Thursday, December 12, 2013

Dear Mom and Dad.

Dear Mom and Dad, 

With only hours on the clock before I begin my twenty-seven hour trip home, I have only a few words left to say! There's so many ways to emulate a simple thanks, but I want to say so much more.  Simply because there is so much more than just a "thank you" pouring out of every part of me for all of the countless things you both have done and sacrificed for me up until this point in my life.  I thought and thought of ways I could thank you both for not only just being the two greatest role models, advice-givers, friends, supporters and opportunity-providers in my life, but for also giving me this chance to explore myself and travel the world.  Although no amount of things said, done or given will ever be enough, I thought that one way I could particularly show my appreciation and gratefulness as I travel the globe was to leave a word everywhere I went stringing together a phrase that would try and show you what this meant to me and to remind you both that I never went anywhere without you on my mind and in my heart. So here ya go, Mom and Dad...
Thank you for showing me the world!  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The final days. Ma solo tre giorni.

"Italy is the only country where you are still enjoying the joy of living."

Strapped with all the essentials for a chilly Perugian morning: head-warmer, leggings and iPod, I set out for a run.  Inspired by the quickly dwindling days ahead of me, I decided to choose a new route.  It never hurts to get lost in Perugia.  You always stumble upon something beautiful.  I wound through the spindly streets overloaded with artisan restaurants observing the locals just waking up and getting their shops up and running. Seeing things in the morning always gives new perspective.  It’s raw and interesting, no façade or fancy lights, just real people setting things up for another day.  

Cold blasts of air fuel my energy and desire to keep going. I wind through the roads further.  Since I live in the center, there is only one way to go: down the mountain. Which means unfortunately at the end: back up.  I wound down until I saw an entrance to what looked like some off the beaten path trails where cars couldn’t drive.  When you’re running and you decide to change direction you usually don’t have much time to think before you just do so I just went with it and veered off down the rocky paths.  As soon as some of the trees started to clear, nothing could stop the enormous smile and goose bumps that spread over my body.  I was running along what became the path lining one of the cliffs overlooking the entire city below to the neighboring town of Assisi, with a fading fog cascading down the rolling hills of vineyards and quaint red and brown laden houses becoming sparser and sparser the farther you gaze.  Warning: this is about to get sentimental and all that good stuff so if you’re not into that, stop now.

The Center, Perugia

Being abroad has been like taking a time-out from real life. It's like having the dream-like chance to put aside all the tedious routines and responsiblities you have at home, and being given the opportunity to dedicate almost four months to the jouney of finding yourself through other places. After traveling to over thirteen different cities and countries in Italy and Europe, I feel like I have left a little part of myself everywhere I've gone.

Five…four…three days left. The only thing standing between me a hot bowl of Chipotle and wonderful family and friends is one more final (but its abroad so smh), some serious packing, and a few more glasses of Italian red wine.  I think I will manage.  Anyway, as I was running along the path, gazing into this aesthetic picture frame that I have been able to live in for the past four months, I started to reflect and think how grateful I am for this entire experience.  People kept telling me before I left, “enjoy every moment it’s going to fly by” and I always thought “kk well duh,” but I never really thought about it.  Until now. When I’m actually thinking did I enjoy every moment/what does that mean? And wait, it did fly by.  Clear as day I can remember walking away from my parents at O’Hare Airport thinking: what the hell have I gotten myself into? And now here I am thinking, where has the time gone? Could this really be almost over? Sadly that cliché saying we’ve all heard over and over turns out to ring true: all good things must come to an end.  But then I thought, that’s true, but thankfully, I have only good things to go back to as well.  Friends and loved ones for my favorite time of the year, Christmas, then back to my second home and happy place, DePauw for one final semester.  Again, going home is never a bad thing. It's a great thing actually. I love being home. I get homemade, healthy meals, my mom makes sure I have everything I need and am always taken care of, I have a big comfy bed and room to myself, I have two amazing parents who love me more than anything on earth, the best company of my big brother Kevin, and a happy little puppy who follows me like a shadow.  I like family company and fireplaces and high pressure showers and those little Christmas blocks we put out for the holidays.  I like going shopping with my mom and being lazy with her watching Say Yes to the Dress on the couch.  However, I'm just not sure I'm ready to admit that this experience of a lifetime is coming to an end.  It makes me think of the cliché quote from the one and only Dr. Seuss:

"don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." So yes, as soon as those Alitalia wheels touch down on Chicago soil I'll be ready to elbow fight anyone in my way to get to those open arms waiting to give me warm embrace and take me home.  

But all this reminiscing and deep thinking led me to reflect upon my experiences thus far.   Like anything in life, there's good and bad to both. I digress... 

Perugia, Italy
Photo credit: Nick Bruno
(Look him up: he's pretty great!)

When I first arrived, I hadn’t really mentally prepared myself for much because I had absolutely no idea what to expect.  I felt like I was ready to leave for a semester.  I felt like it was a much-needed break from my life at home and school.  I’m not sayin’ that anymore.  I didn’t think I’d be the homesick mess type.  But with less than a week to go, I am craving nothing more but to lounge around with my puppy and parents, sleep in a comfortable bed that you don’t have to wiggle into the exact right position in order not to be jutted with springs, take a shower where the curtain doesn’t cling to your body the entire time, dry myself with a plush towel rather than with a hairdryer because your towel takes 5 days on a rack to dry after being washed, and eat a ginormous bowl with everything I can stack in it of Chipotle because I can’t stand to look at one more bowl of pasta or farro.  Now I recognize all of these things sound American, even borderline spoiled…okay just plain spoiled, but in reality it just makes me realize of all the things back home I take for granted on a daily basis.  I have it pretty dang good.  
With all that aside, I can certainly say with conviction that the positives about life in Perugia outweigh the negatives 100:1. I just simply mean that I love my family, friends and being home and I feel ready to return to them soon.  However here are some pretty funny things I have learned and retrospectively will miss (maybe?) about being abroad.
Laundry:  Haha oh dear, no one could have prepared me for this.  Okay, I knew that most Italians don’t have dryers and so they hang their clothes to dry outside or on racks. Cool.  What I didn’t know is that it can take up to five days for those clothes to dry.  Not cool.  So then I think, I mean at least I have a washer! Things could be worse.  That is until the washing machine decides to become temperamental and shut off the spin cycle whenever the wash involves more than three t-shirts and two pairs of socks.  Then you’re left with heaping towels so soaked with water that they flood your entire kitchen. And if you get so lucky to finally have all of your clothes dry nicely on the rack a week later you can sigh a huge sigh of relief…until you pick them, crispy and cold only to find that they’ve molded to the rack they’ve been sitting on so diligently.  Needless to say…when I get home I think I’ll be about ready to crawl in my dryer and revel in its genius glory for the rest of my life.  My short-term solution though? Don’t wash your clothes.  Be very careful about what you eat and how you eat as not to lose a crumb or dribble a drop on those precious clean clothes because the consequences are understood.  You’ll be happy to know mom, I might even enjoy doing laundry after this experience.  And since you probably don’t believe me and I don’t want to go that far, I’ll at the very least appreciate the chore of washing clothes with such ease as we do in America. 

Etruscan Temple, Perugia
Photo Credit: Nick Bruno

As a consequence of this whole drying issue, compiled with the fact that I’m a college girl on a budget living on her own in a small apartment, I only had one shower drying towel to use for the semester since I was trying to conserve space in my suitcase and apartment etc.  Well, when you finally decide it’s time to give that towel a wash, as I explained above you darn well won’t have it for the next week.  Again, I have a knack at coming up with crafty solutions for these problems so what did I do? I used my blow dryer.  This essentially became my substitute towel every time I had to wash the thing since I only had one and was too lazy to go buy another one.  Picture that.  Or maybe don’t.  Either way: just one of the many perks of living abroad J
Toilet paper: Who knew humans could use so much toilet paper? This is something I have never consciously thought of buying or having to supply myself since this magical woman called my mother always has Costco bulk sized supply right at the convenience of my fingertips whenever we run out at home.  And at school those lovely women who take care of our sorority house somehow change the rolls whenever they become empty. But I’ve never actually had to supply myself with something so seemingly insignificant on a regular basis.  But whoa, we go through a lot of that stuff.  My roommate and I would switch off buying pack after pack, never ceasing to get a chuckle at our amazement of where on earth it all went from the three days prior when we bought it! Tips for when I move out in the real world I guess: buy an apartment with a bidet?  Or just take advantage of the facilities (meaning toilet paper) around you so you don’t have to use your own! Which brings me to another things…. PUBLIC RESTROOMS.
America is a hundred steps ahead of Europe on this one.  Public bathrooms.  Oh how I miss being able to go for FREE in public.  Bathrooms in Italy and most of Europe are sporadic at best, not to mention ranging from .50 to 1 euro per use! This does not bode well for the well-hydrated traveler.  You would think that if youre paying to use a restroom, that it might be cleaner? Better maintained? Smell nicer? Sorry, but no.  Not the case.  It all came down to strategy.  My advice: Don’t drink at all in the morning or during the day while traveling because you’re going to have to go through the process of hunting down a restroom and then having to pay for it on top of it.  Then at night excessively hydrate so you can use your hostel or whatever accommodation you’re staying in J

The Center, Perugia

Okay okay getting back to Perugia.  This has been a rant but I must say that after a weekend of travel, or whenever I knew it was time to come home to my little city of Perugia in the heart of Italy I was excited.  It has been my home, my safety zone, and the place of friends and comfort since August.  And whenever I made it up those four flights of stairs and three doors each with their own massive, antique, Harry Potter-esque lock to reach my flat, I was so happy. Perugia in the winter time is absolutely without a doubt breathtakingly perfect.  Lights dance between every building and Christmas trees sprout up along every Piazza.  Scarves, hats and mittens come out as the Italians bundle from head to toe even for mild 50 degree weather.  A certain air of happiness hangs throughout the city that you can't ignore.  Excited little children wait for Babo Natale to sing at the center steps and bands come alive at night to play to the young atmosphere of students who want to relax for the weekend.  It is beautiful.   
Perugia and being abroad has had more to offer me than I could have ever imagined.   I have learned things about myself through this experience that I never knew about myself.  I always knew I was independent but it took the extra miles to make me realize how grateful I am for things at home.  I always knew I was resourceful, but I never knew what it took to travel and explore on your own whether that means going for a run on a new path or navigating the streets on your own with just help of a paper map (what is that?!)   I met people who have helped define this experience in incredible ways I only hoped for.  I made friends that I had some of the best times of my life with.  I explored my dreams, desires, spirituality and discovered bits and pieces more of my personality, character in stressful situations and loyalty as a friend and travel companion.  I think being abroad helps you grow a little bit more into the person you want to be, or may be just discovering.  

I gained a new perspective helping to reveal how beautiful and amazing and wonderful and every other cliché word life can be if you let it.  I hope I can take this home with me as well and apply it in new ways for my last semester as I start an entire new chapter of my life after graduation. 
 Three…two…one the days are surely dwindling and the only word I can think to describe it is bittersweet.  I could definitely stay here longer but realizing that I am so close to returning home to what I  have known for the past twenty one years of my life and all the things I love and hold dear has become too big a temptation to resist.  I was sad at first to leave but I can now say, after recognizing what these past few months have meant to me, that I am ready.  And I will carry this experience with me for the rest of my life and for that, I am truly grateful. 

Grazie mille Perugia, 

Sono grata e benedetta.
I am grateful and blessed.


PS-Sorry there is no post on Amsterdam, Belgium, and some other hill-towns of Italy but those will come eventually. I like to forget I am actually here for school and should sometimes maybe do some work.  ;)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fall-Breakin in Greece!

Oh yiamas yiamas, it's GREECE!

It's always been my dream to travel to Greece.  I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get there by age twenty one.  I'd envision those blue and white houses, red and black beaches, sunshine, gyros and daiquiris and basically my life as Lena Kaligaris in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  
Truth is...it was all pretty darn accurate (besides the me being a famous actress)
In sum: it was everything I could have dreamed of and more.  Thankfully I had the best friend and company to travel with, miss Stephanie.  Shoutout to her for putting up with me for two weeks in a row of travel!
We were able to island hop to three different islands: Athens, Corfu and Santorini.  Each was an experience of its own, very distinct with something unique to offer on each island, from historical to aesthetic to everything wrapped in one, I loved every minute of everywhere we stayed. To top it off, some greek gods were shining down on us the entire week, because even though it was the end of October, we had 85 degree weather and pure sunshine every day. It was spectacular. All the locals said it was the warmest weather they've seen this late in awhile, we got so lucky :) 

Here we are...travelers at the ready...in our defense it was 330AM. 

First up: Corfu, Κέρκυρα.

We flew into Corfu and arrived at our hotel, the wonderfully....unique... Pink Palace.  We were tired from our flight but we were told that the last booze cruise was about to ship off and that we should definitely do it!  We weren't really convinced but we didn't have any other plans so we thought, why not, it might be relaxing...
So, so wrong. 
Let me sum it up in short to spare you all the details...it was wild. Steph and I were scared. We ended up falling asleep on the back of the boat. There was one cool part thought...we stopped at this random chunk of land in the middle of the ocean, it looked like a massive hand protruding right out of the ocean, which they somehow allowed a bunch of rowdy drunk college students climb and cliff-jump from... questionable.
  Take a look! It was 50 meters high!  If you didn't jump correctly, like a straight-up pencil, lets just say some people had black and blue bruises from there bum-cheeks all the way down to the back of there knees. But both Steph and I did it right and we managed to survive, unscathed :) Anyway, when it was over we were relieved, and a little scarred, but it was a surreal experience that we'll be able to look back on and laugh at...
Okay maybe one day. 
The next day, we decided we really needed a relaxing day. We took that to the extreme and we laid out on the beach for about nine hours straight, from nine in the morning to six in the evening. Only moving our bodies three times to either get up and go into the ocean to cool off or to go get a pina colada at the bar. Which, by the way, was the best pina colada i've ever had. There was also a lady walking down the beach offering massages for really cheap (sketch) but we decided what the heck, we're in Greece, why not. Best decision. We each got a half hour back massage after baking and laying out the entire day, it was perfection.  Definition of a relaxation in my opinion. We walked back into our hotel and got served a wonderful, classic Greek dinner and then headed off for Athens! It was a seven hour boat ride so we slept through the whole ferry and woke up in our destination!
Next up: Athens, Αθήνα
Athens was spectacular. We arrived and got to see... 

The National Garden


Olympic Stadium

Zeus' Temple

The Parthenon 

and the Acropolis!

IT WAS FANTASTIC! We literally stood in awe over all of the Greek history.  It really made me want to learn more about Greek and Roman mythology.  I went to Athens with pre-conceived notions of it being dirty, unsafe, just some old architecture blah blah whatever, but I was proven very wrong. We even had Starbucks! (Ridiculously overpriced as it was, it was a nice little taste of home.)  
We then indulged in some more amazing Greek food 
and wine for dinner and then after, we were feeling adventurous, so we decided to go out for a drink. Banking on the recommendation of a Greek friend, we headed towards a rooftop bar in the famous Syntagma Square where you could apparently overlook the entire city and see the Acropolis, Parthenon, Olympic Stadium etc., at night, which is always more beautiful, in my opinion.  So, we arrive, go up the elevator and get inside.... converse, sundresses and all, and we immediately realize how starkly we stand out. Why? Note the black tie apparel and the near dizzy silence and the 'older crowd' and the dressed to the nine's waiters and waitresses.  For an unknown reason looking back, this didn't seem to bother us since we marched right up to the bar and politely requested a drink menu. We open to the first page and boom, hey. First thing listed is a 3200 euro bottle of wine. NO, that was not a typo. 
A bottle of wine for over three thousand euro. Suddenly our confidence seemed to drain... You better have one rich husband, plenty of paper to waste and hopefully one sophisticated palate in order to drop that for one bottle.  Overwhelmed, we decided okay maybe this is a little over our heads... but its so freaking beautiful...but we can't. Angel/devil scenario here. So we began the dejected demise back down the fancy elevator, back into the lobby and back near our humble hostel which seemed three shades dimmer.  We went on the hunt for a relatively cheaper place to just enjoy a drink before we headed to bed, when we decided, what the hell, we're in Greece, these are the things we'll never forget, let's just do it! Typical girls.  So, we got back to the bar, giggling like little children all excited and happy and totally out of place, but we sat at the bar in total confidence (after being told the nice tables right by the railing were for dinner guests only) and gayly ordered ourselves a 16 euro My Tie and a 15 euro Mohito. If that's not the definition of YOLO, I don't know what is. And hey, we got a nice bowl of mixed nuts with our over 30 euro drinks so it made it all worth it. 
And, we stole a napkin from the bathroom as a keepsake because they were really, really nice napkins? You know those kinds that feel like actual towels?  Good stuff.
You know how we knew you really don't fit in? (Besides the obvious, of course in age, dress and demeanor.)  When you are the only table to finish all their nuts :) And proudly, I must say. Right Steph? 
Anyway, we had a blast just sitting at the bar, overlooking the city lights and the majestically lit Acropolis, sipping our horrendously overpriced drinks and enjoyed how amazing life was in that moment. And just bathing in the fact that we were in Greece, living our dream, and counting our many many blessings and thanks.  So all in all, a pretty successful, spontaneous night to remember. 

Next stop: SANTORINI! Σαντορίνη! 

Saving the best for last. 
Where to begin.  After another seven hour ferry, we arrived in Firà in time to unpack our things, grab some house wine from the side market on the street near our hotel (literally house wine...pumped into a plastic bottle for good measure), and get to the overlook to watch the sunset over the ocean. 

No words needed. Pictures do justice. Life doesn't get much better. Afterword, we went to one of the well-known restaurants called Mama's, where "mama" came out to us on multiple occasions to either tell us A. Why America is the best (she's 100% Greek), 2. To 'SHHHH' or 3. What bars to go to tonight and what men to avoid.  We did end up going out to one of her recommended bars and had a fantastic night out in Santorini! It felt surreal! 

The next day, we got up bright and early with some other girls we had met and decided that the only way to really explore the island and all of the famous beaches was to rent an ATV. Sorry mommy :)! Hence why I am telling you nowww, after the fact. I'm alive dontcha worry.  But before that, I have to mention my breakfast, because it was the most glorious thing I've ever tasted, the greek yogurt. Now I know that sounds cliché, heck I didn't even think Greece would actually have greek yogurt...But let me introduce you to what it is in their minds. The most deliciously rich and satisfying yogurt you've ever tasted, topped with the good fruits you would NEVER dare be served in the states, and then lightly drizzled with the sweetest local honey and crushed walnuts and almonds. Um hello? 

Yes we went back every morning and ordered the same thing. Feast your eyes...

Back to the ATV's. Turned out to be not only crucial, but completely awesome!!!! We ATV-ed to Red Beach, Perivolos, and then happened to 'stumble upon' a few other beaches. These may not have been the 'famous ones' but they were incredible, beautifully breathtaking stretches of land with not a single soul in sight.  It was like the beach belonged to only us and existed for only our pleasure. We finally settled on Perivolos to soak up some of the heat, not a cloud in the sky, enjoyed in some nuts and apples as we laid in the soft sand without towels. Bliss.
Here is a picture of Red Beach...

Here's a good example of the mood for the day...

Then finally, the climax of the trip, the sunset in Oía, Santorini. This is the famous overlook of all the white and blue houses draping down the mountainside where you can watch the sunset on-top of a castle and see the house where they filmed the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.  Steph and I drove the ATV across the island to watch the magic happen. It was indescribable. As per usual, pictures of things like this don't do justice but here's some looks to try and give an idea.  
After the sunset, we ATV-ed back across the island while the sky was still painted with every color of the rainbow. It was incredible.
And the pictures commence...

 And some friends along the way... :) 

And some friends for keeps :)

Yiamas, Greece. 

Until next time...

And there will be a next time.