30 Little Things I Miss About Rome

28 May

Some of these are sarcastic, some are not. You decide.

  1. Nuns
  2. Discovering my 2 euro wine turned to vinegar over night
  3. Walking down to The Spot for a 1 euro shot at 8 pm just because I can
  4. How nothing ever goes right, because hey.. its italy
  5. The H bus/Terravision
  6. Getting compliments everywhere I go
  7. Being called “Bella” by charming Italian men
  8. Having an excuse to make every day a special occasion
  9. Peroni
  10. Being a minority
  11. The people who automatically think “mafia” when they hear I’m from Chicago
  12. My apartment complex’s adorable security guards
  13. 2 euro slices from “The Brothers”
  14. Trekking through town with pounds of groceries in ripping bags and duffels
  15. Penis shaped pasta
  16. People observing life out their windows
  17. Twisting my ankle, everyday, on the cobblestones
  18. Burning my throat on grappa after every meal
  19. Having to wear my purse under my jacket, along with multiple secret money pouches
  20. Being on first name, facebook, cheek kissing basis with the local bar owners
  21. Having to hang my laundry to dry, but not being able to hang it out the window.. What’s the fun in that?!
  22. Planning to be hungover for an excuse to indulge in Chinese buffet with no shame
  23. The low life club promoters
  24. Clapping when a Ryan Air plane lands
  25. Eating a whole pizza by yourself is normal and expected, and you’re looked down on if you don’t!
  26. Trying a new gelato flavor or Italian pastry every day because you need to try them all before your trip is over
  27. Re-wearing outfits over and over.. and over until the next Zara shopping spree
  28. When the Tiber smells like the sewage
  29. Popping bottles at every major monument
  30. Using the excuse, “When in Rome,” for every irrational decision

Study Abroad Bucket List (Revisited)

23 May

Study Abroad Bucket List

#1 Make a guard at Buckingham palace laugh (CHECK)

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#2 Enjoy a “treat” in an Amsterdam coffee shop (CHECK)

#3 St. Patty’s Day in Dublin

#4 Go to an AC Milan soccer game (Did go to an Italian soccer game though!)

#5 Walk the red light district (CHECK)

#6 Spend Easter in Vatican City (CHECK)

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#7 Cliff dive off the Amalfi Coast (CHECK)

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#8 See Fun. in Rome

#9 Recreate the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover

#10 Meet a millionaire at Monte Carlo Casino

#11 Go to Carnevale in Venice

#12 Ride a hot air balloon/sky dive

#13 Make lifelong friendships (CHECK)

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WE ARE MARQUETTE

#14 Take a picture of any city from a high rooftop (CHECK)

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#15 Revisit wineries I interned at in Tuscany and Piedmont (CHECK)

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#16 Meet relatives in Rome (CHECK)

The family

The family

#17 Take a doubledecker bus tour of London

#18 Leave a note in Juliet’s wall in Verona

#19 Pregame my flight home (CHECK.. I don’t recommend this)

#20 See Jersey Boys or Les Mis in London

#21 See Platform 9 3/4

#22 Tour of BBC Television Centre before it closes

#23 Guiness or Jameson distillery tour (Heineken-CHECK)

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#24 Ride the London Eye (CHECK)

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#25 Ride a vespa..without crashing (very common)

#26 Ride a camel in Morocco

#27 Hike Cinque Terre (CHECK)

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#28 Go to a Fashion Week event in Paris, London, or Milan

#29 Watch the sunset from the Duomo (CHECK)

#30 Make my mark on the Lennon Wall in Prague (CHECK)

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Looks like there are still a couple things I can add to my “Before I die” Bucket List!

I left my heart in Rome.. because that’s where it belongs.

23 May

Leaving what had become my home and my adventure for the past 4 months, I clearly needed to be sedated. I can’t really tell you much about the hours leading up to my departure mostly because I tried to black them out (theoretically and literally), but also because I find them too depressing to put into words. Saying “goodbye” to the people who had become my makeshift family, using my last bit of Italian before it would be no longer accepted, and soaking in the last bit of being the minority that was either praised or hated by the natives, it all meant that my time in Rome was quickly coming to an end. Sooner than I would have hoped for.

Now, I’ve been home for almost a month now and I have experienced a wide variety of emotions since returning. Those emotions include nostalgia, mild-depression, satisfaction, and bliss. There are many things one must prepare themselves for when coming home to America:

  • It’s fugly
  • Your clothes won’t fit
  • Food doesn’t taste half as great
  • You will actually feel safe crossing the road
  • You will feel a hell of a lot lazier due to the lack of walking EVERYWHERE
  • English isn’t THAT great
  • Friendships may/may not be the same as when you left
  • People don’t care as much about your experience as they say they do/you had hoped they would
  • NO ONE understands, unless they’ve also studied abroad
  • You WILL binge eat and most likely gain more weight than you did abroad

I found this excerpt about returning Home and I couldn’t have explained it any better:

“Home is a funny thing. All we wanderers, and expats, and wanderlusters, and adrenaline junkies, and road-trippers – we can’t help but come back broken hearted. We find ourselves back in the old places, passing time in old jobs bartending or selling cars, with one foot out the door and half an eye on the next adventure. Our hearts hurt. We get stuck in the past and can’t seem to reconcile where we’ve been with where we are. Faces and memories fly by – and you can’t get over the fact that you’ll probably never see most of them again.

But we forget to count our chips. We forget that – for better or worse – it’s all part of the deal. The adventure. The heartache. They don’t mix too well, but they sure ain’t sold separately. The true travelers venture out for experience and much more. We wear our hearts on our sleeves and open our eyes as wide as we can and stand it for as long as we can stand it, because – that’s living. Heartbreak is the nature of our business, the necessary flip side to falling in love in Paris, drinking a Stiegl at the top of a mountain in Austria, trying to get yourself up on a surfboard off the coast of Beirut, passing time getting to know people and smoking hookah on a seaside dock in Saudi Arabia.

It’s hard to leave pieces of your heart lying on the ground of city streets 3000 miles away. But it’s beautiful. We weren’t meant to come back with a fluffy conscience and a clear head. My heart aches for old memories. I miss old friends. And I always will. There’s no getting over it. But that’s what happens when you live with heart open and palms up. My heart didn’t get taken. I went with it open. It hurt then because I knew it wasn’t forever – and it hurts now because the times are behind me. But in the emptiness there is love. Parts of myself are gone. They belong to people and places far away, and that’s where they’ll stay. And if you want to have adventures, you have to be OK with that. You have to know from the start that the thing is going to change you – and then you have to let it.”

-BEN LIEBING

WATCH ME- Study Abroad 2013 Compilation

Thanks to all my blog followers for sharing my experiences with me and commenting! This blog wouldn’t have been as satisfying and enjoyable without all of you! I hope you get to experience everything that I have been so blessed to experience.

I want to dedicate “C’era Una Volta” to everyone I met (new friends, my Italian family, bar owners, family friends, and old friends) in Europe who turned my “Once upon a time” experience into the unbeatable and unforgettable time of my life.

Until another time,

Ciao!

My “Eat, Pray, Love” Getaway

17 May

DSCN2846 As I’ve said over and over in my blog, this semester has taught me a lot. Many of those things I had to learn the hard way. Including, one should never indulge in extra curricular activities the night before an early travel departure (royally screwed that up 3 times). This was one of those times I screwed up. Big time. The night before, I remember that I set a 5:45 am alarm for my 8:10 train ride to Cinque Terre.

7:23 am: Wake up startled, panicked, and flustered. I had planned to meet my travel partner, Anna, at the bus stop at 6:50 and I woke to a FaceBook message, “So.. Did you oversleep?” In full makeup from the night before, an empty stomach, and some nappy hair, I grabbed my backpack and ran out the door.

7:45: After running through Trastevere, heart beating out of my chest, I approached the empty bus stop. Not aware that it was an Italian holiday and the “H” bus (created by the Devil himself) probably wouldn’t show, I hopped in a cab with a nice American woman just hoping that Anna would have had the same idea as me and would be waiting at the station.

8:09: Throw myself onto the train heading towards Genoa with 1 minute to spare. God, I hope she’s somewhere on this train.

10:30: Get a call from Allison, “Anna didn’t make it on the train.” Stomach sinks.

12pm: Arrive in La Spezia like a lost child in the movies, where the whole world feels like it’s spinning around me. There’s no surprise that I waste an hour in the station dealing with debit/credit/ATM problems when trying to buy the train tickets to the coast. Money issues have defined my semester abroad. and many others’.

Riomaggiore  DSCN2726 Besides the colorful cliffside picture of Manarola that you see over and over when you search ‘Cinque Terre’, I really didn’t know what to expect of each of the 5 towns. The train popped out of a cave on the side of the cliff and rolled into the coastal station. DSCN2750 Each of the towns has its own signature tunnel connecting the station to the town and Rio’s is my favorite – floor to ceiling mosaic sea creature art. DSCN2739 Over in town, one narrow street holds in the smell of grilled seafood and pizza fresh out of the oven. I went to find my hostel, Affittacamere Patrizia, to explain that I’m alone to try to get the money back, but because it was less than 24 hours notice they couldn’t refund me. Instead, they felt bad for my pathetically lonesome self and upgraded me to a private suite – queen size bed, bathroom, and fridge. Ah! The silver lining! DSCN2710 Giovanni walked me back through town, up a set of steps, through an alley, and up to my room. It probably wasn’t the safest thing that he knew where I was staying.. alone.. and no one else did.. but I’m alive today to tell about it (don’t freak out Nani)! As you walk dance down the steps from where I stayed you hear the amplified voices of ABBA thanks to “Mamma Mia”, the snack shop selling fried seafood in paper cones. DSCN2716 Being starved and parched from the hectic morning, I went to Bar Centrale, which is pretty much the only recommended spot for a fun morning and night environment and free WIFI (like cocaine.. you crave it). I love the tight-knit communities of these tiny towns. As I stood at the bar with my cappuccino and the BEST chocolate cornetto I had ALL semester (and the size of my ass is proof that I had a lot), friendly family and friends of the baristas came in and out (some just to say “Buon Giorno”). As I rapidly slapped out an “I’m ALIVE!” email to my parents, the barista had me sit at a table with her cute little son and for one time only, her and I made fun (in Italian) of all the dumb Americans who came in. amore When reopened after WWII, the Via dell’Amore, or Lover’s pathway between Riomaggiore and Manarola, became a lover’s meeting point for young boys and girls from each town. Unfortunately, the path is closed more than it’s open due to landslides and was closed the weekend I was there… but I really have no business being on a LOVER’S PATH anyway. DSCN2759 DSCN2764_2 As I started Day 1 of my hiking adventure, I came across a single church above the town and I can’t really explain what happened next. I walked into the dimly lit and empty church and as I approached the alter I smelled something that couldn’t be easier to identify: Nonna. If you haven’t read my “Dear Nonna” post, it’s almost been a year since my Nonna passed and as it slowly creeps up on me, more and more things remind me of her. I couldn’t stop the tears running down my face. I was alone, until I smelled her.

Lit a candle for Nonna

A candle for Nonna

To ensure that I didn’t look like too big of a loser eating every meal alone at restaurants, I went to the deli across from my hostel to up lunch and breakfast food. For lunch, I walked up Il Castello di Riomaggiore and opened up my greasy focaccia, prosciutto, and salami sandwich. A little piece of me died inside when I came across the husband reading a story to his wife as they looked out at the sea. DSCN2779 DSCN2772 More Riomaggiore : DSCN2754 DSCN2719 DSCN2732 Manarola DSCN2831 This is the town that normally pops up when you search “Cinque Terre”.  It’s breathtaking. My favorite of the 5 towns! When I arrived, I went straight up to the tippy top of the cliff. I climbed through bushes, up makeshift steps, and brushed past what could have easily been poison ivy (luckily it wasn’t). DSCN2793 DSCN2797 DSCN2800 Somewhere over the rainbow… of houses is the most colorful cemetery I’ve ever seen. Apparently this is a temporary cemetery which is emptied after a generation or so into some sort of “bone yard”. From outside the cemetery is the picturesque view of Manarola. DSCN2829   As it started getting later and the sun began to set, I went out to the marina and (once again) thankfully my high school bouldering skills came to use as I climbed along the row of boulders that jutted out into the marina. I laid out a towel under the sun and looked up at Manarola. Women were hanging clothes out their windows, couples dangled their legs off the marina ledge, families sat out on their balconies for a little aperitivo, and 1 lone boat anchored in the water next to me. DSCN2876 DSCN2851 What I would do to sail out to sea for a while..

On my way back up to the train, I had many nostalgic moments. First I sat in the town square and watched three young boys kick around a soccer ball as their family watched from balconies overhead.

DSCN2874 DSCN2871   Second, I passed by a window in which a husband, wife, children, and nonna were sitting down for dinner. Brought back amazing memories of Sunday dinners in Nonna’s kitchen.. and more tears. Nothing could have made me more excited to go eat dinner alone.. Ha! lalamp Back in Riomaggiore, I took a quick shower and got dressed (don’t know who I was getting all pretty for), that was until I walked into the restaurant with 2 of the sexiest waiters. La Lampara was the cutest little restaurant with outdoor seating in what looks like a boat. The night kept getting better as a GORGEOUS couple was seated at the table next to me, we became friends.. if that’s what you call sharing olive oil and pepperoncini. Picture 18 I felt like Julia Roberts as I ordered my glass of wine with Linguine with breadcrumbs and swordfish and observed the fellow gavones (look it up) who were all observing the lonely girl in the corner.

The following morning at Bar Centrale, my handsome waiter from La Lampara came in, we said “buon giorno” and exchanged a seductive smile. I could definitely get used to mornings like that.

Corniglia DSCN2916 If you don’t have much time in Cinque Terre, this town can be missed. It’s the only town built above sea level and is quite the hike to reach. Too bad I didn’t have anyone to piggy back me up the cliff. DSCN2897 DSCN2904   From the top of the town you could hear music playing all the way down the steep cliff at the train tracks. When I reached the bottom to get back on the train, I passed the little man, posted up, playing the accordion. He smiled at me, I dropped a few coins in front of him, and snapped this pic. DSCN2920_2 Monterosso al Mare DSCN2925 This is the most northern town of Cinque Terre and known as the beach town. There was a really cool center and tons of restaurant options. I walked in a wine shop and was offered a full glass of Cinque Terre wine. By the end of the glass I was feeling loopy, and had to get out before I knocked over any displays. DSCN2941 It was supposed to thunderstorm today, but Italy didn’t fail me this time! The weather was perfect for laying on the beach all day. Little naked kids ran through the water and I was shooting death stares at the couple in front of me as they rolled around in the sand. Thank you, for reminding me what I’m missing. DSCN2944   Vernazza  DSCN2959 This is the one town I wish I had more time in. I was cutting it close for my train home to Rome, but needed to make a pit stop in what I heard was a couple peoples’ favorite town. Right off the train, Italian flags drapped all across the town. DSCN2952_2

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This was the only town where the train came directly through town. I practically ran through town to get a glimpse from the water. I remember hearing about the view from the castle and wanted to quickly find it. I ran up narrow steps following “Castel Doria” signs until I reached a little hut with a woman charging 1.50 Euro for the castle climb. Now I normally don’t pay for views, but it was cheap, I was in a hurry, and knew I wouldn’t be able to find a free view from this high. After I climbed the skinny stairwell to the top, I was yelled at in Italian for standing on the edge of the tower (working my pro photo skills). I nervously laughed and then was joined with the men who “yelled”. Looks like they were just joking, but it didn’t come through with the language barrier.

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Leave it to me to board the train, during rush hour, cutting it as close as I could to make my train back to Rome. With my train to Rome departing at 6:11, it was 6:10 and I was rolling into the La Spezia station, crammed into the corner. I’ve also learned, nothing will get done unless you open your mouth. Under my breath I muttered, “Well I hope I make my train.” Luckily for me, I was surrounded by a group of nice Americans who heard and helped me push my way off the train. I sped up and down tracks to find the Rome departure; jumped on and off trains “Vai a Roma?” I finally found the right train, plopped down in 1st class, and with 10 seconds to spare I was on my way home.

5 breathtaking towns, numerous stuffy train rides, 1 deliciously lonely dinner, and (hopefully) hundreds of less calories later, I was leaving Cinque Terre with the hope of one day returning: alone or not. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect trip to close my semester. The alone time gave me the opportunity to stop and really process everything that happened this semester, the good and the bad. I really recommend a solo trip at the end of your semester abroad. Make it the final goal on your Study Abroad Bucket List!

“We travel, initially to lose ourselves; And we travel, next, to find ourselves.”

Ciao!

Costiera Amalfitana

7 May

This was the 1 trip that I knew I absolutely had to take, long before the semester even started. I didn’t imagine I’d be taking it with 3 dudes, but in any case the weekend had finally arrived! :D

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We booked it with the company, Bus2Alps, and I would recommend ONLY booking this trip with them. We only did it because 1. It has been voted their #1 weekend trip and 2. Planning 3 towns plus an island in 3 days, is a little tricky. Scratch that, considering it was me and 3 men.. make that impossible.

The 4 hour bus ride from Rome to Sorrento turned into 6 hours. For some reason the highway was shutdown at 10 pm, so we detoured through downtown Napoli. It’s like driving through the Southside of Chicago with 70 white kids. To up the anti, the bus was too big to fit down 90% of the streets, so we had caravans of Italians stopping traffic and leading us out. It was comical; one Italian would lead us to a checkpoint and then pass us on to another who would continue, and so on until we got on an open highway. Surprise Surprise.. it’s Italy. On the brightside, it was a double decker and we sat on top in the front with a better view than the driver.

If I had to hear the Jew Yorks behind me complain one more time about how bad they wanted bagels and how they couldn’t believe they had to share a room with 12 people without their own bathroom.. I was going to throw them to the Neapolitan dogs.

Out of the 3 hostel options we stayed in Seven Hostel, closest to the port, the most recommended, and most importantly, the one Dom Mazzetti stayed in when he filmed this.

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Ughh, Friday we woke up at the butt crack of dawn. All 250 of us met down at the port where we took a ferry (biggest damn ferry I’ve ever seen) about a half hour to the island of Capri. Straight from the ferry we jumped into 15 person boats with cute little Italian drivers. We drove around the entire island on this tour. From the water looking up the side of the island it looks like the dense tropical forests of Jurassic Park. At one point I thought I heard the cellphone ringtone from the movie. On the edge of one cliff laid tons of spotted goats.. which makes sense considering Capri means “goat”.

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Boat Tour Highlights:

  • Grotta Azzurra: Dragging behind our tour boats was a string of even smaller 4 person boats that would take us into the cave of the Blue Grotto. Our driver’s name was Albo and he sang Italian songs to us as we ducked under the cave and into the highlighter turquoise pool of water. * Go late morning/early afternoon for the best color

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albo

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  • Farglioni/Love Tunnel: Picture the Dolce and Gabbana “Light Blue” commercial. Bam! I tried closing my eyes hoping that when I opened them I’d be sitting next to that sexy, ripped, Italian model, but to my disappointment, I was stuck with Kyle, Casey, and Kurt.

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Scooch and I in the Love Tunnel

Scooch and I in the Love Tunnel

  • Green and White Grotto: Unbelievably crystal clear water slapping against the bright orange coral attached to the cliffs

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  • The statue of the Scugnizzo: Little boy waving towards the sea and welcoming visitors to the island

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Back on land we trekked up to the Piazzetta of Capri Town, known as the Ritzy little square. We were only up here for a few minutes, but long enough to indulge in the greatest summer drink ever created: La Granita d’Arancia Rossa – freshly squeezed tart blood oranges in an slushie.

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Even further up the island is the beautifully quaint town of Anacapri. My 3 “boyfriends” and I grabbed lunch at Le Arcate, right by the cab stop. We were utterly disappointed with the 10 pieces of calamari for 13 Euro (sorry we’re spoiled in Rome by Zio Tony for dinner, wine, dessert, and lemoncello for 10 euro), but the Linguine alle vongole quickly made me forget about it. The Neapolitan dialect is so slang and different than in Rome, but the waiters immediately knew my family had to be Neapolitan because of the way I cut some of my words short, like they do – “va be'”!

Linguine alle Vongole

Linguine alle Vongole

The guys took the chairlift up to Mount Solare, but I don’t pay for views, especially when I know I can find better ones – which I did! Meanwhile I did some one stop shopping: I had custom fitted handmade leather sandals made for my sister and I, and tasted and bought limoncello (for when I get home and need a reminder that this semester was not a dream). So you can get tipsy while waiting for your sandals to be made.

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Limoncello tasting

Limoncello tasting

Continue along the street of shops filled with limoncello, perfume, soaps, and ceramics until you hit this coastal view:

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Instead of waiting around Anacapri and teasing myself with the shops, I met a group of North Carolina girls who were headed down to the beach. We took a Capri taxi, aka Malibu Barbie convertible, down the steep winding narrow roads to the marina. Our cab driver, Alessandro, blasted Michael Jackson for us, so there we were, hands in the air belting Dirty Diana at the top of our lungs with our amused Italian friend.

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The beach was a pebble beach which is actually more comfortable than you’d think, cause you can shift the pebbles easier to frame your body. I refused to get in the ice cold water and we laid there until it was time to ferry back to Sorrento.

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Our hostel had the perfect rooftop terrace that for some reason stayed empty. Not many people found out about it, which made it our secret pre-game getaway spot. DJ/Bartender Casey “Scooch” Marini took the reigns to divvy out some pre-dinner drinks to pair with our sunset view.

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We took the buses into town and I was unbelievably shocked to see how glitz and glam the downtown area is. It is your typical beach town with tons of patio bars and restaurants and lit up palm trees lining the street, but completely opposite from the plain and empty area we stayed in. Accompanied by some street musicians, we had our well-anticipated “bier e pizza” at Pizzeria Aurora. My pizza was topped with spicy soppressata, bringing me back to my kitchen at home and my dad’s homemade soppressata.photo%204-1

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The rest of the night was spent outside under the canopy of an awesome Spring Break style patio bar called English Inn, jamming out to oldies, aka 2000s Classics, and judging sloppy Americans in their natural habitat.

Day 2 we got a later start, which everyone needed, and took the buses down the coast to the colorfully picturesque, Positano. The bus swerved around the edge of the cliffs, so when you look out your window you’re looking down a steep drop into the Mediterranean. We parked in a lookout on one of the turns and had to walk.. all the way down to the beach. Little old Italian women were peering out their windows in confusion as the 250 passed by with excitement and anticipation.

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We must have walked down over 500 steps, enclosed on both sides with vibrant colored houses and shops, and the shimmering ocean in close proximity. We were welcomed at the bottom by $20 overpriced sunscreen, black sand beaches, and coronas, bloodies, and daiquiris pouring out of the beach bar. We were genius enough to bring our own refreshments and steal a blanket from the hostel to share as a towel. We posted up for a couple hours to soak in our first bit of sun of the semester.

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Before we headed out on the water, we walked into town for a giant panini and Peroni. The deli guy had a huge line of Americans ordering boring American sandwiches, so the minute I walked up and said “Focaccia con Prosciutto crudo…” he told me he’d make me the House Panini and man oh man, there’s nothing like fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil on a hot day at the beach.

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Mid-afternoon, a ferry took a big group of us on a “booze cruise” over to a secluded inlet.

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The minute they dropped us off, everyone ran to the cliff and starting climbing. The entire time I kept thinking, “Man, I’m not responsive enough to be scaling rocks.” But at least I was over the ocean. After seeing the softball sized bruise my roommate came home with on her leg from cliff jumping, I was a little hesitant, but I had to check it off my bucket list.

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The jump felt fine, but when I walked out of the water everyone was concerned, “Are you okay? Why are you bleeding?” Who the hell knows. I don’t know if I blacked out underwater, or if my adreneline numbed the pain, but when I came out my knees and toes were bleeding – 2 weeks later I still have scars to prove it, but it was so worth it! The rest of the afternoon I made fun of Casey’s brilliant idea to cool off his hot rum and coke in the ocean.. genius idea, terrible execution.

Back in town we walked through the narrow streets, so some of the guys could buy linen gifts. Kyle and I were on a mission to find that Positano view you see on all the postcards. We kept walking up random sets of staircases hoping they would give us the right angle until we finally found it!

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positano

Once again, back in Sorrento, we enjoyed the hostel’s happy hour and the incredible Amalfitana sunset before dinner. The hostel set up a buffet dinner for everyone, but everything looked like frozen food and that’s not how us world traveler’s roll. Instead, we took the hostel’s recommendation and walked down to the port to a restaurant/hotel called La Ripetta. My pasta con frutti di mare was ten times better than those plastic string beans and bouncy chicken breasts back at the hostel.

Din Din with my boys

Din Din and Duckface with my boys

After a walk back to the hostel, with vespas whipping around every dimly lit turn, we posted up in the bar. With a live DJ, Kyle didn’t waste much time hittin the dance floor. He was working with moves I didn’t even know were possible for a guy. It was hands down the most entertaining thing I saw all weekend. He was shakin’ it with a gay guy, giving a girl a lap dance, and completely making a fool of himself.. but I respected that..

Drop it drop it low

Drop it drop it low

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Casey started shaking up beer and spraying it all over Kyle.. he got a little carried away when he got on the table and poured it over my head. But we walked away that night with a generous round of applause for Kyle’s entertainment. The next morning at breakfast he had everyone, guests and the Italian waitstaff, shaking his hand as if he was the new Seven Hostel celeb.

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The trip wasn’t over quite yet. On our way towards Rome we made a pit stop in Pompeii. In AD79, a dark grey cloud of hot gas, ash, and rocks poured from Mt. Vesuvius down through Pompeii – killing and destroying everything in its path. The 300C degree gases instantly killed the people and the ash preserved their bodies.

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Mt. Vesuvius

Mt. Vesuvius

The buried city is an incredibly large treasure and has been preserved in such great detail. With Mt. Vesuvius hovering over the city, we walked through ancient dug up houses, bars, restaurants with wood-burning pizza ovens, an old supermarket, and the whore-houses.

Pizza oven

Pizza oven

Thermal bathes

Thermal bathes

Can you please point me in the direction of the brothel?

Can you please point me in the direction of the brothel?

Brothel bed, looks comfy.

Brothel bed, looks comfy.

The hardest things to look at are the plaster casts of the people who were caught incredibly off guard, had no time to escape, and tried to protect themselves or unborn children with their own bodies.

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Pregnant woman protecting unborn child

Pregnant woman protecting unborn child

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*Definitely do a guided tour! My guide had been doing tours for 30 years, was extremely passionate, humorous, and just plain ol’ adorable. Otherwise, make sure you have a Rick Steve’s tour guide app or something like it because without guidance you honestly won’t know a bar from a bathroom*

When in Naples, what must you do? Not get pick pocketed and eat a pizza! Right down the street from the buried city was Pompeii Pizza. When there aren’t 250 hungry college students packed inside, or you want to venture further from Pompeii, I’m sure you won’t have to wait an hour and a half like we did, but in any case the pizza was well worth it! Mmm it was doughy and flavorful, and I would give anything for a slice right now!

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Although I blew through a lot more money than I planned to this trip, it was definitely one of my favorites and a must-do if you’re in Italy or even Europe for an extended period. Trips with my boys are never dull and once again, I’m so happy that I chose to take every weekend trip with a different set of people. It made my experiences more memorable and I learned a lot about what it takes to travel on your own.

It’s places like this that make me sad to be home in America. Don’t get me wrong, America’s great and all, but it will never compare to the beauty and history of Europe. I walk down my street at home and see nothing but newly constructed houses and parks, while back in Europe you walk a couple steps and hit ancient ruins. I left my heart in Europe and that’s where it belongs.

Catching up on a couple more posts, sorry!

Ciao (..Wow, I miss saying that)

Dear Nonna,

29 Apr

I’m writing to you almost a year to the anniversary of your passing. Words can’t describe how difficult it’s been not being able to share this unbelievable experience with you. As my time in Rome quickly winds down, I have started to realize the toll it’s taken on me. Specifically, I wish I could watch your face light up as I explain my experience meeting our Roman family.

Our family and our roots definitely influenced my decision to study in Rome. Hearing you, dad, and Auntie Janet tell stories of your time with our family in Rome made me jealous and I felt that I deserved something similar. Unforgettable. Something I could pass on to my children and grandchildren. As we have seen, time is precious and we can’t put off to tomorrow what we can do today. And so I didn’t.

Yesterday was my last Sunday in Rome. I should be studying for finals, but how do I convince myself that it’s Finals Week when I haven’t even been able to convince myself that I’ve actually been in school this semester. Having met your cousin, Cinzia, in the center of Rome for lunch a few times this semester, she thought this would be the best time to organize for me to meet the rest of the family.

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We lucked out with the nicest day I think Rome has seen this year. After a quick stroll through town – graced by an accordion player over the Tiber, past the Pantheon, down Via del Corso, and through Piazza del Spagna (man, I’m gonna miss that walk) – I hopped on the Metro line for the 2nd time all semester.

Cinzia and her boyfriend Massimo picked me up from a stop on Via Appia and we drove out of the city. To my surprise, we made a quick pit stop before lunch. They introduced me to Castel Gandolfo: the summer and vacation residence of the Pope located on the breathtaking Lago Albano.

Pope Benedict, where you at!

Pope Benedict, where you at!

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Cinzia and Massimo

Cinzia and Massimo

Pope Benedict is still there from when he was helicoptered after his resignation!

On his way to Castel Gandolfo

On his way to Castel Gandolfo

Massimo doesn’t speak much English, but wanted to use what he knew as much as he could whereas I’m the same way with my Italian, so we got by perfectly! It was beautiful to see a piece of Rome, outside of the loud and hectic city.

We went on to meet the rest of the family at the restaurant where they told me they go whenever they have something to celebrate, Tigellino, in the town of Genzano. I met Cinzia’s brother Pepe, his wife and their 16 year old daughter, and your first cousin Maria and her husband, Franco. The minute I kissed Pepe he said right away that I’m my father, the big smile was the dead giveaway. Everyone looks well and healthy. Franco was a big jokester, and Maria definitely reminded me of you, Nonna. With her big nootsies, culo, and smile, it felt like I was sitting next to you again. Her granddaughter kept leaning her head on Maria’s shoulder and kissing her cheek and it reminded me of smooching your cheeks and jiggling your culo every time I walked in the house.

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They went all out for this seafood lunch. Paired with our regional spumante we had calamari, anchovies, squid, mini fried squid, marinated eggplant, and fried baccala to start, then linguine alle vongole, gnocchi alle vongole e gamberi, and spaghetti alle pescatore, insalate miste, sorbetto and cake. As I’ve learned, no meal is complete without an espresso and glass of grappa to wash it all down.

Cinzia and Franco with their sorbetto

Cinzia and Franco with their sorbetto

We passed around pictures of your mom, Nonna Concetta, my parents when they visited on their honeymoon (Big Rich rockin a fanny pack), Auntie Janet when she was Tina’s age and visited, and miscellaneous pictures of Uncle Benny, Auntie Betty, and the girls.

Auntie Janet

Auntie Janet

Blurry, but mom and dad's honeymoon visit

Blurry, but mom and dad’s honeymoon visit

They told me all about their place in Fossalto and how much fun they had packing everyone into the tiny house when everyone flew out to visit. They asked about EVERYONE: your brother and Auntie Betty, Jo, Sue, Mari, Theresa, (whipped out pictures of Lisa), all of your sons, and was asking about Auntie Janet and Tina. I wish I had everyone with me to share this memory with.

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All of the men dipped out quickly because the Roma v. Siena game was starting and they needed to get back to the house before they missed anything. We trailed behind and met them at Maria and Franco’s house in Ariccia. 

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It was a beautiful property, screw Florida, I want to retire here. The minute I got out of the car, Franco started showing me all of his proud garden work. From the nutmeg tree to the pomegranate and cherry trees, to the mint, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and pepper plants. For a second, I thought I was back in my backyard and Big Rich had aged a good 30 years. I got a tour of the house and they pointed out which furniture belonged to your aunt, they even have a beautiful pillow case framed from her wedding night. It really made me want to come home and see what I can find in all of your stuff.

The family

The family

Franco and Maria

Franco and Maria

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It kills me that I can’t directly share this memory with you, but I know you were looking down on us and probably got pissed when I didn’t pass a piece of cake up to you. Franco and Maria were already asking me when I would be back, and it saddened me that I couldn’t say. I wish I didn’t have to leave Rome. I will never forget yesterday.

I had been looking forward to it for weeks and now that it’s over, it has definitely fueled the sadness of my departure.

My sweet Nonna

My sweet Nonna

I miss you everyday Nonna and I love you,

Marlo

Smells like.. Amsterdam

13 Apr

Cracked out on cold medicine and espresso, I threw a bunch of clothes into my duffel, combed out the dreads that had formed from laying in bed for the past 2 days, and was headed to Amsterdam. I’m pretty sure baldy (the quirky security guard at the front desk) gave me a confused eye twitch for swiping out a 3:30 AM with a fur vest on, hair and makeup all done, and a massive duffel over my shoulder. Still don’t understand why I packed the same amount for 2 days in Amsterdam as I did for a week in Spain. Some things I’ll never know..

On my walk to the cab I passed a couple of drunk men peeing against the International House of Women (an ex-convent). At that point my leisurely pace picked up to a speed walk. I’ve been pretty on edge after I witnessed my friend get socked in the face last weekend for absolutely no apparent reason.

When I got into the cab, I realized my driver was George Costanza. I thought my eyes were playing late-night tricks on me, until he started talking my ear off in rapid Italian. When in doubt, head nod and say, “Si.” One thing I love about Europe is their driving etiquette on the highway. When the car in front of you sees you quickly closing up on them they swiftly shift to their right lane. If that happened in the States it would take me half as long to get up to school, too bad I have to deal with the Cheese wedges of Wisconsin.

So, I may have overshot it this time. Okay, I overshot it by 45 minutes. But what was I doing in my lonesome apartment? ..besides obnoxiously laughing (and then coughing up a lung) at New Girl. So now I sit and wait for my plane. It’s 4:45. Nothing’s open and there’s no one here. Hopefully this is my flight. Me, myself, and I.

CAN’T WAIT TO SEE MY BIGGIE SMALLZ, ELISE, WAITING AT MY GATE WHEN I ARRIVE!

I hope. Or I’ll get a good story out of it.

Found her!! It only took us a few dropped phone calls and some sacrificial blisters from pacing through terminals. But thanks to my janky burner phone – we found each other! The two of us were the Walking Dead. With less than 2 hours of sleep in the past 24 hours, no makeup, and airplane hair, I’m surprised our hostel even let us in. We stayed at StayOkay, a chain in Amsterdam, but ours was right on the canal a couple blocks from the Red Light District and Dam Square.

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The minute we walked in, more like stumbled, a free city tour was leaving from the hostel. Now I normally don’t do the free tours when I travel because I never know what to expect, but our guide was a hilarious Alaskan native living in Amsterdam for the past 10 years and she covered everything I needed to know in 2 hours.

Tour Guide

Tour Guide

We started in the center of Amsterdam: Dam Square, named after the dam that was built on the river Amstel. Those Dutch are wickedly clever. AmsterDAM, OLD church, NEW church, doesn’t get more original than that..

Dam Square and Royal Palace

Dam Square and Royal Palace

Elise at the Royal Palace

Elise at the Royal Palace

Only one word describes the Red Light District: Bizarre. As a woman, I felt a little uncomfortable walking through alleys of prostitutes practically wearing a piece of string and rubbing their bodies against the glass doors. But come on, they’re respectable women.. they pay taxes like the rest of us and get health insurance. It seems like a pretty clutch career path to me. I asked Big Rich if I should sign a contract with the Madam and his response was, “Have fun, and no STDs.” New career path, here I come! It was crazy how many men we saw pacing up and down the alleys until they found a room that fit their desires. As we strolled through at night, with the canal glistening in the flashing red lights, men were trying to buy us! Come on perves, stick to the window shopping!

How about the selection of condoms right up the street!

How about the selection of condoms right up the street!

Up the street there’s the Old Church that completed a beautiful renovation thanks to the fisherman who paid the priests to forgive their sins after they fooled around with the Red Light ladies while away from their wives and families. Across the river, girls standing in the window front wearing just enough to cover what’s necessary flipped off people trying to sneak pictures. DO NOT try to photograph these whores. They’re feisty and I don’t think you want to end up in the canal.

Across the canal in Nieuwmarkt square stands the Waag, the old city gate. Rembrandt got his start here from painting a scene of a doctor examining one of the many bodies that came into the tower after they were publicly executed out front in the square.

The Waag

The Waag

Coffee shops

Coffee shops

There’s lots of night life around Nieuwmarkt Square from Bohemian bars to gay bars to coffee shops. We discovered this after walking in (and quickly out) of a bar the first night where we came face to face with the eccentric Queen Lashaunta and her crew of Jamaicans drooping with dreads. We did however find an unreal mexican restaurant, Los Pilones, for some of the best tacos and nachos I think I’ve ever had.

Amsterdam is an incredibly rich city. Most people just know it for its freedom, coffee shops, and prostitutes, but at one point Amsterdam was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, and the leading financial center. Although you inhale whiffs of second hand smoke from every store you pass, you can tell by the way the Dutch people dress, eat, and carry themselves that this city is far from the trashy reputation it gets from tourists. Here is Amsterdam’s Dutch East India Trading Company (VOC) headquarters, now a university..

West India Trading Company

West India Trading Company

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Another thing I didn’t realize was so well-known in Amsterdam is the formaggio (err.. cheese). Our guide took us to the Reypenaer Tasting Room on the canal where they do wine and cheese tastings, but we just sampled aged goat cheese (my fave!) outside one of the smallest houses on the canals. I don’t even think one of my thighs would fit in this house, let alone an entire family!

Teeny tiny house on the canal

Teeny tiny house on the canal

We also found a little shop, Old Amsterdam, right in Dam Square where the little old man in the store front was cutting up samples from a huge block of their aged gouda cheese. Their cheese is out of this world. We scurried around like little pack rats sampling all different kinds (multiple samples of the incredibly tempting pesto infused gouda), but we checked out with a packet of their original precut gouda.

Turns out that the day we got there was the unveiling of the Rijksmuseum, the Netherlands’s most famous museum, after it’s 10 year $480 million renovation. Queen Beatrix, which call me stupid but I had no idea the Netherlands had a royal family, rolled out the orange carpet and reopened the museum with fireworks and class. We felt like VIP, but along with close to 30,000 visitors, we took advantage of the 1 day only free admission to see the famous work of Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

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Rembrandt's famous "Night Watch"

Rembrandt’s famous “Night Watch”

Van Gogh's self portrait

Van Gogh’s self portrait

Directly behind the Rijksmuseum is one of two of the city’s I Amsterdam signs. You can’t be a tourist in Amsterdam without a photo shoot in the letters! It’s practically a jungle gym, except I couldn’t even get my fatass onto the “a”!

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Biggie Smallz and Little!

Biggie Smallz and Little!

Right across the canal in front of the Rijksmuseum is an adorable square called Leidseplein which is entirely packed with outdoor patio seating, where we chugged a couple cappuccinos to keep us running on no sleep. Elise bought a beautiful canal painting from one of the many cool art vendors in the square.

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Earlier in the day when we passed by the Anne Frank House the line was hours long, winding down the street. By the time we came back, close to 6:30 at night, the wait was 20 minutes, very rare!

The insane Anne Frank House line

The insane Anne Frank House line

The Anne Frank House was never something I really planned on seeing when I came to Amsterdam just because I didn’t see the point in paying to walk through an empty house, but I’m so happy I did!! Just walking through the rooms, reading her diary quotes, and imagining her family’s life during that scary period was incredibly emotional and sent chills through my body.

“The sun is shining, the sky is deep blue, there’s a magnificent breeze, and I’m longing – really longing – for everything: conversation, freedom, friends, being alone.” – Anne

Quietly creeping through every room of her house, reading and watching clips of her story along the way, you feel like your in Anne’s shoes – playing this 2 year long game of Hide-n-Seek. You can easily imagine the Nazis searching the streets and housing nearby as young Anne and her family hid in silence, without moving, day in and day out.

“Not being able to go outside upsets me more than I can say, and I’m terrified our hiding place will be discovered and that we’ll be shot.” – Anne

Behind the secret bookcase passageway and into their attic hideout, the temperature clearly dropped and Anne’s reality became more apparent. Thinking about all of the fun I had at her age, freedom and fresh air I was surrounded with that she never had the chance to experience was really depressing. Her room was covered with pictures of movie stars and models, like any young girl at her age would have. She wanted a normal life. She had a normal life before the war. She had such a talent for writing at such a young age that her father’s idea to publish her diary was the most honorable gesture that could have been made on her behalf.

Definitely a must do experience! One of my favorites in Amsterdam!

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I always feel guilty for smiling after an experience like this

I always feel guilty for smiling after an experience like this

You know how they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans”? The same applies everywhere else you go. So in Amsterdam, you ride bikes! EVERYWHERE. We rented from Discount Bikes in an alley (across from a coffee shop) next to Dam Square. Bike riding genes run in my family as my dad is practically Lance Armstrong (or he thinks he is). Somehow I always end up traveling with problematic bike riders. In Italy a few years ago, I watched my cousin Elise slide backwards on her bike down a busy highway as angered drivers zoomed by screaming “Vaffanculo!” out their windows. In Barcelona, Allison peddled at snail speed because of a traumatic fall she once had. This time I was dealing with my Big, Elise, who hadn’t been on a bike in 7 years. Between cars, bikers, walkers, trams, and canals, lets just say this wasn’t a walk in the park. Fortunately 10 minutes into the ride we came across a Tulip Market on the canal. Due to the unusual chilly spring Europe has had this year, the tulip fields weren’t worth trekking out to because not much blooming had been done. But this long stretch of tulip vendors definitely got the job done.

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I can’t tell you if we broke a bigger sweat actually riding the bikes, or locking them up. Every time we tried, it was at least a 10 minute process because there was no way we were paying the 300 euro fine for a lost/stolen dinky bike. We decided to play Dutch for the day, so after buying our Amsterdam cheese and renting bikes, we headed to the park!

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On our way we made a stop at the supermarket down by Museumplein (where Rijksmuseum and I Amsterdam are) to fix up our picnic. We grabbed wine and orange soda to make our Tinto Verano (learned about in Spain), ciabatta bread and turkey to mix with our cheese, crackers and olive tapenade (cause we’re classy betches), and cherry turnovers (cause no meal is complete without dessert).

Picnic in Vondelpark

Picnic in Vondelpark

Vondelpark was everything you imagine when you think of Amsterdam. People everywhere scattered on blankets, drinking wine and champagne, and the smell of weed passed through with every gust of wind. A huge group of guys were barbecuing nearby which could not have made me more excited for summer and people walked around advertising summer music fests in the park. As far as the eye could see were bikes.
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As we left the park, we almost experienced a casualty. Turning off the bridge and onto a side street on the canal, Elise didn’t realize that we didn’t have the right of way to cross yet and before I had enough time to yell “Elise! STOP!” a small sedan collided with her. I saw HER life flash before my eyes. I pictured her flying straight up into the air and crashing down hard. Luckily for both of them, the driver stopped just in time – before yelling a combination of completely foul phrases at the poor shaken up girl.
That day, I almost lost my Big.
To this day, I’m still not sure which is the safer mode of transportation in Amsterdam: Walking or Biking. Try at your own risk.
Our final experience in Amsterdam was the Heineken Experience.
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We got discounted tickets through our hostel and took the last possible tour of the night. It’s a self guided tour, but you walk through every process of the production. First you’re introduced to the ingredients: water, barley, yeast, and the nastiest smelling Hops.
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Second, in the fermentation room you try Wort, the sweet (not so delish) pre-alcoholic mixture.
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Third, check out the bottling process and get your name printed on a bottle!
Fourth, have a mini beer and chill out in the ultimate man cave to watch some Superbowl commercials.
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Fifth, go lay down and check out Heineken commercials from throughout the years, test out your bartending skills, and head down to the main bar for 2 ice cold beers.
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To satisfy our buzz, we walked across the street to the famous Carousel Pancake House – restaurant actually built inside an old carousel. Pancakes are huge in Amsterdam, but they’re made more like crepes, and you’ll also see a lot of Belgian waffles. Like in every restaurant with an overwhelmingly long menu, I asked the waitress for her recommendations and she couldn’t have been more spot on! She brought me one with half canadian bacon (boy do I miss that) half cinnamon apples and powdered sugar.
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I always said, I need to go to Amsterdam this semester because it’s a city that I probably can’t justify going back to after college. But after experiencing what it has to offer, besides the coffee shops and whore houses, and noticing the number of families and elders that live there or just visit, I know I’ll be back one day. This beautiful city, as well as every other I’ve visited this semester, stole my heart. (Now I just need it back before my final 2 trips!)
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Until next time,
Ciao
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