Tag Archives: Travel

rewind.

I’ve been home almost two weeks. The buzz questions haven’t gotten overwhelming yet, but that may be because I’ve been hiding in my room trying to make up for lost down time this semester. I may be an extrovert, but I think I found my hidden introvert.

Anyway, my favorite (NOT) questions to be asked are:

1) Did you like Italy? (Isn’t that a loaded question)

2) What was your favorite part? – and when I can’t answer that…

3) Favorite place?

4) And last but certainly not least: What was your least favorite part?

Now that I’ve been home for a bit I’ve had time to think and I may actually be able to share a few things, so keep reading if you like answers to open-ended questions. (Sorry for going out of order, but it’s for literary purposes.)

What was your least favorite part?

I was really really sick on and off for about eight weeks while I was in Rome.. I recently found out my “disease” was most likely mono, but during the time I just thought I was dying. It actually became a joke over our spring break trip as I hacked my lungs out of my body, woke everyone up in the middle of the night, and could no longer breath normally (not to mention the fire breathing dragon who had an amazing lung capacity that was lodged in my throat). Spring Break was no less magical, but it definitely helped me learn what perseverance was. Besides feeling like death (because that puts anyone in a damper) my least favorite part was the time change. Do you know how difficult it is to talk to your friends when they are on a 7-hour time difference? Well I’ll tell you, it’s really hard. I think I Skyped people a grand total of five times over the five months I was abroad.

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me while dying

What was your favorite part?

There are so many options and I don’t really think I can choose a single favorite, because that would be so unfair to all the other incredible things, so I’ll highlight a few.

1. The views – they were completely breathtaking – not just in Italy but every city I went to. It’s a whole lot different than the good ole’ US of A, but that’s probably why I loved it. It was more intricate; the buildings were stable, the designs mesmerizing, and always conveniently located by a river. I made a point of climbing a mountain everywhere I went, and it definitely paid off.

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Firenze (Duomo)
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Copenhagen (The Round Tower)
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(piazza del popolo)
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Budapest

2. The Food – If I were actually going to choose a favorite this would probably be it. Pizza and pasta are my life, so this was my food heaven. It was actually acceptable for me to eat one of those every day at multiple meals if I so chose. Also the food in Budapest and Greece. So good + cheap. If you ever find yourself in these regions try Goulash in Budapest and Souvlaki in Greece.

meal brought to you by friend and company
meal brought to you by friend and company

3. The Coffee – One of the best things by far was that you paid no more than a euro twenty (roughly $1.50) for a cappuccino. It’s also some of the best coffee you’ll ever have. (Also notice I said cappuccino and not coffee, because if you order coffee you are about to get a shot of the strongest espresso of your life. Not the most pleasant sensation, unless you’re into that sort of the thing then by all means.)

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a typical breakfast

4. Pastries – these may seem like they should go in the food category but that’s not true because in reality they actually fit in the category of “Piece of Heaven”. Sadly I found the best pastry shop only two weeks before the end of the semester. 30 cents for donuts, croissants, and either of the previous two stuffed with your choice of filling. Also, pastries are breakfast in Italy, so don’t be a hater when you see someone eating a cookie for breakfast because maybe they’re from Italy… or they just like cookies.

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fritelle (stuffed donuts – native to Venice)

5. Oh yeah and gelato gets its own category too. So….. Gelato.

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What was your favorite place?

Can I answer with a question? Can I refuse to answer that question? – kidding.

Everywhere I went was different, and asking me to choose a favorite is like asking me to evaluate every culture I went to and pick the best. I’ll give a few highlights ranging from places within Rome and some cool cities.

1. Top of the typewriter – no it’s not food. Its Il Vittoriano the place of the tomb of the unknown soldier, the eternal flame. It’s a building dedicated to the first kind of Rome and if you take the elevator to the top you’ll get the most magnificent 360 degree view.

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The Typewriter
just a sneak peek of the view
Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

2. Barnum Café – it was a café in Camp Di Fiori and it reminded me of Nashville.

3. Sicily – the food is filled with more vegetables and meat, there are beaches everywhere, and the people I went with made the trip.

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Cefalu, Sicily

4. Copenhagen – everyone was SO nice. The city is beautiful and it’s a big city feel without the big city attitude.

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Nyhavn

Did I like Italy?

No, I hated it. That’s actually not true at all – I loved Italy, and almost everything about it. There were obviously its ups and downs, but going to Italy was the best decision I’ve made so far in my life (aside from my newly dyed purple and pink hair). But really, sometimes it got tough to be so far from home, feeling like I’d been forgotten by people at school or generally just missing out on their lives, wanting to explore but being so ill I could do nothing but lay in bed. Rome is a gem and lots of people know it. It’s a city full of history, mystery, and some interesting people. The good far outweighed the bad and despite the hard things I came across I always learned something from them (cheesy I know, but oh so true).

So yes, in short (because that’s usually why people ask this question) I did indeed enjoy Italy.

today.

A day in the life. Here lies some daily occurrences and some spontaneous adventures, all taking place in one afternoon.

1. breakfast for lunch

2. vegan French Toast is real + good

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3. putting off homework to wander

4. trying a new gelato shop

5. gelato

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6. gelato covered in chocolate

7. i held a conversation in half Italian half English

8. working together and beyond language barriers

9. free wifi (for snapchat)

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10. only getting blurry pictures of our delectable gelato

11. blurry pictures being the best ones

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12. your friend sticking your phone in gelato while trying to take the perfect picture

13. gelato dripping everywhere

14. saving some for later

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15. walking around on a warm day

16. not getting hit by Italian drivers

17. getting weird looks while we sloppily eat gelato and not caring because the gelato and friendship are all that matter

18. two Italians walking past us and being sad with us because our gelato is dripping on the ground instead of into our mouths

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19. walking into Campo di Fiori specifically to get more dessert

20. finding a fountain in Campo di Fiori to wash our gelato covered hands in

21. jamming with street musicians

22. showing up late to class because we took a detour for brunch, gelato covered in chocolate, jamming with musicians, and food

10 days.

10 days + 7 flights + 6 students + 5 cities + 4 countries

This was by far one of the best weeks of my life. Maybe the travel bug has bitten me or maybe I’m a little more adventurous than the rest, but I hope this adventure never ends. It takes a certain type of person to study abroad and I think that’s why it was so easy to make friends here, we share so many similar qualities (minus the gender 7:1 girl to guy ratio). We have unsettled spirits, are curious, love new cultures, and we all got on the plane.

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One of the lessons I’ve learned that will stick with me for a long while is that it’s not really important where you are as long as you have good people sharing the memories with you.

Places are just places without people to experience them with.

Friendships abroad are unique, different than at school or wherever home is for you. They are fast to form, driven by adventure, non-judgmental, and well worth a decent goodbye at the end of the semester filled with what I assume will be many tears – friends for a lifetime.

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fam.

Over spring break I spent ten days with some pretty crazy but pretty wonderful people. I don’t know how but we ended up in the coldest places for the week. (And by I don’t know I mean I take full responsibility because I was the one of the people that planned the trip.) 1. Stockholm, Sweden. 2. Copenhagen, Denmark. 3. Budapest, Hungary. 4+5. Athens + Crete, Greece. We didn’t hit the cities at the right time, but when you are given a spring break, do what you have to in order to see as many new things as you can.

Surprise. None of the cities were what I was expecting. What I’ve learned is that having expectations is overrated, either way you’ll be disappointed. If it’s what you expected then it’s not new enough. If it’s not what you expected it can take you off guard. Go in with no expectations and you’ll never be disappointed – everything will just be new and different.

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ancient meets new.

Overstimulation. That’s probably the best word I can use to describe the experience. If I hadn’t brought my camera I don’t think I would remember anything. A week felt like a month and by the end of the trip I didn’t know what day it was or how long it had been since we left Rome.

The one thing I always knew was that I was not alone. When I was exhausted, hungry, irritated, lost, or ecstatic I knew I had people with me. I shared all those moments with people who understood me. We may have snapped at each other sometimes or shared moments of complete awe and admiration, but we arrived on the other side together. We may not have all had the same perspective, but to an extent we understand this experience like no one else will.

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sunny snow capped mountains

We are about to split ways in roughly two weeks. I don’t even want to count the days because I know they are too few. When we go home everyone will ask us the same questions: how was it? favorite place? favorite food? least favorite place? I know I will spend hours explaining the same thing and I’m ok with that because it’ll give me a moment to reflect and live in the nostalgia for a bit, but I also know that they won’t be able to fully understand what I’ve seen and experienced. It’s something I want to share, but don’t know if I can. I am the same person as when I left, but I’ve also changed – I’ve become more of who I am, more comfortable in my own skin. Sure I’ve done some dumb things, but I also think I’ve made some great steps forward in being a human being. I’m living in imperfection and recognizing where my identity comes from – and it’s not anything of this world.

You don’t have to go to a different country to learn these things. Like I said, it’s not really about the places. Sure it’s cool to go to Sweden and Greece, but without meeting people and making new connections what’s the point. People will always make the places otherwise you’re gonna walk through life looking at a lot of pretty buildings and that’s about it.

Go somewhere new.

It may be in your town or city of 1000 or 100 thousand people, but go somewhere you’ve never been. Do something that scares you and do something you’ve never done before. It could be baking a cake! Or it could be going skydiving or going to Europe, but do something. Live a little – or a lot. You will always have regrets in life, but don’t let it be never doing.

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“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

 

prep time.

I don’t think I gave myself a proper amount of time to mentally prepare because of how fast everything happened. The entire process was complete in less than three weeks from the time I did research to when I registered for my classes. I showed up in Rome, and my routine started again. Orientation. Make friends. Class. Eat gelato. Find a good coffee shop. Study. Procrastinate. Find better food. The tasks piled up as they always did. The lists began to overflow with items of goals – future and already completed.

or a class on how to make gelato
but who said you can’t break routine every so often with a gelato workshop.
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or maybe a picnic on the tiber river with homemade apple pie, mimosas, and some good people.

This past Sunday I stopped. My roommate and I took a walk to a lookout point and stood there for over an hour. That may not seem like a lot, but when you feel like each minute you are getting closer to the end of the best experience of your life you try to make everything count – to a point where things become calculating and more about mathematical equations figuring out what will lead to the most fulfillment than actually enjoying where you are. This thought process has led me to some regrets, missed sleep, and overly critical attitude. (Can you say serious case of fear of missing out – and I will openly admit that)? This weekend I realized that plans will change and as adaptable and independent as I am I can’t rely on other people to make me happy.

I am a relationship-oriented person, so typically those things make me the happiest. In Nashville I would rather sit down and have coffee with someone for 40 min than go to a party for three hours surrounded by 90 of my closest friends. Genuine. That’s what I crave, so why should that change in Italy? As fun as it’s been to go out with big groups of people and spend my days and evenings joking around and living wild and young and free that’s not where I’ve found the most joy. Some of my favorite memories to date are walks and talks just me and a friend. It’s where I’ve not only seen the most but I’ve also learned the most about my surroundings and whomever I’m with. They are special moments and I leave knowing my friendship with that person has changed for the better.

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it may be a hike to get here, but the experience shared in this place is pretty incredible.

This past week I got back in my routine. Living is not something you just decide to do and not hit any ruts in the road or without falling back into old habits. I didn’t completely fail though. Along the battle between school and adventure this week I managed to meet a whole lot of people in the most random of circumstances. The saddest part about the whole thing is that we’ve officially reached ‘hump day’. We’ve hit the mid point. From here on out there are fewer days left in the semester than the number of days we’ve been here. Now instead of counting up we are counting down. Instead of figuring out how to adapt to the culture here we are trying to figure out how we are going to go back home. It’s no longer about what we will miss the most in the states – knowing the hour we will return. Now, we are talking about what we won’t get in our respective cities of the US that are so readily available here, that includes everything from 1 euro cappuccinos to ancient ruins to the incredible people who we’ve become friends with.

You always hear about studying abroad and how incredible they are, but honestly the best thing anyone can do for you is tell you to have no expectations. Yes, read people’s blogs and do the research, but if you come in thinking you know what you will find you will more than likely always be disappointed. I will confirm the rumors and say that so far this has been one of the best experiences of my life, but it’s not a walk in the park either. A friend of mine recently told me that being uncomfortable is when you learn the most. So here’s to getting dirty, being uncomfortable and becoming better for it.

coffee.

It’s a scary thing when I admit that I am drinking more coffee and actually enjoying the taste of it. They say that breakfast is the most important meal, but here in Italy breakfast doesn’t exist. It saddens me to say it, because I am a huge fan of omelets, hash browns, pancakes, and BACON. That’s not what breakfast looks like across the ocean.

It’s not a bad thing really – It means I get to eat croissants filled with nutella every morning and not be judged because that’s actually normal. (Italians love their nutella let me tell you – nutella waffles, nutella crepes, nutella gelato. You name it they probably have it.) Coffee here is also really REALLY cheap. I’m talking 1 euro for a cappuccino, which is roughly $1.20. Even better the pastries are on average 1 euro as well, so you can spend a whopping total of 2 euro on breakfast. It’s not a bad life.

Your typical Italian breakfast.
Your typical Italian breakfast.

The biggest difference that I’ve had to adjust to is the culture around coffee. Coming from Nashville and even my suburb in Chicago coffee was the go-to hang out. If you want to catch up with someone then the typical thing is to ask to grab lunch or coffee – at least that’s what I do. Coffee is code for “I want to hang out with you and have a real conversation, so I can get to know you better or so I can check in and see how you are really doing.” It doesn’t matter if you drink coffee or not, because the idea is that you want to be friends and do something with them. If you ask someone to get coffee in Italy it means “I haven’t eaten anything all day because my breakfast is a cappuccino and croissant, so I need a shot of espresso.” Coffee means energy, not socializing. Most bars (coffee shops) aren’t even open on Sundays, which in America is the typical “I procrastinated all weekend and need to do homework, but I’d rather hang out with you and talk about life and how stressed I am with all the work we both have to do” day. When bars are closed you can’t hang out or work on homework in a location other than your apartment or the library. No one wants to be in either of those places on Sunday because the first means sleep, and the second also means sleep. Basically, the lack of open bars leads to further procrastination, lack of socialization, and no cheap coffee to stay awake.

coffee for one.
coffee for one. the only way to stay awake on sunday.

But in all seriousness, it’s definitely an adjustment. Instead of a casual coffee date on Sunday with a friend the next best option is a sit down meal. In a way that’s a little more nerve wracking because a meal seems like a bigger deal, especially dinner. In reality it’s all the same. I think we need to start looking at interactions with people with a different perspective. Instead of thinking about the time you will be losing or what you are trying to avoid (homework) or how uncomfortable it could be we need to think about how cool the other person is and how there is a reason we want to hang out with them and how they are worth the time.

[You actually can sit down in the afternoon and have coffee. It seems to be a cultural thing among college students around the world. Instead of naps, the young adults in Italy down the caffeine drinks amongst good company.]

One of the things I’m learning about Europe is that you don’t just ask, “How are you?” in passing. Those three words mean you care. It could lead to a half an hour venting session, an outburst of joy, or a five-minute rundown of the events of the past few hours. It means you care. Every time you ask to get lunch or coffee it’s not just something to say, it’s a plan. It doesn’t mean that you never text them about grabbing that dinner or going on that walk to catch up and grab gelato. Words aren’t just fillers here, they mean something. People are not overly polite – they don’t ask how you are out of courtesy, they ask because they actually want to know. “Good” is not a good enough response.

My friends here have taken to saying “FINE” stands for freaked out, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. Questions require a real response here and although that is slightly intimidating for someone who doesn’t like to talk about emotions (aka me) it’s a good challenge. Instead of superficial relationships it’s helped to form incredibly strong friendships with people that I have known for six weeks. Whether it’s because we knew we needed friends here or because we were more inclined to put ourselves on the line because we knew we’d only be here for 4 months we have been real. I know when my friends ask if I’m ok I can tell them the truth and if I don’t feel like answering them then they send someone over who they think I will talk to.

I may not be able to have my normal coffee dates here, but I have plenty of 2am texting rants, late night conversations while wandering the streets of Rome, and life chats while searching for artisan gelato. I may have only been with these new friends for six weeks, but they’ve kept me laughing. This experience wouldn’t be the same without them and we’re not even halfway through the journey.

All I have to say is I’m so grateful for the people here, but I’m also looking forward to my Sunday coffee dates again.

Pimms Good with friends.
Pimms Good with friends.

Mese Uno

Calcio

The slow murmurs and buzz in the air had me entranced. It was methodic and spontaneous all at once. The turf was a vibrant green, freshly manicured and painted. In one collective voice the fans shouted each players last name. You could hear the excitement and dedication in each declaration. The vibrant red jerseys popped off the field so you could see every intricate move the players made. As the anthem started every scarf was raised in adoration. Roma! Roma! Roma! Each voice melded with the next. I couldn’t have imagined anything more beautiful in that moment than this group of people united by love of the game.

-a.marlo

Two Cents

So here it is so far. I’ve been in Italy for almost three weeks and have learned some very valuable lessons. Here are my two cents on the eternal city as of now:

  1. Everyone needs to bring keys – even if you are going to the same event.
    • Someone is gonna want to go to sleep (aka me) and then someone will spend the night locked out (aka my roommate).
  2. I’m convinced people wear big dark sunglasses, so no one can see how lost they are – kid u not every street looks the same
  3. Communication with a cellphone that only works on wifi is very difficult. [Get a SIM card]
  4. Even if you speak to someone in Italian people will respond to you in English – no matter how badly you want to learn Italian.
  5. When people say you can’t find peanut butter in Europe they are lying to you… sort of. You can find it but it’ll be a little more expensive than you’re used to.
  6. Eat pizza every day. It’s incredibly cheap and magically delicious. [For real, 3 euro for a whole cheese pizza]
  7. If you’re a female and a brunette get some black clothes, learn to stop smiling and make some Italian friends, you will fit in quite nicely.
  8. If you’re blonde – au natural – give up now, there’s no hope for you to blend in.
  9. There is an entire month dedicated to sales every six months. January/June [I’m talking 20 euro designer clothes people].
  10. Last but certainly not least, eye contact here means very different things, so ignore EVERYONE.

There you have it. Now you’ll officially be able to survive in Italy for 3 weeks.

-a.marlo

Ciao

See you in 5 months, or maybe longer. I’m about to go on the adventure of a lifetime or at least the adventure that can be held in one study abroad program in one semester of college that happens to take place in Rome – doesn’t seem so foreboding when you put it like that.

This semester has taught me a lot and I am prepared for the adventure ahead… I think. It hasn’t been a cakewalk, but it’s equipped me for a whole different experience called “life in the real world”. I have no worries about my fast approaching departure to Europe – T minus two hours and counting. I know this will be quite the experience and although it will be hard I know looking back at this time in my life I will not regret a single moment. Lets be real I’m traveling the world, who would! I appreciate your prayers past, present, and future as I embark on this journey. I’ll do my best to live boldly (and safely) and take as many opportunities as I can while abroad. Thanks to everyone for the support and help in preparing me for this journey. 

As I sit on an airplane for the next 24+ hours I will be doing a lot of reflection, preparation, and of course sleeping. Yes, I will be thinking about all of the things I have to look forward to, but I will also be considering the things I will not be a part of this semester. What I’ve realized is this isn’t just the start of something new it’s the continuation. My journey started a year and a half ago when I came to Belmont.

A couple days ago I received a package and it contained my “adventure essentials” which included a journal and a stack of letters from people who care about me. This whole time I’d been preparing for Rome I thought of it as something new and although the scenery will be a little different my support system remains the same. This will be a test of some of my friendships and a glimpse of life after graduation. WHAT?! Yes, I realized that when we walk across that stage we will be going separate directions. The plane I’m about to get on is definitely taking me in a different direction than Nashville and Chicago, but my life will always be intertwined with the people I have met and now call friends. Our stories are forever interlocked whether our journeys continue together or apart. The Lord has placed some incredible people in my life and all I have to say is thank you. Thank you for loving me, encouraging me, supporting me, and showing up. I am forever grateful.

I don’t know when you’ll see another post up here, but next time I am sure I will be sitting in some café somewhere in Europe. I cannot wait to share my adventures with. So here we go. To my friends I will miss you dearly and I can’t wait to hear about your lives over the coming months. To my family, I love you and start preparing to swap stories.

-a. marlo