The End

I’ve never really kept a diary.  Many have passed through my hands — my desire to keep a diary was always stronger than my ability to actually do so — but each would inevitably disappear into my bookcase, forgotten and growing dusty next to my Animorphs and similar relics of my childhood.  I’ve never been a patient person, nor had the self discipline to dutifully write down my thoughts as they occur to me.  Worst than that, is the way that my ideas would form like magnificent, glittering castles in my mind, only to be morphed into something clumsy when they appeared on the page: I never figured out how to bend the words without breaking them.  The glass world in my mind always shattered when I tried to make myself articulate it.  Thus, writing this travel blog has been good for me.  For once, I knew how much I’d regret not writing down these months, and I managed to actually get this thing going and was faithful to it.  Now I’m at the end of my Great European Travel Adventure and I have to say goodbye.   But I’m proud of myself for making this blog and sticking to it, unlike its many predecesors, and think it might just scratch the surface of doing Rome justice.

Before I left for Europe, I underestimated the power of travel as a mechanism for growth.  Who knew that I’d move to Italy and realize that I’m not actually content with the limits to which I’d pushed myself previously, or the lack of personal growth I’d been having.  So much of my life was stagnant, and I didn’t know it, because I’d been existing in the same space for far too long.  In being pushed out of my comfort zone in Italy, I was also pushed out of the comfortable space I’d inhabited for 21 years.  It turns out that this change was exactly what I needed, it filled a space in me that I didn’t know was empty, and it was far overdue.

I’ve been walking the streets of Rome and quietly saying my goodbyes.  I owe so much to this city, to the people I met, to the sunny days that melted into hazy nights.  When I think back on the past five months, I think about how much life bursts from every corner of Rome (and how much pasta), and how much laughter, noise, and fullness was pushed and prodded and squeezed into my time here.  I think about the panicked excitement that came with the first few weeks in Rome, the complete abandon with which I let myself be swept up into the glory of being young in Europe (and all that comes with excitable youth–you can imagine).  I think about the lovely people I met, who I was pushed out of my comfort zone to meet, who became la mia famiglia.  I think about the old Italian baker who gave us free bread at 3:00 AM the first night in Rome, the first time I ate Cacio e Pepe, the gilded mask I wore for Carnival, the languid thermal baths in Budapest, standing in the rain in St. Peter’s Square watching Pope Francis being elected, the chocolate duck-turned shot glass in Switzerland, the fifteen hours spent in churches and the Uffizi in Florence (thank God for Cat and Mimi), stumbling upon the chocolate festival in Siena, running along the Tiber and dodging tourists, making Limoncello in Sorrento, the 7-hour hike to the top of the Swiss Alps, the bungee jumping the next day in the Swiss Alps — the memories are flooding back but I’ll stop myself now.  From now on, time will pass differently and I’ll forget that which I’d like to remember of my time here, so I pat myself on the back for continuing this blog.  I’ll thank myself on the days that I know are coming, where I’ll be sitting at home feeling displaced and missing Rome.

Ultimately, I don’t know what I learned from this experience, other than that humans tend to excel when we are thrust into completly foreign worlds.  We were hoarded into apartments and campuses and restaurants and onto trains and into hostel rooms and I want to make this sentence cramped so you get the feeling of how it was — but it turns out that we deal very well in cramped spaces.  Somehow everything fits into them perfectly.  We live more fully when we know our time has an expiration date.  We take everything we are given and we make it our own (and after all, we were all really just searching for the same thing, really justing hoping we’d help each other find it).

Last night, I ate dinner with the last of my roommates who is still in Rome, at one of our favorite haunts from the semester, and all we could do was shake our heads at each other, wide eyed and in disbelief that everything was over.  How can you just pick up and move on from such a big (sometimes the smallest words are the only ones that make sense) experience?  There’s so much I want to say, and my chest is feeling like a helium balloon, but once again I can’t make these words mean as much here as they do in my heart.  So I’m going to leave it at thanks — to Rome, of course, because it is simply glorious.  To my amazing, hilarious, beautiful, crazy roommates, who made this semester one for the books.  To all the countries and cities I visited, who let me take what I needed from them and leave nothing in return.  To all the people who unconsciously lifted this semester up, and me along with it, to the sort of heights I only ever dreamed of.  Grazie mille.  Grazie.  Grazie.  Grazie.

Praha

Unlike Paris, I didn’t know what to expect in Prague.  I’d actually been to Prague when I was ten, but my memory of that trip has been gently layered over time by a gossamer haze, so Prague was really just a distant wisp of something childish in my mind.  Coming back was like visiting for the first time, and all I really knew about Prague was that schnitzel is a main food group, Pilsner Urquel is the beverage of choice for all occasions, and what I’d learned in school of the fall of Communism.

I was immediately shocked by the beauty of Prague.  The architecture is a mixture of gothic, art nouveau, baroque, and cubist — these styles shouldn’t all work with each other, especially standing side by side, but they do.  The effect is, actually, breathtaking.  

You’d think after living in Europe for five months and visiting 9 major cities that I’d be accustomed to the majesty of ancient bridges, but the Charles Bridge still left me with the feeling that I was crossing over into a fairytale (as my companion stated, Prague looks like “Disneyland for adults).  A string quartet of college students serenaded us on the bridge with Call Me Maybe, which was hilarious but maybe Dvorak would have matched the moment I was having.

I wish that we had more than one day in Prague, but the one day that we had was perfect in an unexpected sort of way.  And aren’t those days (and cities) the best?  The ones where you don’t wrestle a city into the expectations that you have, and let the city speak for itself.   

Finally, Paris

I wasn’t sure what to expect before I came to Paris, for a few reasons.  Firstly, I harbor ridiculous and unfounded animosity for the French language, because I had to take it to fulfill a language requirement in university (despite my previous five years of studying Italian) and learning French displaced the aforementioned Italian.  Secondly, my brother’s best friend has instilled in my mind his impression of a “typical” French man, complete with a silly nasal accent, twirly mustache, and penchant for loose women, which I didn’t take as fact but certainly hoped was a possibility.  Thirdly, my mother studied in Paris in her own college years, and has regaled me with stories of the beauty and glory of Paris for my entire life, which has made me curious about this city that my mother is still in love with, some thirty years later.  Add to that Quasimoto, mind-blowing croissants, and Edith Piaf, and you have my preconceived notion of Paris.

In sum, my vision of Paris before my arrival: A picturesque city filled with short, sassy French men wiggling their eyebrows and speaking out of their noses in a language I resent, the streets lined with baguettes and gargoyles, and many versions of my mother spinning by on bikes with baguettes tucked under their arms (I might be exaggerating a little, but you get the drift).

Now, after four days, I can confirm: half of this is true.  The men are indeed sassy, wiggle their eyebrows, and flaunt baguettes under their arms, but the French language is beautiful and I haven’t seen any hunchbacks yet (this didn’t stop me from posing like one in front of Notre Dame).  Paris is lovely, exactly how my mom described it, and I can picture her here, and I love that.

We crammed as much as we could into these days–everyone told me that you can’t “do” Paris in one week and that is true–the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, Notre Dame, the Arch de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, Montmartre, Saint Chapelle, the Pons Alexander, and countless stops for croissants and macarons (I could dedicate an entire post to my eating habits in France, but no one wants to read that and I don’t care to be that self reflective).

Here are a few highlights from this trip:

-The waiter at dinner last night informing me that French Onion Soup is the worlds best hangover remedy

-Getting scammed by a gypsy mother and her child who “found” a fake gold ring on the ground and gave it to me (for a price, of course.)

-La Fete du Pain (literally “the bread party”), an annual Parisian competition for which bakery makes the best bread in Paris.  I ate the best baguette of my life there, today.

-An epic eclair-induced sugar rush that resulted in the creation of my alter ego, a cheeky French toddler

-Hundreds of crazy French soccer hooligans who drove around in tiny cars with about 15 people packed inside, honked constantly, waved flags, wore neon wigs, and shouted “Merde!” and “Sacre-bleu!”

Ultimately, Paris was très bien and magnifique and…that’s about all I remember of the language.  But I may or may not be an expert at gargoyle impressions, so I clearly learned something in Paris.

Playing the tourist has been fun these past few days, it’s distracted me from my homesickness for Rome, and has made me excited for my next travel destinations, Berlin and Prague!

Post-Rome Reflections

Leaving Rome was very hard for me.  Rome is an addicting city, and I started missing it before I even left, but the experience of living abroad has wedged its way into my heart as well.  Ultimately, leaving Rome meant the end of this magical adventure I’ve been on, and the end of living a life that I’ve been dreaming of since my youth.  I let Rome wash over me like a wave, and I got swept up in the beautiful life that I was privileged enough to lead.

As you may have guessed from reading this blog, the past four months have had a pretty significant effect on me.  I left behind a lot of things in America (friends, family, my relationship, my school, my job, my sport), but I recognize now that I needed to leave everything behind to have the kind of experience that I’ve had.  I needed to let everything go so that a different kind of life could stream in, wash away what I used to know, and replace that which I’d lost with new experiences, friends, and layers of myself.  If I’m being honest with myself (and I always try to be), I wanted to completely loose myself for a few months, and see what remained.

There’s a terror that comes with plunging headfirst into a new culture, but the terror wasn’t nearly as strong as the hope for happiness.  And I found it, which I’m lucky for, and I can credit only Rome for that.  I’ll go back to America in month (after more traveling) and while I am excited to return, I don’t want to forget this feeling that the wide world I dream of really does exist, and is possible to uncover.  Of course I’ll be a traveler for the rest of my life, but Rome will always hold a special place in my heart.

Il Sole di Roma

A short post:

It was 70 degrees today, as we sat in the bright sun, in a hot garden, with the green vines creeping up the salmon colored walls.  We let the sun sink into our souls, and tried to do homework, but the beauty of the day stole everything away.  Instead, I tilted my head back, let my eyes close, let my skin burn, let the murmer of Italian fill my ears, and let the feeling of fullness burn into me.  Everything was hot, and everything was perfect, and I rubbed at the heat of the day — trying to understand it so I could recapture it — but I just rubbed myself raw.  I’m beginning to realize that I’ll never be able to come back to this place.  The levels of joy and terror inside me are rising to dangerous levels.

Amstel-Dam and Roma

Spring Break ended much too soon (although I feel like I’m on a semester-long break from “real life”).  It began with a trip to Amsterdam to visit one of my best friends, Bryn, who’s been my partner in crime since sixth grade.  Our adventures in Amsterdam were carried along on the wind of that energy, as we walked along the canals, laughing and reminiscing about Burlingame.  We visited the Van Gogh museum, Anne Frank’s annex, a Cheese Museum, a Tulip Museum, and many frequent stops for Stroopwaffles, possibly the most delicious cookie ever.  Amsterdam is absolutely beautiful: the architecture is breathtaking, the thousands of bikes are charming (there are more bikes in Amsterdam than people, as it costs 1,000 Euro to get a drivers license), and the canals are second only in my mind to Venice.

The trip to Amsterdam went too fast and came to an end too quickly, but then it was back to Rome for the second half of my break to play tour guide to my friends Jordis and Kevin, who came to Rome from their respective countries (Switzerland and the Netherlands).

The wonderful thing about showing Jordis and Kevin around Rome, aside from the sense of comfort that comes with being with great friends, was that it made me realize just how much I know about Rome (aside from the bus system, which will always remain a mystery).  From my on-site history class, I’ve learned so much about Rome.  When I walked the streets with Jordis and Kevin, I knew the buildings and their past, and I could explain their significance.  Knowing Rome so well is important, I’m starting to realize as my time here draws to a close, because studying abroad for one semester is really just a preview.  It’s a tease.  There’s also so much still to learn and experience, a few months is nowhere near enough.  Yet, at this point, I know my corner of Rome (Trastevere) very well.  I know these streets, I’ve befriended restaurant owners and fellow cafe frequenters.  I run down by the Tiber, dedicated to it despite the smell.  I offer directions to the tourists who wander through this neighborhood, the barista at the cafe near my apartment knows my order.  But all this is fleeting, and it’s almost gone.

Showing my friends around Rome highlighted this doubled edged sword that is studying abroad.  It’s a magical wonderland –for a few months.  Now Spring Break is over, and one month from today, I will leave Rome as a study abroad student.  But I will be back, and the knowledge that I’ve gained these past few months won’t leave me because I will never forget my few incredible months in one of the greatest cities in the history of the world.

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Viaggiare, Amare, e Felice

I saw a sign on the internet today, and this is what it said: “Everyone wants the same things: to travel, to love, and to be happy.” Looking at the meme, tastefully scrawled over a picture of a far-away beach at sunset, it occurred to me — I have all these things.  I am currently on the greatest travel adventure of my life, I love and am loved, and I am so, so happy.  In fact, I don’t remember the last time I felt this sense of being completely content, that everything in my life is just how it should be, and that there’s a calmness inside of me that I haven’t felt before.

It’s as if all the gears in my life have clicked into place, and are moving something in me that I didn’t know existed.  And maybe it’s the general Christianity than is in the air of Rome right now, but I’ve been counting my blessings every single day.  I was lucky enough to go into this experience without the pressure of having to take only specific classes for my degree, so I had the freedom to pursue interests I probably wouldn’t have at Willamette.  I also went into this experience with my good friends from Willamette leaving for their abroad experiences as well, so I didn’t feel that I would be leaving friendships behind or missing what little of college is left.  And finally, and most significantly, my mother recently received the news that her cancer is at bay and wont be threatening her anymore – I’m not confident that my happiness at that piece of news can even be articulated.

And travel – is it linked to happiness?  Without travel, could I experience this strange, content, completely blissful feeling?  Journeying through new countries and discovering their identity has been more beautiful and fulfilling than I imagined it would be, not only because every place is so different (from each other and from the life I know), but because I’m learning a lot about myself along the way.  I’m learning just how complex the world is, and how I fit into it, and how people everyone are so similar yet so different.  I’m learning about myself, my heritage, my human race, and my world.

So I have travel, love, and happiness.  I don’t know if, after I return to “real life”, i’ll ever return to this feeling of lightness in my soul, but I am glad I got to experience it once.  I think that because I because I am so content, my mind and heart are open to all the knowledge, history, love, culture, experience, and life that are flowing in.

Reflections on America

One of the most unforeseen consequences of studying abroad has been the emergence of my American nationalism.  The last few months before I left for Italy were marked by my desperate desire to travel (an itch that constantly remains under my skin), and to remove myself from the life I had known–and, to an extent, the familiar person that I had been.  I had a hunger for saying Arrivederci to America, which culminated in reading countless travel books and jealously perusing the pictures of my friends who were already abroad.  Thus, when I finally arrived in this paradise of culture and counter-Americanism, I was shocked to find that my patriotism was only growing.

Don’t get me wrong, I am in love with Italy and there is no other place on Earth I would rather be, but I often hear a small part of my brain muttering snarky things like, “This peanut butter is pathetic”, “Europeans are so quiet”, and “Where’s the Costco-sized toilet paper packages when you need them?” (I have 6 roommates, toilet paper is our most common purchase).  This past weekend, a European fellow mentioned that he had no desire to visit America, and my first response was, “Why the heck not?”.  I suppose unless you are raised in America, you wouldn’t understand some of its more eccentric and bizarre charms.

But as the semester continues, I am exponentially looking forward to returning to the comfort of Supersized America, to the ironic facial hair of Oregon hipsters, to fireworks and the Fourth of July, to supermarkets that sell anything you could possibly want, to longboarding on non-cobblestone streets, and to the friends I’ve grown up in this crazy country with.

I have no problem rolling my eyes at America, laughing at the invention of the Snuggie, and avoiding the diabetes-inducing Fast Food phenomenon, but being abroad has made me more aware of my patriotism than I expected.  Perhaps I should have anticipated this patriotism, but I accept it because it does not detract from the marvelousness that is Italy.  I love Italy for reasons separate than those of loving America–both possess different corners of my heart.

Rome rhymes with Home

Lately, I’ve been feeling guilting for traveling so much (although the traveling has been incredible) and not spending enough time in Rome.  I’ve been abroad for seven weeks, and the time is flying by much too fast for comfort: already, I’ve been reflecting fondly on the memories of the past month, and feeling the stirrings of horror with the knowledge that I have to leave.  Thus, in a desperate attempt to cram in as much experiences that I could into one weekend, I vowed to make the next 72 hours a Roman Adventure.  But you know what they say about the best laid plans….

On Friday, I woke with determination to get out and explore a new part of Rome.  My friend told me about a Pasta Museum she wanted to go to–and who am I to say “no” to pasta–so we packed our cameras and maps (I’m still the aforementioned American-Italian hybrid) and strolled out into Rome to explore and discover.  A mere 30 minutes later, we found ourselves at the right address, but staring at an abandoned building.  The Museum had been closed for five years.  We were disappointed to be sure, but it turned out that we were near the Trevi Fountain and Pantheon, so we ate some consoling gelato and strolled around the area, being tourists for the day.  And it was great!  Rome is literally swamped in tourists this weekend, it being the last weekend to see Pope Benedict in all his controversial glory.  Yet, it was a nice feeling knowing that I could come to these famous areas for the sights, but then retreat back to Trastevere for the authentic Roman experience that I crave.

On Saturday it rained all day, which ruined my plan of going to one of the beaches near Rome.  (Perhaps I’ll save the beaches for the warm weather, although by Oregon’s standards, 55 degrees practically means summer.)  But Saturday gave me an excuse to stay in and catch up on the reading I’ve neglected in favor of travel, so I spent a day curled up with Richard Russo, and thus went to bed with my mind refreshed and a promise to spend Sunday out in Rome.

But of course, it also rained on Sunday.  I had resigned myself to a day of studying for midterms (which I really should have been doing this weekend), my roommate ran in and demanded we go on a quest for Mexican food.  Now I love Italian food and am by no means sick of it, but sometimes, you just really need a burrito (and a Margarita).  In two minutes we were out the door with high hopes and watering mouths, and it was just as we got to the restaurant that we remembered that almost nothing is open on Sunday – which is very logical if you think about it, America simply raised me with the idea that convenience should preference culture.  Crestfallen, we wandered back to Trastevere, past the billions of tourists surrounding the Vatican.  On the way home, however, we walked past a pizzeria that everyone has been telling me to go to, and it was actually open(!) so we went in!  And the pizza was delicioso and I got to check that restaurant off my Rome “To Do” list, so all was well.

Now I’m back at home with a full stomach, very happy with my weekend, but also so excited to go to Switzerland next weekend!!  Be prepared for a post next Sunday where I drone on about the wonders of the Swiss Alps, chocolate, and hilarious adventures that will come from spending the weekend with two of my best friends.