Category: Travel

When In Rome, Do As The Romans Do.

So, here I go, the beginning of the end;  the final blog post. This will be about my last week in Europe which I spent in Rome. When my group arrived in Rome by train we were confronted with something we hadn’t dealt with since the first three weeks, months before, in Vienna. This was, that our group of 25 would be split between three buildings again. Not since we had been in our dorms in Vienna had this happened, we hadn’t been apart except for free travel and we had been sleeping in very close quarters for the majority of the time… we all had a turn being roommates with everyone (obviously girls with girls, boys with boys.) So, we were pretty used to being together all the time. Things had officially come full circle.

But, life abroad carries on at a very fast pace and we had tours to attend. So, we went to our respective “hotels” (they were like holiday apartment type places, apartments in apartment buildings but run by the same woman.) That night we had group dinner right outside of the Pantheon… like what? not real life. The next morning, we headed off to a tour of the old ruins of Rome.

First stop, the Colosseum. Here’s a photo of Alyssa, Brittany and I.

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The Colosseum.

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We also headed over to the Roman forum, and then the Trevi Fountain

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Threw a coin in and made a wish! As you can see Brooke did too…

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Ate a lot of carbonara…

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Visited the Vatican Museum.

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Every inch was beautiful, every room, ceiling, wall, decorated.

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Then we headed over to St. Peter’s Basilica.

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Ate out a lot, lots of pasta. Here’s a picture from one of the nights at dinner. Jay, Michael and Tyler.

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More carbonara.

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Our group went to the Rome vs. Florence soccer game which was the coolest thing ever.

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Alyssa and I at the game.

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The stadium was beautiful and the weather was like in the 50’s, it was glorious. Sun shining!

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Rome scored… As you can see by Jay’s excitement.

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And, ROME WON!

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So of course, we bought some gear to represent.

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Then, Brooke, Cat and I went to a flea market we found.

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Love these places.

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So much cool stuff.

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The family that owned this stand was so nice, they kept dressing me up in clothes and teaching me cheers that they cheer at the Rome soccer games because they saw that I bought a shirt.

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The next day, our whole group took a train to Pompeii. The town that is near Mount Vesuvius that was engulfed by ash and pumice killing the citizens.

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Kassie, Alyssa, Brittany and I at Pompeii.

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Trying to have fun.

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These stray dogs that live here kept following us around…

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So, after all of the fun… the packing commenced and boy was it stressful.

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It drove us nuts.

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Luckily, I was in the building with all of the boys on the trip. It was only the seven boys split between two rooms and then Brooke, Laura and I in another room and Kassie and Beth in another. This means, the boys had LOTS of room for us to put some of our stuff in their suitcases. I took full advantage of that. It was too nice of them.

Anyways, I’ve been home for weeks now but I have just been relaxing and unpacking, celebrating the holidays with my family, seeing friends, etc. So this will be my last blog post I suppose. Thank you all so much for reading and taking the time to follow my journey! It was life changing and I would do it all over again if I could.

So,  Goodbye, Do widzenia, Au revoir, Arrivederci, Auf Wiedersehen, Ciao. Thank you all.

Lessons Learned: A Traveler’s Reflection.

As you all know, I was in Europe for 3.5 months. I have been home for over a week and the time for reflection on this dreamlike haze has commenced. Sometimes, I found myself asking other people “Is this real life?” Because, sometimes I felt like I was just waiting to be woken up from it all, because there’s no way it could have been real. From meeting friends all over Europe, to Paragliding off of an Austrian mountain, to traveling Europe by myself, to riding a gondola, to teaching Polish students English, to living life as a true vagabond, in a troop of what seems like wandering gypsies, I have learned about a million lessons. I’ll just share a few with you. I realize I showed you all a lot of where I have been and what I was doing but not a lot of what that did to me or how much I have changed so, here goes nothing. (No specific order in terms of lessons, all are equally important and intertwined.) Also, a blog about Rome is coming. When I got home I had to catch up on homework and write some final papers so, I’m working on it!

1.        Always be yourself, do not conform. Once you start conforming and changing who you are to fit in, it will never end, it’s a slippery slope. By the end, you won’t even recognize yourself. Even though being yourself doesn’t always allow you into every social group, it’s a million times more gratifying to be accepted into a group for who you are. Also, if people don’t accept you, it’s not because there is something wrong with you, or even them really, you’re just different. Understand that being different is a good thing! Do not be ashamed of who you are, ever.

 2.        With that, understand that: There are people all over the world that will like you for who you are. There are amazing people out there, all you have it do is step outside of your small world to find them. If you have lived in the same city, same state, same country your whole life then you’ve probably been in the same social group as well. Surprisingly enough, there are people everywhere, outside of the place you are from and you may find them to be amazing. I met people on this trip from different countries, different cultures, different backgrounds, etc and after a week of knowing them, I felt like they were family. Sometimes you just click with certain people and you can’t explain why, you just do. Embrace it, find people that love you for who you are. It will help you be the best version of yourself. They will encourage that in you

 3.        Material things are trivial, unimportant, and when traveling, they are an added stress, physical baggage that you carry that makes you hurt all over and …sweat… It really isn’t worth it. Material things do not define you. I’ve seen some of the top designer stores all over Europe. I went to the fashion capital of the world, Milan and I strolled the champs élysées in Paris, passing by Chanel, Dior, Dolce and Gabbana, Prada, the list goes on for days, really it does but, I would see people buying things at those stores and I thought to myself, “Well, that’s one more thing that they have to worry about.” My only thought was that they would then be more weighed down, less free. I love things, I always have. I enjoy possessing nice materialistic belongings and I pride myself on looking the best I can, whenever possible. But, this trip has been the first step in teaching me the lesson I had heard all along… “You can’t take it with you when you die.” So, collecting things, giving physical space to fragments of my life is a waste. All that is important is people and experiences in the end. I can spend my whole life accumulating beautiful things but do you think that when/if I get to heaven, God will say, “Abby, you had a very cute wardrobe, such nice things you had.” No, I highly doubt it. But, he might say something about what I did for other people, what kind of person I was… How much I helped others to serve Him. Focusing on others can be the most enriching experience, finding that you don’t need those materialistic things can free you from selfishness.

 4.        People will make or break an experience for you. Just as I struggled with negativity, other people struggle with other things. It is very important to not only surround yourself with people you like but people who are as excited about something as you are. I’ve had a few experiences where I was with people who weren’t as excited about an experience as I was and it totally ruined it for me. Surround yourself with people who want to enjoy life with you.

 5.        Take a step back from the camera when traveling! Self explanatory, if you find yourself traveling anywhere, take pictures, sure, but also take a step back and put the camera down, look at what is in front of you and take it in. Take a mental snapshot of what you are seeing hadn’t remember the feeling, the moment. Enjoy it!

 

 6.        Self-growth is truly what the life process is all about. If you’re not growing, what are you doing? Don’t be stagnant. Keep trying to broaden your mind and expand your thinking! It is truly a disservice to yourself and the rest of the world to stay content with mediocrity.

 7.        Planning is useless. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good plan more than most but usually they don’t go accordingly anyways. The best days I had in Europe were the ones I stumbled upon when I was wandering. In the past I have been someone who puts a lot of stock into my plans and I generate high expectations which are usually dashed. I have learned to let God show me where to go because He knows better than I do what’s coming.

8.        You can be as independent as you want but you need to realize you will always, always, always need community. Being in fellowship with other people is what makes life worthwhile. One of my favorite quotes is, “The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care.” This quote by Hugh Macleod truly showcases what the price of being on an extreme end is like. Live in the middle. Understand that being alone and independent is a blessing but share your life with people too.

9.        Try to change the way you think about things. How you think about things is the most important thing in life. You can make your life a prison or palace depending solely on how you thin, how you respond and how you decide to look at a situation. You will be much happier if you choose to think differently, more positively.

10.   Being a leader isnt all its cracked up to be. It’s pretty overrated actually… Be okay with not being a leader. That doesn’t mean that you’re a follower and it doesn’t mean that you’re a silent member in a group but instead not being a leader can allow you to express your opinions without the fear of having to appease everyone as the leader would. Being a leader means showing by example, making sure every member is heard, sometimes reserving your own comments to further group development. Not being a leader gives you the freedom to voice your opinion.

11.   Home is where the heart is, but home is not a building. Home is where you make it, where you are with people that are close to your heart. I realized when I was in Europe that I had left my heart at home but after meeting Brooke, Francisca, Tomasz, Domi, Ania, My german class, countless other people, I realized I hadn’t truly left it at home. I had just simply chosen not to make Europe my home for those three months, but when I did, my oh my, did I enjoy it.

12.   Life is only as exciting as you make it. Some people think that my European adventure was the most exciting thing to ever happen to me, and it was, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get bored. There were moments where I actively chose not to have a good time. I was in a new country more times than I could count and yet I found myself bored, that isn’t a problem with the traveling or the place I was, that’s a problem within me. Finding excitement isn’t about where you are, but who you are. I know people who can explore the city they have lived their whole lives as if it is some exciting new playground. Be like them and be excited in every moment God gives you.

13.   Life goes on. It is more than okay to be sad sometimes, but note that I said sometimes, not all the time. MODERATION IS KEY for absolutely everything. Don’t do things in excess! The ancient Greeks knew it long before any of us, moderation is the key to a good life.

14.   Remember through your little mess, how big you are blessed. Try to remember that things will be okay, you will be okay. God is always giving you grace, so give yourself a little. You are blessed.

15.   Not everything is the end of the world. Realize what the big stuff is and what the small stuff is. Sometimes bad things happen, you lose something, or you don’t get invited to something, you don’t get exactly what you want. You’ll survive, just remember someone out there has it a lot worse than you. I witnessed a lot of homelessness in Europe and it made my heart ache. It really puts things into perspective for me. I truly appreciate all that I have and all that I am able to do. It would be a waste to not recognize it.

16.   Flexibility is your friend. If you’re willing to be flexible, anything is possible. The most amazing things can happen if you just let go of some of that control you have your grip so tightly around. Predicting outcomes rarely produces anything except maybe disappointment.

17.   When traveling, understand this: Less is more. Chances are if you’re in Europe or anywhere, you will want to buy tons of stuff because it is all so different and well, why not? But if you already brought with you a ton of stuff, then you won’t have much room for your new stuff. So pack light in both expectations and material belongings and see where life takes you. I can promise, if it takes you to Europe, you’re already winning.

18.   LOOK UP, REALIZE THIS: PEOPLE AROUND YOU ARE GOING THROUGH STUFF JUST LIKE YOU. Surprisingly enough, you are not the only person on the planet that has issues and problems. That should be a comforting fact. But, my point is… look up, try to help, be there for people, they’ll hopefully in turn be there for you, just realize everyone is walking around with their own scars and many of them are still licking wounds that you have no idea about. Be mindful of others. Try to help if you can.

19.   There are blessings in disguise everywhere. Try to look for them, be open to them and let God work in your life. Open your eyes.

20.   At the end of the day, stuff is only stuff. Don’t place too much stock into earthly items and materialistic belongings, you can’t take them with you when you die anyways.

21.   Dont be too prideful. It will only leave you hurt, that moment when you’re too prideful to tell people how you feel or go that extra mile for someone or do anything… It’s too much and chances are God will call you out on it. Remember He knows the true you.

22.   Realize that you cannot expect the same treatment that you give someone. I’m not refuting the golden rule here: treat others as you want to be treated but… you can’t expect someone to have the same strengths as you. You may be a very skilled interpersonal communicator but the other person does better in groups, you may think they aren’t interested in you but they just aren’t good at what you are good at. Also, say you are very skilled at being empathetic and you can cry with your friends because you care so much but you have a friend that isn’t capable of that, that does not mean they don’t care. All that means is that they are better at something else, like helping you process your thoughts or helping you solve problems. Accept people for what they are and the strengths they possess. Don’t be upset that they can’t love you exactly the way you want.

23.   It is good to have moments when you realize how very small you are. When I was standing at 12,000 feet on top of the Swiss Alps or when I was floating amongst the mountains when I went paragliding or any of the countless experiences I had… I had moments where I just realized how truly small I was in comparison to the vast majority of creation. I am a blip on the radar yet the Lord knows the number of strands of hair on my head. The Creator who created all that I have seen, and more knows that much about me. Feeling small is good, it keeps you humble and in constant praise of the Creator.

24.   Communication styles are different, adjust or move on. Some people are aggressive, some are reserved, some are confrontational, some are not, and the list goes on. If you don’t like the way someone communicates, understand it or move on.

25.   Live a life you can be proud of. Make your mark. 

Florence: The Land of Leather, Art & The Medici’s.

Florence, Italy known throughout history as a central point for trade and finance, during the medieval times it was one of the wealthiest cities. It is the birthplace of the Renaissance also known as the rebirth, of culture, most importantly art, modern thought, etc. Florence is also known for being the home of the Medici family, who I have become a little obsessed with after going to Florence.

Background on the Medici’s: “The Medici’s were a political dynasty and banking family and later royal house that first began to gather prominence under Cosimo de’ Medici in the Republic of Florence during the late 14th century. The family originated in the Mugello region of the Tuscan countryside, gradually rising until they were able to fund the Medici Bank. The bank was the largest in Europe during the 15th century, seeing the Medici gain political power in Florence— though officially they remained citizens rather than monarchs. They even produced four Popes.”

So, the Medici’s basically ruled and owned Florence, they became so prominent by employing what the mafia now uses today… They basically invented the “I’ll do this for you now, but… You’ll then owe me later.” deal. It sure worked for them. The Medici’s are intertwined with a lot of the things I saw in Florence, so here goes nothing:

THE MONEY WALL. Not sure why some random artist did this but he did… Someone from my group told me this is where Mona Lisa was buried… Not so sure that’s true.

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My first night in Florence, a group of us went wandering the city and then to dinner. We found the Duomo of Florence:

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Of course we found shops… and CHRISTMAS LIGHTS:

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And the replica of Michelangelo’s statue David.

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And the river Arno…

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The beauty of the River Arno at dusk:

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Awesome street artist:

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We had dinner at a restaurant called Za Za, a member of my group Ben had met up with his fiancee and her siblings during free travel in Italy and they spent time in Florence and had attended this restaurant then so he brought some of the group there:

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I couldn’t resist the ravioli.. I never can:

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We had planned tours for the whole time we were in Florence, the first was just a city walking tour and our guide was an awesome storyteller who brought us through churches, and piazza’s and historical venues such as these:

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Came back to the Duomo:

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Went inside this time:

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I loved the floors:

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Had the best tortellini with ham of my life…

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The other tours we did included the Ufizzi Gallery where we  had a guide take us through and show us works by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Raphael, Da Vinci and many more notable artists. I had an amazing time in Florence, I truly loved it. I would definitely go back there someday! Anyways,  after Florence my group headed to where we are now, ROME. I come home in 4 days! Chances are I won’t post about Rome until I get home. Thank you all for reading these. Blessings, Abby.

Switzerland; The United Nations & A Winter Wonderland.

Switzerland; the land of snow, mountains, historical roots of the Protestant churches reformation and of course Swiss Army knives. I was lucky enough to encounter all of those things. My time in Switzerland began in Geneva, the home of one of the United Nations headquarters. My group was lucky enough to have a tour there, there are 30 meetings that take place a day there, every single day. It was a dream come true to me, to be able to visit this building. As a participant in Model United Nations, I was so fascinated by how much it resembles the actual UN.

I was able to sit in on a public meeting:

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Ceiling of one of the meeting rooms paid for and donated by Spain:

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Another day we headed to the International Monument to the Reformation also known as the Reformation Wall,  Geneva was the center of Calvinism, and its history and heritage since the sixteenth century has been closely linked to that of Protestantism. Due to the close connections to that theology, the individuals most prominently depicted on the Wall were Calvinists; nonetheless, key figures in other theologies are also included. At the center of the monument, four 5 m-tall statues of Calvinism’s main proponents are depicted: Theodore Beza, John Calvin, William Farel, John Knox:

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After the Reformation Wall we found LIFE SIZE CHESS… and the fun ensued:

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Geneva To Zermatt, Switzerland 034Then we went to Calvin’s church and museum… Here’s a little description on John Calvin:

“Calvin was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Roman Catholic Church around 1530. After religious tensions provoked a violent uprising against Protestants in France, Calvin fled to Basel, Switzerland, where he published the first edition of his seminal work  Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536.”

Calvin’s Church:

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Brooke, Michael and Alyssa waiting to get into the Calvin museum:

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Calvin’s pulpit:

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That was basically all that my group did in Geneva… The next place we traveled to in Switzerland was Zermatt, A Ski village where they don’t allow cars. It is the home of the Matterhorn and some Swiss alps/Italian alps (on the border). So one day, I walked on top of a mountain from Switzerland to Italy… No big deal. It was a winter wonderland. It was breathtaking and cold.

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So, one day I went skiing in the alps. That was the first time I had ever skied before and it was utterly terrifying but amazing! I loved it. The next day I just got a lift ticket and went up to walk on the very top of the mountains… It was so beautiful up there.

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12,000 plus ft in the air.

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I went up there with Michael, Brooke, Steph and Laura and it was such a blast!

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I am awkward.

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Michael and I practiced our model faces. We’ve been practicing the whole trip.

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We’ve gotten a lot better.

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I mean it doesn’t hurt that the background is what it is either…

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At one point, Michael cried at how beautiful our surroundings were, either that or the wind made his eyes water but I like the first explanation better.

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I was only in Switzerland briefly but I was able to experience the big city of Geneva and the small town of Zermatt and it was completely worth it. I would definitely go back to Zermatt someday. Switzerland is a beautiful country. There was a moment when I was standing on top of the mountains and I looked around and realized just how truly small I am. Although I may have a larger than life attitude with sass going off of the charts, none of that makes me any bigger than any other human on the planet. We are all in this together, trying to figure out where to go, what to do, etc.. We just all find different routes; as my professors would say “equifinality” Different ways to do one thing, we are all trying to do life, we just have different ways to do it. It’s comforting to know that all humans basically want the same things… to be loved, accepted, cherished, happy, etc. We are all on the pursuit of happiness. Anyways, I am currently in Rome for my last 5 days of the trip! Next post will be about Florence and then when I get home I will post one about Rome. Blessings, Abby.

The Parallel Lives of Abby Rime & Esther Greenwood.

ATTENTION: I am warning you that this post will be very different from anything I have ever written on this blog before, and If you read the title of this post and thought, “Who the heck is Esther Greenwood?” Then, give me a chance to explain. Oh, also note, this might be very long, when have any of you known me to be concise? I’ve always had a lot to say.

The Bell Jar

Esther Greenwood is the protagonist character in the author Sylvia Plath’s only novel, The Bell Jar. Which happens to be in my top 5 favorite novels. The story follows Esther through an internship she has in New York at a fashion magazine where it showcases her disinterest in all the frivolous things that her fellow interns care about which happens to be a precursor for the mental illness issues she encounters later in the novel, mainly depression (this is something, I can not relate to the character on) But, then the internship ends and she’s unsure of what to do with life. She goes home to Boston to live with her mother for the summer before her final year at Smith College and decides to write a novel but then realizes she has no life experience.  She then descends into her depression head first. During the novel, she explains life events that caused her to arrive at where she was in life, a boy from her hometown who went off to Yale, Buddy Willard, who became her almost fiance. She also explains her precarious situation at Smith College with her scholarship situation. She maintains top grades but at a price, she sacrifices a social life mostly except for Buddy. After New York, and then her summer at home she tries to commit suicide and ends up in a mental hospital. (I know what you’re thinking, how does your perfectly normal life compare to this crazy fictional characters? let me explain.)

I, in no way, shape, or form can relate to Esther Greenwood’s depression in The Bell Jar. I have never experienced chronic depression like Esther or like the author Sylvia Plath did (Sylvia Plath committed suicide a month after this novels completion and publication, tragic I know). I promise, this will become less sad soon so bear with me. I can on the other hand relate to the experiences Esther encounters in the book and the way Sylvia Plath expresses the desires, hopes, fears, etc of this character. I have recalled many passages from the book of Esther’s thoughts throughout my journey. They almost seem to resemble a stage in every young woman’s life at one point. The years between 18 and 22, when you’re still trying to figure out what type of adult you are going to be, which direction your life is heading, what type of college degree to get and so on and so forth.  The time in life where every life choice will have serious ramifications for the way your life turns out. As a 19 year old female, I have a lot of life left to figure out (I guess that is how I ended up in Europe…) but luckily I found a checklist by Jennifer Schaffer to help me survive the age of 19:

“Forgive. Forget. Fake it. Chin up. Wear lipstick, make lists, make sure your voicemail isn’t full. Mix protein shakes, send timely thank you notes, sip drinks more slowly, stare at adults’ eyebrows, smile without dimples, develop perfect posture. Be gracious, be kind, eliminate self-pity. Look in the mirror and shift your internal monologue from ‘How do I look?’ to ‘This is my face,’ from ‘What the hell am I doing?’ to ‘This is my life.’ Capitalize your emails, read the news, walk briskly, stay focused, and never, ever let on that you are somewhat lost and sometimes lonely and so completely confused (and would someone please just let me know what it is I’m supposed to do next, where exactly I’m supposed to go–). Just keep going. Go, and do not stop.”

As crazy as that checklist may sound, being a 19 year old girl in this day and age is not easy… In fact, being a young person is no easy feat either. It is a very weird time, the job market kinda sucks and the future is uncertain, but isn’t it always? Uncertainty truly is the only constant in life… (Sigh) Anyways, I find comfort in a list like that. I am learning so many things in Europe, about other cultures, about alternative ways of life and how truly easy life in the United States is and most importantly, I am learning a lot about myself and what kind of person I want to be. I know, heavy stuff right? So, back to the question at hand, how does my life parallel Esther’s?

If you have been following my blog since the beginning of my trip then you know that I wasn’t the happiest camper early on… Here’s a refresher: “During the days I do the coolest things and Im excited about them but then I come back to go to bed and it sinks in that I cant contact home and that Im nowhere near it. Thats the hardest part, knowing I cant go home. That Im trapped here But Im trying my best to get out of this slump and get over this homesickness. ” <— That was literally the first week I was in Europe and I was already sad and trapped in my own negative thinking. This leads into my first comparison between Esther and I…

1.)   Just as Esther was in New York with a once in a lifetime experience, there I was in Europe living the dream. But, nothing within me had changed yet, I was still that same girl from Columbia Heights, Minnesota that left on the airplane and Esther was the same suburban girl from Boston… I should have felt excited in Europe, I should have felt blessed and optimistic but instead my negativity prevailed and like Esther says I was supposed to be having the time of my life. But I wasn’t and neither was she… It is all about the way you think about things. My sister Allison let me borrow an awesome book called the Epictetus Club which focuses on how you can control the way you think and react to situations in life by counteracting negative thoughts.  I hadn’t let any of those lessons sink in yet and so like Esther says, “How did I know that someday-at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere-the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”, How did I know that I wouldn’t let my negative thoughts consume me like they used to at home? Early on my negativity was already ruining my trip and keeping me from building relationships with my group. Since then, this trip has taught me to control the way I think, to realize what is important. Something Esther could never really do was escape her depression which in my case would be negativity… She says, It wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me, because wherever I sat – on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok – I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air. In my case, I have learned to escape from the sour air. I have found fresh air in positive thoughts and through those positive thoughts I have yielded positive results. My goodness is life a learning process or what?

2.)  Ok, so I’ll try to go through this as chronologically as possible. When I was feeling homesick and negative early on I thought that I would just write about it, I love writing after all and it is very cathartic. As I sat down to write one of my first journal entries from Europe I remembered this part from the Bell Jar when Esther is trying to write her novel, At this rate, I’d be lucky if I wrote a page a day. Then I knew what the problem was. I needed experience. How could I write about life when I’d never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die? A girl I knew had just won a prize for a short story about her adventures among the pygmies in Africa. How could I compete with that sort of thing? I thought about this and all I had written up until I had left for Europe, I have about 10 years’ worth of journal entries, I wrote an 80 page book for high school sophomore year, like I said, I’ve always had a lot to say. But after I reached Europe and stepped just a little bit outside of myself… I realized how most of the stuff I had written up until now had been trivial and purely superficial. I hadn’t experienced anything yet! My dad always used to make fun of me when I would act like I knew everything which still happens sometimes unfortunately and he would say,You dont know shit and you havent seen shit. I always deep down knew he was right but would of course never admit it. Thankfully as I have gotten older I feel like I know less and less instead of knowing everything… Kind of a scary process. Nonetheless, I sat down and tried to write and found that I couldn’t formulate a single sentence. This has been the most jam-packed, intense, trying, exciting, overwhelming time in my life and I can’t even write a page of reflection on any of it. I am beginning to be able to now but for the first month or so I couldn’t even grasp for the words of what my life had become. I have to thank my dad though because if he had never said what he did to me I would have never realized how much growing and learning I had left to do.

3.)  Another thing I had become painfully aware of during my trip was another thing that caused Esther’s depression to worsen, which was that I can only live one life and I have already spent 19 years of it. I am currently a Rhetorical Communications and Political Science Double Major. This definitely sets me up to enter the political sphere (not as a politician, no thank you.) As a lobbyist, or a press secretary, something exciting but who knows if that will make me happy? Esther says it better than I can (and by Esther I mean Sylvia but they truly are one in the same), I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet. One of the hardest things to cope with and understand as a human are my limitations. There are some things that I will never be able to do and even as much as I envision the way I want my life to be, God has an infinitely better plan for me than I could ever create for myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with wanting things to go my way but if they don’t then I have to understand that God’s is for me, it’s like my youth pastor, Nick Foulks, said when I used to attend Substance churches youth group verve, “Settle in your heart that God is for you.” To have that in my heart will be the biggest tool in not feeling like opportunities and future plans are shriveling around me because I am not apart of all of them. I must trust that I am where I am supposed to be. Like  Nick also used to say, “If my plans for the future stop God’s plan for the now… Then my security is in the wrong place.” I must place my security in God.

4.) So, there have been times throughout my trip where I have been very frustrated, homesick, negative, etc… but once again, wise words from Esther,My mother said the cure for thinking too much about yourself was helping somebody who was worse off than you. I know my mom probably agrees with this statement considering she is one of the most giving and thoughtful people there are. So, these words came to me in times of discomfort and selfishness and I tried to then make breathing a little bit easier for someone else on those days… by recognizing other people’s needs and meeting them. I tried to take a page out of my mom’s book and be self-sacrificial for once instead of dwelling on my own circumstances. This really did help me get through the hard times to know that I was helping someone else or at least trying to focus on them instead of me. That was an important lesson for me to learn. Granted what this looks like for Esther is that she volunteers in a pregnancy ward and that increases her depression, I have begun to find joy in serving those around me, even at the risk of being in discomfort myself. It is truly humbling and honoring to God when you do that.

5.) So, to say that the first week in Vienna when I was homesick and negative was the only time I was like that would be a lie. When my parents came, I realized how much things had gone on without me at home, but that was comforting knowing things were still the same. When they left, I realized I had to enjoy every moment of Europe because soon I would be going home to my old life as a new person and I had to soak this all in while I could. That doesn’t mean I didn’t get a tad bit homesick sometimes when my group was traveling like a band of vagabond gypsies with no rest in sight. There was this moment in Milan, where the homesickness came back in a small wave, I longed for home, for comfort, for people who truly know me and love me and I was choked up, and there I was walking around the Duomo in Milan, one of the largest Cathedrals in Europe, almost in tears. That was when I ran into a boy from my group, Tyler and just by the look on my face he could tell something was wrong, he began by asking “Are you okay?” I choked out a quick response, “I’m okay, really I am.” He let it be, thank God for that. We began to talk about the statue in front of us. It was by Marco d’Agrate, the statue was of St. Bartholomew, who was said to have been martyred by being skinned alive. Below is a photo of the statue. It is him holding his own skin… I looked at him and couldn’t’t help but think some very sad, negative thoughts… Like, I’m like him, every nerve ending in my body, every emotion, everything is exposed just like him. I am fragile. I was as exposed to the world as he was. Across the ocean from my home, my family, friends, support, traveling from place to place every other day, always feeling lost, confused and unsettled. I don’t know why that wave of homesickness struck me then but, it did, and Esther, once again, articulates what I am feeling: I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of the throat and I’d cry for a week. Luckily, Tyler kept my mind off of it for a short time until I could get out of the Duomo and think about something else.

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6.) So, after Milan my group went to Paris and then Geneva, Switzerland. Switzerland is beautiful and cold… a lot like home. Geneva happens to be the home of the United Nations, the other main United Nations operating conference building is in New York. So, I’m in Geneva, Esther is in New York… Coincidences everywhere. So, when I found out my group would be attending the United Nations for a tour, I about cried. As a Youth In Government participant, I have participated in Model United Nations and as a Political Science major, I was so excited for this. When my group arrived our tour guide was showing us conference room after conference room and I was in awe. We saw one room where a public meeting was taking place so we were able to watch with headphones from the gallery and all of the countries represented had placards that they had to use when speaking, just like in Model UN and I was just mesmerized by it all. Esther also visits the UN in New York in the Bell Jar because of a simultaneous interpreter she knows, Constantin. A lot of people in my group kept saying things like, “Abby, would you ever want to work for the UN?” and questions like that because they knew how excited I was and how far up my alley this was… For the record, No, I would not want to work for the UN ever. But anyways, someone asked what a requirement for working for the UN is and she said well you should probably be able to speak French and English… and I’m like, oh man good thing I don’t want to work here anyways because I am already screwed. Esther explains the way both of us seemed to feel at the UN,  “For the first time in my life, sitting there in the sound-proof heart of the UN building between Constanin who could play tennis as well as simultaneously interpret and the Russian girl who knew so many idioms, I felt dreadfully inadequate. The trouble was, I had been inadequate all along, I simply hadn’t thought about it.” It is hard to realize our limitations as humans and also to acknowledge that there are people out there who are much smarter, more talented, and just overall better at things. I realize that and I am comfortable with that but inadequacy is still never a fun thing to be confronted with.

7.) After Geneva, my group went to a ski village in Switzerland called Zermatt, where the Matterhorn and Swiss Alps are located. On the border of Switzerland and Italy. Here, my group was to go skiing in these aforementioned Alps. I have never skied before in my life, ever. My first go at it was in the Alps, great. Esther also ski’s in the Bell Jar for the first time in her life, Buddy her almost fiancée insists that she must and forces her to. She loves it and writes this,I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of sceneryair, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy. She is right, when I was skiing down those mountains, I thought about that exact line from the Bell Jar because I finally understood it. Granted, Esther’s first run down the mountain leaves her with a broken leg, mine a few bruises but overall I was fine. It represents something larger though, there are moments when I feel like “this is why life is so amazing, ah I love it.” And then something crappy happens and I’m like, what, why… no, things were so good. I am learning to revel in the good times and not dread that something bad is right around the corner because I am just setting myself up for it then. In happy moments I must remember to acknowledge them and in crappy moments I must realize that they are what make the happy moments that much sweeter.

8.) As I am coming home in 8 days, I remembered this line by Esther, “I thought it would be the way I’d feel if I ever visited Europe. I’d come home, and if I looked closely into the mirror I’d be able to make out a little white Alp at the back of my eye.” I doubt there will be a little Alp in my eye especially since I was such a bad skier, but I am sure there will be a change that people will notice in me when I come home. Throwing myself back into the environment that I left 3 months ago will be very interesting and hopefully gratifying. To see how much I have changed will be an awesome learning curve for all of the preexisting people in my life and I am both excited and apprehensive. But, whether I am ready or not, I will be home in 8 days and I’m excited to figure out what my life will look like from here on out and after this experience.

With all of that said, I realize that Esther’s life is sad and also fictional but I can relate to so many things that she says that I thought it would be a good tool to use to show you all where I am at since I haven’t been updating you all on how I am doing but instead just telling you what I have been doing. Thank you all for reading these. So, as Sylvia Plath writes in the Bell Jar, “Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences. I mean that is all I am really trying to do with my life in the end anyways. Right?

 Blessings,

Abby

Paris More Like Paradise.

  A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life. -Thomas Jefferson

Hey y’all! I wrote a blog about Paris already on my groups blog site, so here is the link to that: http://betheluniveuropeterm.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/paris-more-like-paradise/

I will although, be doing an extended version here as well 🙂

So, Paris was truly the most enchanting city I have ever encountered. Before my group made our way to Paris we had heard lots of negative things like, “Parisians are rude.” or “It’s a really dirty city.” and we began to form preconceived notions about what Paris would be like. Therefore, a lot of us had really low expectations for Paris. But, let me just say that Paris’ dazzling charm comes out at every turn, the city is incredible.

Our first night, we made our way to our hotel and then quickly gathered our things to head off to a free organ concert at the Notre Dame (Not to be confused with the school in Indiana), below is a picture of what we saw as we approached the church… It was breathtaking. In Intercultural Communications, one of the classes we are taking while abroad we learned about the phases of culture shock, one of them being fascination, you can move between the many phases and for many of us, we shifted right back into that fascination phase in Paris. We were awestruck by all that we saw and how could we not be? The city glows, it draws you in and makes you never want to leave. One look at the Eiffel Tower and you’re hooked.

As one of my favorite Minnesotans F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older – intelligence and good manners.” He is more than right.

 So here is the Notre Dame at night:

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So, skip ahead to my first full day in Paris.  the majority of our group went to Artist’s Square, which is exactly what you would imagine, a square with artists in it, painting and selling their art. It was a really cool atmosphere to witness, artists everywhere painting other people, creating and selling. Before I reached the square I was able to see all of Paris… and boy did I fall in love with it. How can you not?

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Here’s Artist’s Square.

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One of the canvas’ being done in the square. I had brunch at a cafe in the square with Cat, Madeleine and Laura which was fun and then the four of us wandered down to find the Arc de Triomph.

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We found it!

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Then, we found the original Lady Liberty… France gave the United States the Statue of Liberty that resides on Liberty Island in the New York Harbor. The statue is of Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. She bears a torch and a tablet evoking the law. The tablet on the statue in the United States bears the date of the Declaration of Independence. The French version, the original, is much smaller than the one they gave the U.S. but still impressive and beautiful.

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At the Statue of Liberty (They two statues indeed have the same name, I was able to talk to some Parisians about it which was cool.) my group ran into another group of Bethel students from our group and we all headed off in search of the Eiffel Tower and I saw this along the way. The beauty of Paris at night is almost beyond words. Everything glows.

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We found the bridge used in the inception movie.

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And then, there it was… The Eiffel Tower. I can’t explain the feeling or the inspiration this tall tower inspires but it is pretty incredible.

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So, some of us just sat in awe of it for awhile, we couldn’t seem to tear our eyes away from it but after awhile the hunger and cold forced us to search for a restaurant.

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Can’t get enough of it.

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Seriously, I was obsessed.

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It even lights up on the hour every hour…

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After everyone had dinner, a bunch of Bethel students met up to go ice skating on the Champs-Élysées at the “Christmas Festival” is what we all called it. This was such a blast! Some groups kept going back to go skating for nights after.

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Austin and I

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Tyler and I

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Madeleine and I

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Michael, Austin and I

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The next day our whole group went to the Louvre, the largest museum in the world. It was a very overwhelming and stimulating experience. Some of the art you are seeing is 4,000 years old and there’s just no way to conceptualize or rap your mind around that time frame… It is a really surreal experience.

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Brittany, the ultimate tourist.

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Venus de Milo

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My favorite room: The Apollo Gallery

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It was so beautiful.

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Proud to be an Aries.

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The Louvre was packed

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There was artists inside of the Louvre painting copies of famous paintings which was incredible to watch.

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Then, I saw the Mona Lisa. Been there, done that.

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Madeleine, Cat and I decided to have a little fun at the Louvre… hahaha

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Then, we went to see the Napoleon Apartments. Lived in by Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife Josephine.

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After the Louvre, we headed off in search of the lock bridge that puts all of the other lock bridges to shame. THE ORIGINAL LOCK BRIDGE. Where couples began placing locks on this bridge to signify their commitments to each other. Since, they have sprouted all around Europe.

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Then we went back to see the Notre Dame in daylight. Still so beautiful.

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But, at night some of us decided to find out what there was to do in Paris and so about 8 of us got ready and headed off to a jazz club! One of the most popular places to visit at night in Paris.  The building dates to the 16th century, but became a jazz club in 1946. It was allegedly once used by Rosicrucians and by those linked to Freemasonry. Also, it claims to be the place the Templar’s met and hung out.

Beth, Brittany, Myself, Madeleine, Brooke.

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Steph, Tyler and Austin came with us as well. We had dinner first… some of our group tried Escargot, snails…

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I played it safe.

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Yuck.

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This was the Jazz Club:

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Cat and Tyler dancing.

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Madeleine and a man who made all of us dance with him…

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Me dancing with that man… lol he was nice.

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Madeleine, Brittany and I at the Jazz club.

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The jazz club was definitely a highlight to my time in Paris, Brittany and I stayed till the last set and were able to meet the band. A few of them were from the U.S., two were from Italy. It was such a cool experience.

So our four days in Paris were almost up and we had one group activity left, a trip up to the top of the Eiffel Tower… I think we all fell in love with Paris all over again. This is Brittany and I at the top of the Eiffel Tower:

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 View from the top:

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My favorite angle of the Eiffel Tower:

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But, with all of that said, I learned a lot in Paris. I remembered what it was like to see things through child-like eyes, to absorb without judgement but with an open heart and open eyes and to accept a city for all that it is and appreciate it fully. It has been 3 long months well spent here in Europe but it can leave you very weary and homesick. The fact that all of us can still snap back into that fascination phase is so impressive to me. I love that all of us have not given up our senses of adventure and our seeking for meaningful experiences. To find the beauty in God’s creation everywhere, because it is always there. I couldn’t help but walk around the enormity of Paris and think of this verse, Isaiah 66: 2 “”For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the Lord.” Paris may be beautiful, the mountains in Zermatt might take my breath away but the Lord is infinitely more beautiful than all of that because He created those places. He didn’t have to bless us with all that He did but because He loves us, he did. I can’t help but stand in awe of God’s creation everywhere I go in Europe.

 So, Parisians aren’t rude, the city isn’t dirty and the Eiffel Tower is actually all it’s cracked up to be.

“The chief danger about Paris is that it is such a strong stimulant.” -T.S. Eliot

Sadly, T.S. Eliot might be right, Paris is a hard act to follow but the United Nations tours in Geneva and the skiing in Zermatt hasn’t disappointed any of us yet! I am currently in Florence and will be posting a blog about Geneva and Zermatt, Switzerland soon. This is a busy time in my trip so bear with me! I will be home in 9 days!! Boy does time fly by… Till next post.

Abby

24 Hours In Milan.

My 24 hours in Milan.

Hour 1: When I first found out that my group would be leaving Venice for Milan for one night I was not happy… Yes, it is the fashion capital of basically the world but travel days in Europe are my worst days. Nonetheless, we piled on trains in Venice and headed to Milan. The train ride was uneventful and rather boring as they all seem to be and we all arrived in Milan on time. Once we got to Milan we had to drag our bags to the hotel which was not a fun 45 minutes. When we arrived at our hotel…

Hour 2: We walked in to find what seemed to be a pretty nice hotel until we were given our room keys. My roommates in Milan, Sarah and Layne and I followed the hotel receptionist to our room.. On this journey to our room we went outside, crossed an alley went up 4 flights of stairs past apartments and into our room… Which had to two lamps as lights and no heat. Keep in mind, Italy isn’t warm this time of year, especially not in Milan. So, we tried our best to settle in and get comfortable and then we got ready to do the only planned thing we had for Milan… A visit to the Duomo.

Hour 3 & 4: Spent these lovely hours at the Duomo which you can see below. The Duomo of Milan is a cathedral, the 4th largest in the world and it is overwhelming. We got to go on to its roof!!

Me on the roof of a cathedral that took 6 Centuries to complete.

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It is the most beautiful thing to be up there because you can see the mountains in the distance and the whole city from above.

Brooke and I!

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Hour 5: Then, after wandering inside the Duomo and roaming the roof we all went in search of dinner. I went with two guys on the trip, Michael and Tyler and my professor Ripley. We wandered past the stores and shops of Milan that don almost all designer labels… There truly is a Prada on every street corner and I heard one girl say as I passed her “It’s like Dolce and Gabbana own Milan.” their stores are EVERYWHERE. So, we window shopped and searched for food. The boys asked me a lot of questions about what any of these brands were and I did my best with my vast catalog of Vogue knowledge to explain to them.

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Hour 6: So by this time it was almost 6:00 and we hadn’t really eaten so naturally we found a gelato place with the longest line we had ever seen for ice cream before and decided that was our best option, and boy was it ever! BEST GELATO I HAVE EVER HAD. I got dark chocolate and I never wanted it to end, the put chocolate in the cone and it is simply heavenly.

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The boys really seemed to like it… As you can tell by the ice cream all over their faces.

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Hour 7: We had about 2 hours before we had to be back at the hotel (Ripley, the guy in the  hat above, our professor wanted to have class at 8ish) So, Michael and Tyler decided to head back to the hotel early and get a nap in so Ripley and I wandered and window shopped. I am starting to realize more and more how unique this trip is that I am on, I was able to wander the shop filled streets of Milan with my professor! How cool is that! We even went into Tiffany’s the jewelry store and critiqued the jewelry together. Times like that are just priceless and I realize how blessed I am to be on this trip.

Crowded streets of Milan. We watched that street performer there for awhile as he played Hotel California.

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Then, Ripley spotted the Starsky & Hutch car in some store so we went in and took pictures. It was a fun time!

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Hour 8-9: Headed back to hotel and had class.

Hour 10-17: SLEPT IN THE COLDEST ROOM EVER.

Hour 18: Ate breakfast.

Hour  19: Train station time.

Hour 20-24: TRAIN TO PARIS.

ARRIVED IN PARIS on Sunday and I have to say I am a little obsessed. I am leaving today to head to Geneva, Switzerland. I haven’t had Wi-Fi at all. The hotel in Milan didn’t have it and the Crowne Plaza in Paris charges for it so I haven’t been able to update this. I will hopefully write about Paris soon if my lodgings in Switzerland has Wi-Fi. More soon! Thanks for reading these.