalds” which, by the way, is never going to be something to be proud of, America.

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Basically we half listened and half posed for Annie and her amazing camera. She captured a lot of really awesome moments on the tour.

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Isn’t Carli gorgeous? She is a gem…just a gem. I love this picture of her!

Anyways, we went to the synagogue and toured some of the ghetto in Budapest. The entire history of the Holocaust became even more chilling and real walking through the cemetery and realizing this is human history. It was terribly sad, and Carli and I are both nervous for our Krakow trip in two weeks. After our tour we instantly hit upStarbucks, because, well duh.

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After napping and walking around we remembered: it was valentines day! Feeling suddenly surrounded by the red balloons and pink hearts Jill, Annie, Sarah, Carli and I ducked into a small Bistro and ordered a round of drinks and some delicious dinner. As Jill and I were walking back to our hotel, and everyone else was going out, we felt a little discouraged about our lonely valentines day.

So we bought a bottle of wine and took a horse drawn carriage around the city.

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Best Valentines Day Yet!

The next morning we were up early, 6:30 am, to go to the Hungarian baths. Jill and I arrived in the lobby and scanned the crowd for Annie and Carli…they were nowhere to be found. Sad we could”t find them, and nervous they were going to miss this once in a lifetime experience we headed toward the bus. I thought they probably had a really fun night in the bars and couldn’t get themselves out of bed…but, as we were waiting in the underground bus station we see them, across the tracks running down the stairs. Annie couldn’t figure out how to get to us without walking across the tracks; we watched her consider it while Carli spun in circles looking for a door, or something that would lead them. Finally one of the leaders told them to go back up the stairs and down the other side. I couldn’t catch my breath I was laughing so hard, but they made it!

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Sleepy and ready to get their bath on!

The Baths were stunning, we shed our towels quickly and ran into their steamy warmth. It was like a giant hot tub surrounded so thickly with steam that I could barely see two feet in front of me. We obviously played mermaids (shootout to Heather!) and swam around enjoying our mini-spa day.

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Once we were back in the hotel, showered and stuffed full from breakfast, we boarded the bus and embarked on our bus tour. We saw so many cool things: heroes square, the market, the palace in which I am moving to. It was breathtaking.

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After the tour we were off to a school organized cooking class! Anyone who remembers my blog about grocery shopping will be able to infer that I am not the most ecstatic, or graceful cook. Being in a kitchen makes me feel extremely overwhelmed and at times anxious, but here I was with 50 people getting ready to cook a big Hungarian dinner for everyone.

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Annie, Carli, Jill and I were all on the same team which made me feel a lot more comfortable; I was willing and happy to give up my control on this one. We were put in charge of a chicken soup; we had to peel and cut carrots, onions, celery root (?), and chicken, add the water, cream, and flour. Easy enough!

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It ended up being a really fun night, and once we were done with the actual preparation of the soup we just had to let it cook. So we naturally played around in the kitchen, explored the spice racks, and ordered glass after glass of delicious red wine. It ended up being a really great experience to face something challenging for me head on, I think I needed to prove to myself that this whole “cooking” thing could be something really fun if I could just relax enough to let myself enjoy it.

New goal: Become a master chef.

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And of course having Carli there was just what I needed; someone to tell me to calm the heck down and enjoy myself. What would I ever do without her? We then got to sit down and eat all that we had prepared and let me tell you, Gonzaga has some pretty amazing budding Hungarian chefs.

I did not, DID NOT, want to leave Budapest. It was really difficult to get into the 40 minute taxi ride, the 2 hour plane, the 1 hour bus, the 2 hour train, and the 20 minute walk back to our home. I had such a fabulous time rooming with Jill; she is someone I just feel so absolutely refreshed to be around and we literally talked until we fell asleep every night, cutting off mid conversation. She is one insightful, fun, sarcastic girl and I am blessed to know her.

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Annie and Carli had a good time too! Their roommate time was spent dancing, taking model shots with their pillows, and stealing croissants from the breakfast bar. Carli still has powdered sugar in her backpack. These two together are pure, unadulterated trouble. And I love them for that.

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