Wednesday, February 29, 2012

We Fell in Love in a Hopeless Place: Edinburgh, Scotland

If I wasn't already a random traveling mess, Scotland sealed the deal. For the first stop on my first ten-day break I went to Edinburgh, Scotland, which set the bar very high as my favorite city. To make things even more random, I was there for less than 24 hours! To prepare for my ten-day adventure, I managed to stuff as many sweaters and socks as I possibly could into my backpack... and then managed to stuff my backpack into those tiny metal cages that the evil airport workers actually enforce the measurement limits on (which is what I get for buying an $11 plane ticket.) Personally, I believe they are an evil cult because they managed to single me out in every airport I flew out of on my trip. I am a professional packer, however, I have absolutely no muscles in my upper body and they would watch me use my entire body weight to shove my backpack in and out of their torture devices. Obviously, I defeated their corrupt system, but can someone help a sister out before I throw out my back?

I digress. After we passed security and boarded our flight I noticed many different things about flying on a budget internationally. They strip the planes of all seat pockets, legroom, and neck pillows and insert advertising everywhere possible. Also, if you fly Ryan Air they are sweet enough to play celebration trumpets every time you land. I find this a bit unnerving, and imagine them playing horror music if the plane goes down, but lets not think like that. I was in charge of booking the hostel in Edinburg for one night, so I figured what better time to go economic? The hostel cost 11 Euro a night and looked great in pictures, and probably would have been had the seven of us not been in a sixteen person dorm with smelly French people.

I am obsessed with the zoom on my camera
** Note: I am not saying the French people as a whole are smelly, I am saying that we rolled up to the hostel and our roommates had dreadlocks and the room smelled like body odor. Hygiene was not a person priority for them. I do not judge them harshly on this, because by the end of my trip... well you'll see how it turns out.

We arrived in Edinburg around one in the afternoon and it was like walking into cultural mayhem. I thought it was funny how every hostel I looked at seemed to be booked up on the day we arrived. Little did we know we arrived on one of the most important days to the Scottish people, rugby game day. The energy on the street was insane people were everywhere wearing their scarves, obscure fan gear, and of course KILTS! There were kilts EVERYWHERE. It was awesome! Also, the men in Scotland are absolutely huge, never have I seen such large calves come out of a skirt. Even luckier for us the day we were there was the Scotland vs. England match, so we were really getting the full UK experience!

SO green!

I found this hilarious... want to see the monster? Definitely not mature

This bagpipe player was shredding it on the corner!


Instantly our game plan changed and we were so pumped to experience a real rugby game in a real pub. However, the match did not start until five, so we had to cram in all the sights of Scotland into about two or three hours. Also, we had to wake up the next morning at seven to catch out flight to Dublin. Go hard or go home ladies and gents, you only live once!
Honest Abe honoring the Scottish American soilders

Luckily, we happened to have The Brice Moon in our group who is character, but has the gift of being an excellent impromptu tour guide. He led us on a hike all over Edinburgh and I can honestly say that afterwards I felt complete in my tourist duties. We saw the Edinburgh Castle, Arthur's seat, the Royal Mile, St. Giles Cathedral, St. Mary's Cathedral, the parish of St. Cuthbert, a cemetery with a statue of Abraham Lincoln, two weddings, the Scott Monument, and Princes Street. Not too shabby and we got in a mean power hike (with the help of my lovely sponsored Sorel snow boots, thank you Mother.)I loved Arthur's seat the most, it is a 251m high extinct volcano that sits in the middle of Edinburgh.

Arthur's Seat unfinished pillars
A fun fact about Edinburgh is that it is called the Athens of the north, they attempted to build a Parthenon like structure there, but ran out of funds, and so now random columns just sit on the top of the hill. I saw my first gothic cathedrals in Edinburgh that were absolutely stunning. I always considered myself a baroque fan. I love the over the top glimmering intricate churches, but the dark grantor of St. Mary's was truly beautiful.
St. Giles... or St. Mary's not 100% sure about this one
St. Mary's

Monday, February 27, 2012

Roma (last Rome post): Fake Italians & the Exiled

After our wine on the Spanish steps, our group decided to meet up with the Pompeii group after we grabbed a quick pizza dinner. We got ready and prepared to take on Roman nightlife. There is a section of Americanized bars in Rome in Campo de Fiori??. Following our Roman panini/Nutella friend's advice from early in the day, we decided to go to a bar called the Drunken Ship. As soon as we arrived it was packed. However, he knew exactly what we were looking for because they literally had an American flag on the wall, sweet home Alabama playing, a beer pong table in the corner, and there was an unfortunate girl getting a body shot. No, I was not feeling homesick or particularly proud of my home country. However, I do still love Lynard Skynard. We met lots of Americans and an even amount of creepy Italians. It was so much fun to hear some good ole American tunes. Val was telling everyone she was actually a famous pop star in America and everyone had to be low-key about it. Then she got into a dance battle with a local Italian, and I was like a toddlers and tiaras mom cheering/dancing with her on the sidelines (this was more embarrassing for me.) One set of guys we spoke to asked Val if I was a Russian ballerina to which I replied," yesssss." in my most terrible accent.

The flag in the Drunken Ship... authentic Roma?
Val during her dance battle!
By far the most interesting thing that night was the two "Americans" we met that puzzle me to this day. They looked American, sounded American, and told us they were studying in Rome that seemed normal enough, but I guess I have some banging intuition or just textbook trust issues not to believe them. One claimed he was from Pennsylvania, and when we brought up "JoPa" he was drawing blanks... come on I even know that one! Meanwhile the other said that he lived in Connecticut and his house was in the Hamptons. I had two problems with this statement: 1) Rich people don't tell you things like that and brag so they can impress you 2) The Hamptons is in New York... like I haven't watched enough Real Housewives of New York and Revenge to figure that one out. Meanwhile my friends were quizzing them on sports mascots that they couldn’t name for the life of them. By this time I had written them off completely and deemed them phony, scrubs but one guy (who is featured in this blog making out with the side of my face... awkward) felt the need to prove to me he was real. Big mistake buddy. And how you ask did he try and accomplish that? OH! By telling me he had Thanksgiving dinner with THE Blind Side family. Wow, yup little did this idiot know that Chesterfield County Public Schools actually approved a course in "Sports in Literature" which I took two years of in high school. We can discuss how ridiculous this is at a later time, but in this moment it was like I had been preparing all my life for this moment. I casually said to him that I had actually read the book, seen the movie, spoke to the author via conference call, and that my class had received a personal letter from the mother and that I would love to hear if he knew the names of everyone in the family. He named Michael Ohar. Welp buddy, I know for a fact that their daughter is super hot and if you met her you'd NEVER forget her name (I haven't, it's Collins.) By this time we were ready to leave the club, but the fake Americans were trying to get us to go to another one with them and bought roses for us, which I mayyy have been a little dramatic about when I ripped it up and threw it out of our cab window away from them. God Bless America... moving on. As soon as we got into the cab my friend Abby started to look not so hot and as the swung around corners and roundabouts she started looking green. Most likely if you are reading this you have been young and wild and free... but I was a bit upset at her for not alerting me of the situation. It got to the point where we pulled over for her to take a moment and the cab driver kicked us out of the cab. There is a positive side to this- we didn't have to pay for the cab! The negative side to this story was that she was vomiting on the capitol building of Rome. Her aim was truly impeccable and a little symbolic if we want to get philosophical. After she collected herself we hailed another cab and made it home. Once we got home we set her up, and assumed that she would be sleeping in and on the floor for that matter, but life never ceases to amaze me....

The two fake Americans with Val and I (he apparently liked my face? Sorry mom..) and Amanda and Abby up front
As soon as we settled Abby in the apartment I realized there was another issue brewing... "Michelle got mugged." This is what I was told at two in the morning. So naturally I am concerned and waiting to hear a story about a knife or god forbid a gun when I noticed that Michelle did not seem to be traumatized, but the girl who was with her was upset, and in fact everyone was mad at Michelle for being "mugged!" Silly girls. SO naturally I ask, did he have a knife?! To which I was told no, a man jsut came running down the street, Michelle was tweeting and he grabbed her iphone and ran. That ladies is NOT being mugged, she was robbed, jacked, and stupid, but not a New York style mugging. So here is the REAL story: two girls decided to walk home from the bar that night. I don't know why they did this, we all knew we were advised not to, but the decision had been made. Now, one of the girls was previously featured in my blog for allegedly using the floor as her bathroom in the Interlaken nightclub (Michelle.) Since that lovely moment some girls were less forgiving than others, but I personally thought it was hilarious. Apparently, on the walk home she had to relieve herself yet again. For the record I do applaud her for going outdoors, and frankly I am tired of the double standard with men being able to use the bathroom wherever they want without a comment. The other girl blamed this peeing action to her being targeted for the "mugging" later on their walk home. I don't understand how a thief can know you have an iphone while you are peeing on the streets of Rome, but apparently they have x-ray vision. Watch out kids. Then the other girl proceeded to get very emotional because she watched the whole thing happen and couldn't do anything. Meanwhile, Michelle didn't run after the man and basically was grateful all she lost was a phone with contacts she had on computer and in shock that the situation occurred. This led everyone to attack Michelle for being jacked- which is the appropriate word for the situation.

A picture says a thousand words.... our three expressions about whatever we are looking at is hilarious.

Now you may be wondering: why I am writing about this situation? Because I am still pondering weeks later how I got dragged into this mess. Some of the girls didn't even go out that night because they wanted to wake up early and go to a Catholic mass in Vatican City. I would have gone, but I have a strange reaction to strong amounts of incense where it make me feel woozy, nauseas, and overall want to pass out. I figured out of respect to the service I shouldn't put myself in a situation if I would have to stubble outside or potentially vomit from the smell. I thought I was being very logical, smart, and respectful. The church group's alarm went off (for 15 minutes), so I had to turn it off, wake them up, and send them on their holy way. I assumed that everyone else would wake up and walk around together so I went back to sleep. The next thing I know I wake up to Michelle yelling ”Did everyone leave me?!" That's right, I had been exiled along with the "mugged" pee-ing hot mess. I held a girl's hair while she threw up on the capitol of Rome, I didn't go to mass still drunk (Abby,) and yet I had been exiled with Michelle. Rude. Plain rude. We had a lovely afternoon of eating paninis at shop with Chinese symbols on the wall, shopping (Michelle is Asian and Jewish and therefore the best street haggler I know,) and strolled the Spanish steps yet again, all while she vented about her ordeal. We met up with the group before catching the train home and I was still bitter for being exiled... but in hindsight it is historically authentic to say you were exiled in the Holy land and they can never take that from me!

Woke up to this beauty haha... the face of the exiled
How every European feels about loud Americans.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Roma: Part Tipsy

After our lovely afternoon lunch, we were tipsy. Let's just be real here. We all assumed that the mafia restaurant had watered down our pitchers of wine, but after a fit of giggles I am regaining faith that maybe not everyone I meet is trying to rip me off because I am American. We strolled down the tourist strip in and out of souvenir shops and made our way into a wine/spirits store. The owner, who happened to an Italian Asian blend which is now how I identify the people of Rome, saw us taking her free samples of olive oil and bread, and offered us more with red pepper flakes. This means we met our new Roman best friend. After the antipasti, I told her that I had never had lemoncello. Best. Decision. Ever. Then came out the tiny shot glasses. Which if you follow the blog: you will know that "betches" LOVE tiny shots. Not the big ones, just little half one. I was in heaven. After lemoncello, we had pistachio-cello (yes this exists and it is AWESOME, then chocolatefudge -cello, then coffee-cello, then some prosecco, then some more lemon-cello, and then I was sufficiently drunk. A lot of girls wound up getting red pepper for their moms, and pistachio-cello... but don't you worry my best friends I DID get you the chocolate fudge-cello which is the greatest thing ever invented... and I know this because I tried every flavor at least once. Mom- don't worry because I know you do not support day drinking, so I saved my souvenir money for Venetian earrings for you. 

First Lemoncello ever!
We loved the lights that lined the streets?

Wine + Italian lights= Homeland

After that we were on a hunt for more (preferably free) wine. We went into a couple more wine shops, but they were not as friendly and generous. Next we decided it was worth splurging for some cheap bottles to split. So, the first panini shop that had wine bottles lining the walls was our target. Using our international business skills, we offered them a bargain. If we bought more than one bottle of wine then they should cut is a discount and give us an extra large empty container of Nutella that they had on display. GENIUS! I know, at this rate I am going to be a millionaire by the time I am twenty-five.

The owner of the Panini Shop and our free(empty)  Nutella container
This seemed like a good idea... pretending to eat Nutella
We also asked the young man who worked in the panini shop where we could go out to experience Roman nightlife near where we lived. We showed him Chinatown on the map and literally his reaction was," oh no no no you do not live there." After we convinced him that yes, seven girls do live there he told us to be very careful and directed us to a nightclub across town that was safe. After his advice we were a little uneasy about our humble apartment, but what is one more night in CHi-town? Right?

Next we took our bottles to the Spanish steps and proceeded to watch the sun go down over Rome and appreciate it for all its beauty. This is when I came up with the awesome idea of practicing our Italian skills by telling every Italian I met that my name was Lasagna. The phrase is, "Mi chiama Lasagna" if you are curious. By the way, I may have had a couple drinks, but as far as I remember they LOVED it... just saying. I also made everyone say formaggio instead of "cheese" when we took pictures. Total Italian immersion people. Mom- my passion for Italian is so strong I have to stay over here for the rest of my life. Surely you sense that I am taking full advantage of language and culture after this story right?
Formaggio! Picture with Spanish step Italian friends... ignore the broken wine bottle. Mi chiama Lasagna...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Rome: Day 3!

The next morning I was set on seeing the Coliseum in the daytime, the Pantheon, and Roman Forum. However, there was an over achieving group of people that wanted to take an hour bus to Pompei and see the ruins. With my budget and our time constrictions I passed... and I wanted to relax and enjoy myself instead of rush around town. Also, if I am not going to pay for someone to tell me about volcanic, ashy ruins and mummies, then I am going to be bored and very confused. Not to say I was right... but we had the best day ever on Saturday (and sadly the site closed ten minutes after they finally arrived there.) Sorry not sorry Pompei, we will meet one day I promise!

A group of us set out to see the Coliseum again in the daylight, but along the walk I saw a bakery with a line out the door of real Italians. Granted I had not seen many since my main local interactions were with Malaysian street vendors and Asian kabob shop owners, but I knew this bakery was calling my name. After five minutes of awkwardly standing and disturbing the flow of customers someone came over to help me. I honestly could careless how much anything cost. I just pointed to the best looking pastries and the lady rang me up and sent me on my way. I now refer to that lady as the pastry angel and if I ever see her again I will kiss her feet. Moving on. By the time we got to the Coliseum there was a thirty-minute line, but I was too happy to care. Apparently the best strategy is to buy your ticket at the Pantheon or another tourist site with less of a line so you can hop it by the time you get to the Coliseum.
Breakfast of champions. These were my fresh out of the oven pastries. They had dates and apricots in big one and the little ones were creme puffs. HEAVEN!

Coliseum. I made it!

I kept thinking about my mom every time I saw I column... so this one goes out to you big lady!

My roommate Kara and I.

 I loved the Coliseum, but in my mind I thought you could run up the stadium steps, so for anyone wanting to relive a Rocky moment- save it for the Spanish steps. All of the steps/seating has been eroded. Also, the stairs from the first to the second level of the Coliseum are super steep and dangerous for an able bodied twenty-one year old so beware if you have weak knees.
After that we moved onto these ruins that I could honestly say I have never heard of, the Roman Forum, nor did the signs they had there enlighten me on their historical significance. Kara and I were trying very hard to appreciate the ruins, but honestly if the trees and views were not so beautiful I would have rather been eating gelato. The signs literally said this a garden/playing field/path/meeting place - which is lovely, but they lost me because it was just a field with some bricks in a line. Maybe I should have sprung for the guided tour, but I did get some great shots at one of the higher points looking over the city.
Overlooking ROMA solo shot.
Very lovely ruins? African trees? Where was I?

Kara and I being confused at the ruins

This sequence of pictures makes me happy because...
...I look like I am in a girl pop group!
More Trevi fountain love

After sight seeing we passed by the capitol building and Trevi fountain yet again while constantly searching for cheap fake pashmina scarves. For our lunch break we were looking at the menus at two different restaurants that were next to each other, when the best thing to ever happen to student tourist occurred...they started haggling for our business. It was like they budget Gods were watching over me. One man threw in no service fee, then free wine, then free bread, then some more free wine... the next thing I knew there were Italian curse words flying; someone said someone else was in the mafia, and an accusation of frozen pizza to make matters worse (or better!) We settle on the restaurant that was accused of being in the mafia... who just so happened to have a very large man stand outside with us while we ate. I am not complaining I got free bread, no service fee, two free pitchers of red and white wine, free prosciutto on my caprese salad, and apparently a free security guard! Who says study abroad isn't teaching me about international business? When in doubt, work the mafia.
Pantheon nerdy solo shot!
Artsy Pantheon
Pagan symbol out of a fountain with an added cross from the church.
Creepy dolphin creatures
My mafia lunch
The capitol building in Rome

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Roma day 2: Part 2

After the Vatican Museum we needed a little boost, so naturally we stumbled upon the best gelato place in Vatican City (shout out to my roommate Kara for being on top of things.) Maybe it was the second gelato of the day... and maybe I got two scoops...  but WHEN IN ROMA?! right? The pistachio flavor was divine and if my diet consists of only wine and gelato for the next 3 months I suppose I could manage. After our gelato break we went in search of the Trevi fountain, the Spanish steps, and of course souvenirs and scarves. We wandered by the Jewish ghetto and where the Popes used to flee the Vatican, which is by a beautiful canal.  Then we strolled by vendors and wound up at the Spanish steps! This was such an exhilarating moment that our group deemed it necessary to run as fast as possible up all of the steps (which are longer than they look) while humming the Rocky theme song. Val was the most set on this concept, but who doesn't like Rocky?! By the time we reached the top the sun was starting to set, and there was a mass going on in the Church a top the steps. Looking out over Rome, I was so grateful to be traveling and among such an amazing group of people. A couple of us went into the church and lit candles for our families and got the rosaries that we purchased earlier in the day blessed by a priest. It was the perfect way to end our "holy tourist day." 

Me, Val, and Amanda on the Spanish Steps.
Solo shot at sunset on top of the Spanish Steps after my divine moment.
Running up the Spanish steps... please look at my roommate Kara in her yellow Kate Middleton inspired skirt... so pumped all the time.
After the Spanish Steps, we headed over to the Trevi Fountain, which was packed! I cannot imagine what it must be like during the summer and height of the tourist season. By the time we got there the sun had gone down. The fountain was gorgeous all lit up at night and of course I threw some money in and made a wish.

Val and I forcing smiles after a long touristy day at the Trevi fountain
Throwing them coins!
After walking around all day and my Roman diet of gelato I was hungry. We went on a mission to find a cheap delicious meal. This meant we had to get far away from the Trevi fountain and the tourist attractions. Luckily, we stumbled on this amazing restaurant called La Carbonara. Of course, I ordered the carbonara which was awesome. They also had this amazing pistachio pasta and an excellent house wine that Kara and I shared. It had been the longest day and Pippa and Kate needed a glass of vino. After dinner we strolled home to good old Chinatown, Rome and passed out.

Vino at La Carbonara with Jackie

The castle we passed where Popes used to escape from the Vatican

Pretty bridge across from the castle.


I leave you my beloved blog readers with a shot of me breaking it down with my best dance moves on the Spanish steps... you can take the girl out of Richmond, but you can't take the Richmond out of the girl :)