Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Little Piece of the World!

My friend Carrie recently posted her [much fuller] travel map on her amazing blog, and I had to do the same! Sometimes I feel like I've seen so much, and I am so lucky to have been all of the places I've been, but seeing it like this makes it so clear how much of the world I still have to see!

Also, I'm pack-procrastinating!!! It's 9:00pm, I have a cab arriving at 6:00am, and I haven't even started... Uht-oh. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Experiences in "Putting Myself Out There"

I spent most of last year very focused on the situation I'd gotten myself into: new job, new country, new language, new friends, new apartment, new adventure. A new man seemed like the absolute last thing I could focus on in a million years. This year I've been, as they say, "putting myself out there" a little more. When a man approaches me, I don't immediately run away or pretend  to  not understand what they're saying (or not pretend-- sometimes I really don't!). I don't think I necessarily am looking to date, but the idea also isn't the worst one I've ever heard of. I really loved being a boyfriend-haver in college, but this 20-something single-life is also pretty fun. Maybe it's Italy, maybe it's just life in general, but I'm finding that the whole flirting thing leads to some interesting, hilarious, and disturbing situations. Here are some scenarios I've found myself in these last few weeks.

Well, I guess I can’t hide my crazy :)
Jessica Day is my soul sister

A truly beautiful man approached me at a club. 

Truly, truly beautiful. I was coming back from the bathroom and trying to make my way back to my friends, when he stopped directly in front of me. He delivered his line in heavily accented English: "You are beautiful, kiss me." Um... What? The only other English phrase he seemed to know was, "I am a Sicilian gentleman," and he repeated it a number of times. A little while later, I was trying to get him to dance with me rather than attack me. Anyone who has seen me dance can attest to the fact that my go-to move is what I like to call "Throwing Out the Snaps," which consists of alternating snapping hands and wiggling your shoulders a little (very rhythmically), and occasionally adding in a ballerina twirl. It's quite elegant. As I tried to make him twirl, he looked at me like I was a complete lunatic and walked away without another word. Apparently silliness is not a desirable quality to Sicilian gentlemen.

*Throwing Out the Snaps Fun Fact: I taught my move to my friends' 7 year old, ninja-loving daughter and she loved it. She thought it was the best dance move ever! Her exact words were, "This is great! It's like you're snapping out a protective barrier around yourself. Like a shield." I guess, in a way, The Snaps do create a protective barrier around me...


Fast-forward to a few weeks later, same location. 

It's Fashion Week in Milan, and the place is absolutely full of models. I swear I saw Kendall Jenner- this girl there looked just like her, and the next day the little Kardashian sister Instagramed a picture from Milan! Anyway, this guy is talking to me and being very flirtatious. He keeps telling me how beautiful and little I am, but then glances up at the bar in disgust. Each time I've been to this particular place, there have been girls dancing on the bar. He leans over and says to me, "Look at those girls. Those thighs... McDonalds." That makes no sense, and I'm sure it's just that I'm not hearing him correctly so I ask him to repeat himself. This time he tells me, "I look at their legs, their thighs, and I know they eat McDonalds. Foods that make them fat." Are you kidding me? They are literally runway models, paid to be pretty and skinny and he thinks they're too fat?! I don't give him my number, but I do shout my name over the music and tell him he can find me on Facebook if he wants. The next day, even though I spell my name weird and so am probably hard to find on there, I have a message from him. Direct quote: "It was a pleasure to meet such a funny girl from NY... I always find fat or angry girls from there." WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, JUDGEY MCJUDGEY PANTS!?!? Needless to say, I did not respond.

This one isn't funny, and it isn't flirtatious-man related. 

Other than knowing how to tell cab drivers how to get home, this pretty much sums up
my situation. 
It was actually one of the scariest moments I've ever had. Part of this "Putting Myself Out There" mission is that I've been going into the city a lot, and therefore taking quite a few cabs. After Verona, I hopped in a cab back to Opera. My driver was a elderly man and I noticed immediately that he, unlike most others in Milan, didn't have a GPS. Now, I can't say much in Italian, but I've perfected my taxi speech: "Opera, per favore (then I tell them my address)." If they hesitate at all, I say "Via Ripamonte a Vigentino, e sinestra attraverso Noverasco di Opera (Ripamonte street to Vigentino, and left through Noverasco to Opera)." There is never any hesitation after that and the ride from this particular cab stand home takes no more than 15 minutes, 20 euro. This time, I must have been a little distracted. I was playing Sudoku on my phone, and when I looked up a little while later we were somewhere I didn't recognize at all. The trouble was that I didn't know how to tell him that, and wondered if he was just going a different way. I let it go for a little while, but the longer we drove, the more nervous I became. Finally I started looking at the GPS on my phone and saw we were headed to a completely different town. I was very turned around and now didn't know how to communicate or how to direct him back to where I lived. At this point we'd been in the car for at least 25 minutes. I reminded him my address and offered my phone to him to see the GPS but he didn't want it. We drove through another town, but by then it was dark and he started driving verrrrrry slowly (less than 15mph), and cars were starting to honk and pass us. He was getting very upset and started yelling and swearing I'm assuming at the people behind us (maybe at me? I don't actually know). At least three times he pulled over (once in the middle of a roundabout!) to ask pedestrians or other drivers where we were. I felt bad for him, but the meter was ticking up past 30 euro and I had absolutely no idea how help him find my apartment.

Don't you DARE "Grazie" me!!!
Anyways, nearly an hour later he finally found my apartment. I had nervously looked on Google Translate for how to tell him that there was no way I could pay 55 euro for what should have been a quick ride home but was relieved when he said what I thought was 15 euro. I can't count past ten in Italian without a serious amount of thought, and handed him a 20 trying to be kind. He looked back at me and started speaking very quickly about needing 35 more and I realized that even though he had taken me on a crazy drive, he still expected the full amount. I nervously told him what I'd been practicing in my head, that usually it was a quick ride, it was only 20 euro typically, and that's what I could give him. He hit the lock button from the front seat, and started screaming at me about having a family and needing my money and wasting his entire night. I pulled out the map on my phone again and showed him where we'd been, where we went, and where we were now, and how he should have gone but he just kept screaming at me and wouldn't let me out of the car! Finally, I threw 30 euro at him and he unlocked the door, suddenly and terrifyingly switching from screaming to smiling, saying "Ahh grazie, va bene (which is like, it's ok)." I got out, slammed the door shut, and screamed at him "NO! NO VA BENE!!!!" which I don't think makes sense, but hopefully he still got the gist of what I wanted to say. In hindsight, I should have gotten his cab number or told him to take us to the police, but I was so terrified and upset.

Whew! That started out as what was meant to be a funny, light story and ended up a little intense. Sorry... 

Thanksgiving in Dublin

So much green!

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! 

Or at least it did in Dublin this past weekend. At school we had Thursday and Friday off for Thanksgiving, so two friends and I jetted off for a weekend in Ireland. Oh my gosh, it was such a fabulous few days! Odaliz, Sofia, and I took off ridiculously early Thursday morning, which actually ended up being perfect because were able to drop our bags off at the hotel by about 2:00pm. We bought the tourist bus pass, which was a perfect deal- it included a hop-on, hop-off bus tour around the city for two days and transportation to and from the airport. More to come on how that worked out later... We stayed at The Norseman, which was completely fantastic! It was a cozy little room right in Temple Bar, three steps away from streets full of amazing pubs (actually, it's right above one of the!), restaurants, and energy. That first afternoon, we wandered through our little neighborhood before settling in at The Quay's bar for a cider and a very talented guitar player/singer. We didn't know it yet, but from this minute forward every bar we'd go into would be full of incredible live music.

Our principal had told us before the trip to check out an American Thanksgiving dinner, and it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip! 

Such amazingly talented musicians!

Thanksgiving dinner!

Since my study-abroad semester, Thanksgiving has always been the time I get the most homesick. It's one of my favorite holidays- I love being surrounded by family, love, warmth, food... every piece of the holiday is just cozy and magical, so I'm so glad we found a way to celebrate. Dinner was at The Merry Ploughboy's, a 40ish minute bus ride from our hotel. The four musicians were outstanding- they taught us all kinds of traditional songs, including leading us through the choruses and clapping. This was perfect because for the next few nights, whenever our favorites played at other bars we were able to sing along! My new favorite pre-game jam: Whisky in the Jar (clapclapclapclap--clapclap). Irish dancers also put on a fabulous show. It reminded me a lot of flamenco! Anyways, dinner was delicious but not the same as it is at home. I firmly believe that there are no better mashed potatoes or stuffing anywhere in the world than the ones Mom and Aunt Judy make, and, if I do say so myself, I make the best pumpkin pie there ever was. That said, while dinner was not as good as my mama's, the seafood chowder was one of the best things I've eaten in my entire life.


Sometimes I think that the ambience of snuggling up with a gigantic mug of steaming coffee does more for me than caffeine. 

Taking a shot of espresso, while delicious, just isn't the same. Ireland was extra awesome because they have the chain I miss with all of my heart: Starbucks. Starting every morning with one of the Christmas season specials and a muffin was just wonderful. After breakfast on day two, we headed to the Guinness Factory for the day. It was phenomenal! We really enjoyed learning about the beer and in the end could appreciate everything that went into each tall, dark glass. The brewery tour was very well done, and towards the end they teach you how to pour the perfect pint! Apparently, the founder, Arthur Guinness, was so sure his company would be successful that he signed a 9,000 (not a typo, 9,000) year lease on the property and access to the water source. That kind of faith in your life's pursuit is something to be admired for sure! After the factory, we spent the evening people watching at Temple Bar (I guess the area is called Temple Bar, and one of the bars is also called Temple Bar... that's where we went). 

On our third day, we had very good intentions. 

We struck out earlyish wanting to make the full tour-bus loop before checking out St. Patrick's Cathedral, and Trinity College with the Book of Kells and Long Room. We made our way to the bus stop with our Starbucks, hopped on the bus, and settled in for the tour. After about 20 minutes, we started noticing that the tour wasn't staying in the city center but heading out to the outskirts a little bit, but we didn't think too much of it. Another 20 minutes later, and I wasn't recognizing any of the street names from my map, but we decided that the bus had to loop back around at some point so we stayed put. Unfortunately, it looked like we were heading further and further out of the city, so I took out my phone and using precious roaming data GPSed us. We were in the middle of nowhere. Unsure when (or if) the bus would turn around, we got off with absolutely no idea where we were. A very kind woman at the bus stop told us how to get back, then came and sat with us when a bus finally came and gave us our own little tour as we got closer to the city center. It was an adventure, but ate up quite a bit of our day!

Nervous about missing our top "Must See" of Dublin, we made our way to Trinity College as quickly as we could. 

Trinity College is so incredibly beautiful. I can't imagine going to a college like that- it looked like a castle! There was a sign pointing to one of the buildings that said "Dining Hall," and it looked like a princess should live there, not like it was a place hungover 19-year-olds spend their Sunday mornings. The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript containing four gospels from the New Testament, was amazing. The detail and intricacy that went into each page was just breathtaking; the fact that it has survived for all these years (it's believed to be written in 800 AD) is awe-inspiring and beautiful. Before seeing the book itself, there was a small informational exhibit that detailed how the books were bound (something to think about during Young Author's Day this year!), and what some of the illustrations meant. At first glance, one of the pages looked like just decorated with random designs but on closer inspection was full of all sorts of complex and elaborate religious symbolism and iconography. The more I see, the smaller and more insignificant I feel. I think I've mentioned this on here before, and I don't mean I feel small in a bad way, just that the world has seen so many stories before mine, while mine is happening, and will continue after I'm gone. The things that feel huge to me are minuscule in the long run, and seeing things like The Book of Kells remind me of that. 


After the seeing the book, we went upstairs to a room I've been dying to see: 

The Long Room, an extraordinary library at Trinity College. Remember in Beauty and the Beast when the Beast reveals his amazing library to Belle? That's what this was like; a two-story arched ceiling with little nooks filled floor-to-ceiling with shelves of books, rickety ladders reaching high shelves, and over 200,000 of the college's oldest volumes. It actually took my breath away, and we spent a long time making our way down the hall. Either side was lined with marble busts of influential authors, and there was an incredible exhibit of Celtic mythology in children's literature. One of my favorite series has many elements of the Children of Lir story, and I adore children's literature so it was the perfect exhibit for me! I'm so glad we were able to see such an astonishing place. 

Inside The Bank
Outside The Bank

That evening we went out for a fancy dinner at The Bank, which was very classy and Christmasy, before heading back to Temple Bar and Bad Ass Cafe for more music and cider. I just love the energy in Dublin. The streets and bars are full of music and life. Everyone was ready for a good time, and just so friendly! The people we met all were so quick and witty, two traits I love in others and sooooo don't have. The absolute best part was how much Christmas spirit there was; lights, trees, sweaters... it all made me so happy and eager to start the season!

Halloween in Munich

From home in Rochester, a five-hour drive will bring me to my beloved Lake Wallkill, New Jersey. 

A five-hour drive from Milan can end up in Munich. It blows my mind that road-tripping to Germany for the weekend is a possibility, but it is! Four friends and I packed ourselves into a tiny rental car and set off through the mountains for Halloween. So many great moments and memories, but unfortunately for now this is a short picture post-- I want it done and am pressed for time! Hopefully I'll fill in more details one of these days!

Everything we ate was AMAZING
Cutest traditional dress!

The city-center looked like a fairytale 

The museum was full of fantastic sculptures
So beautiful!

I loved the contrast between the paintings and the statues 

Pretty Pretty!
Hofbrauhaus :)

Driving through the mountains at sunset was breathtaking