paris, je t’aime (beaucoup)

a few things I ought to be doing…

  • schoolwork
  • unpacking
  • tidying up my room
  • laundry
  • (at the very least) writing a post on recent adventures

a few things I’m doing instead…

  • browsing Pinterest & Etsy for Paris-themed art
  • downloading books about Paris
  • daydreaming up ways to come back to Paris
  • making myself prematurely nostalgic for life in Paris
  • eating clementines & drinking peppermint tea

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I have nineteen days left in this perfect place. Now, how to make the most of them?

Amsterdam

Since it’s Turkey Day and the idea is that it should be all about gratefulness, I thought I’d do an appropriately thankful post. Without further ado, I give you Amsterdam (through thankfulness).

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In Amsterdam, I was thankful for friends. I was especially thankful for my friend Allison (who you might remember from London!), because not only did she act as my tour guide for the weekend, she also let me crash on her floor. And eat her stroopwafels. Having now successfully pulled off two European weekends together, I think it’s safe to say Allison and I make good traveling companions. My friend/former suitemate/future housemate Taylor also happened to be in Amsterdam (well, “happened to be” makes it sound like we didn’t share multiple BBM conversations about coordinating our Amsterdam trip) with some of her friends from Granada, where she’s studying for the semester. It was so incredibly wonderful to be able to spend the weekend with two of my closest friends in this incredible city!

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So. In Amsterdam, I was thankful for waffles. Waffles of all kinds. Fluffy Belgian-style extravaganzas, waffles topped with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, waffles dusted with powdered sugar, waffles dipped in melted chocolate, and of course, last but certainly not least, the famous stroopwafel, wafer-thin and full of chewy caramel. If it’s carby and sweet, chances are, I’ll love it.

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(D E C A D E N C E.)

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I was thankful that for the first time thus far in Europe, being a blonde, green-eyed giant actually helped me blend in. Everyone assumed I spoke Dutch, and that made me so happy. But it also made me feel bad when I broke the news that “stroopwafel” is the extent of my Dutch vocabulary. So, that was a bummer. But still–it was cool. In France, everyone thinks I’m Swedish, so I guess I need to go there to really find my people. And maybe learn a few words of their language first.

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I went to the Rijksmuseum, and I was thankful for whatever wonderful curators organized the place. The museum is under renovation, but what was on display was really wonderfully curated. I’m pretty into art, generally speaking, and even I often end up finding museums tiresome. But in the Rieksmuseum, they provided just enough information about the works to keep things interesting without making my visit feel like a 3-D textbook reading. I loved it. And I got to see some really cool things!

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I was thankful for the completely adorable couple that agreed to take my picture with the “t” bit of this famous sign. (Don’t worry, I returned the favor.)

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I was thankful for pancakes. Specifically this one, which was ridiculously huge and topped with bananas, powdered sugar, and cinnamon. It was heavenly–slightly thicker and doughier than a crepe, but still closer to crepe than an American pancake. I loved every bite.

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I continued to be thankful for whatever Dutch quality it is that makes good curators when I went to the Anne Frank Huis (a.k.a. house, wish I spoke Dutch). It was incredibly moving and informative and well-done. It was definitely a sobering experience, and I’m so, so glad I waited in the line stretched down the block to get to see it.

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I was thankful for the Dutch in general! Seriously, people have been pleasant and warm almost everywhere I’ve gone, but the Dutch are topping the “Friendliest Europeans” list by a mile. Everyone was so kind and helpful and smiley. I think it has something to do with the bikes (which really are everywhere and more common than cars). People just seemed healthier and fresher and happier and more generally rosy and glowing.

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I was thankful for my coat, which kept me warm on a very chilly weekend. Previously, the coldest I’d been in Europe was actually my first weekend in London (which indubitably had more to do with the fact that I was coming straight from the melting, steamy American southeast than with actual temperature). But Amsterdam marked my new freezing point, especially at night. Brr.

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I was thankful for Wok to Walk. (Which is pronounced “Vok to Valk” in Dutch, tehe.) There’s not much more to say. Except, go there.

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I was thankful to learn that I still love playing with bubbles just as much as I did when I was a kid and would play with the giant bubble toys outside of Chattanooga’s Creative Discovery Museum. Actually, I would do exactly what I did in Amsterdam a mere two weeks ago. Yes, I had to wait in line with five and six-year-olds to have a turn. Here’s to maturity and self-growth! No, but really. Here’s to the simple pleasures and their eternal ability to delight. Bubbles are perennially amusing.

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I was thankful that a computer doesn’t understand the inner workings of my mind any better than I do. Also, I’m thankful that I’m at least certain I have more of a personality than the quiz I took at the Nemo Science Museum (amazing, so cool, home of aforementioned bubbles) would indicate.

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In Amsterdam, I was thankful for coffee and canals, for beautiful Dutch architecture, for fresh mint tea paired with Dutch apple pie, for Christmas lights and the Christmas spirit, for bikes and trams and helpful people, for breathtaking art, scarves, lingering meals and long conversations, for watching the tear-jerker finale of Friends with friends, for frites dipped in mayonnaise, freshly squeezed juice, and goblin beer (whatever that is), for wandering new streets and soaking up new sights. Amsterdam easily earned five gold stars on the Tessa Crevasse Euro-rating scale. Go there! You won’t regret it.

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Also note that, as at Thanksgiving and in life, my thankfulness primarily revolved around food.

Amen.

little dutch girl

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I have to admit, it was a little bit rough to wake up this morning and know that today was not going to involve the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a long run with my dad, copious amounts of food and drink with family and friends, or my family’s signature out of control after dinner dance party. Luckily, though, I have a lifetime of American Thanksgivings ahead of me, and for all I know, this could be my last chance to give the holiday a Parisian spin. So, I made the day mine by pity-purchasing a festive-seeming necklace this morning that I will proceed to wear to the Thanksgiving dinner being held at my school this evening. Today may not include my dad’s wine collection, my aunt’s roasted winter vegetables, desserts from Gabriel’s, or oysters freshly shucked by my grandfather, but I’ll make it count. After all, I’m incredibly thankful to be here, and that’s what the day’s all about, right?

I just might be writing this from my History of Fashion class. (Don’t worry, I’m listening out of the corner of my ear to our fascinating discussion on crinolines.) Once I get home, though, I have a new post to put up. Here’s a preview:

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When I was little, I would throw my dinner napkin over my head scarf-style (such a little lady), and, at the encouragement of my grandmother, proclaim through my giggles, “I’m a little Dutch girl!” (Sometimes I was Swedish, and with that shock of white-blonde hair, I certainly looked the part.) Anyway, I recently got to bring the childhood dream to life, and it was a delight. More to come!

on the homefront

So, I’ve been traveling like crazy and therefore have lots and lots to share but little time to share it! Don’t worry, though, I’m here to promise you and myself that I’ll be fully caught up by the time I leave for this weekend’s trip.

In the midst of all this traveling, I did manage to spend a weekend in Paris! Well, at least in France. There were some memorable day trips involved.

The first weekend in November, my friends Eric and Jimmy came to Paris. I love when people come to visit because it gives me an excuse to do all the touristy things I love and also helps me to check some of my other must-do tourist stops off the list.

For starters, I went to the top of Notre Dame! Happily, there were lots of gargoyles, and the view was gorgeous–one of my favorites so far.

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Unhappily, no, I didn’t see Esmerelda or the Hunchback. Disappointing, Notre Dame, disappointing.

We also went through the cathedral itself just in time to witness some intensely Catholic people in the midst of an intensely Catholic ritual.

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Creepy.

No, what was actually happening was the revelation of the alleged crown of thorns–yes, the crown, the one Jesus wore when he was crucified. Well, with all due respect, I somehow don’t think the crown was made of spotless sterling silver…sooo…that’s awkward.

I also finally went to Cafe de Flore, one of the most well-known cafes in all of Paris and former gathering place of lots of famous artsy tortured writers.

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The boys were inspired by the spirit of Hemingway and ordered whiskey.

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I was inspired by the lowest possible price and the color pink and ordered a Kir. Don’t lie, Ernest, I’m sure you did the same thing at some point.

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We ended up doing something of a walking tour of Paris one night, and because it is Paris, I of course saw or noticed things I’ve never seen or noticed before.

For instance, I finally did what I have dubbed the “death dart” through the traffic circle surrounding the Arc de Triomphe to get beneath the thing. There’s no delegated crossing place, so basically you just have to say a prayer, run out into the giant no-lanes-no-rules circle while dozens of cars speed by and swerve around you, and desperately hope for best. It’s exhilarating, and I never want to do it again.

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Oh wait, except once we got to the middle, admired the giant structure, and paid our respects to the Tomb of the Unknown Solider, we had to go back. Oops. Forgot about that. At this point just moving in was looking like a viable option. (I’m happy to report that I both made and survived the return trip, though, and am not writing this from my perch by the tomb.)

That night, I also got to see the last Eiffel Tower light show of the night…which, little did I know, is extra cool because they turn all the lights off except for the ones that are sparkling…so it’s like Eiffel Tower: The Dark Knight. Or something. I don’t know. It was dark and cool and edgy. I liked it.

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Other weekend activities included following the Rose Line through the city…some of us were more excited than others to finally find it.

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But we had lots of fun tracking it from Montparnasse…

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through Luxembourg Gardens…

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and all the way to Saint-Sulpice.

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The famous church is where the best part of the journey awaited us: this sign.

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HAHAHA! Little do these church people know, Tom Hanks is always right. Thus, there is a Rose Line. And it is here. (See: The DaVinci Code if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)

The Tom Hanks fun continued that weekend with an extra special French day trip: to Normandy!

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(See: Saving Private Ryan if you don’t know what I’m talking about. But please, please tell me you know what I’m talking about.)

My inner American History dork came out in full force on this excursion. However, my knowledge was sadly sup-par, and I spent a significant portion of the day BBM-ing my dad, who actually knows what he’s talking about and could give me the real play-by-play of how D-Day (and WWII for that matter) unfolded. Thanks, Dad!

Let me tell you something funny about visiting the beaches of Normandy, though. The French don’t want you to do it. They hate Americans being patriotic, I guess. Our trip involved a train to Caen (that left from a different train station than SNCF told us, thanks for that), a shorter train ride to a small town outside Caen, and then a bus ride to Omaha Beach. Where, at 3:30 in the afternoon, our bus driver informed us (literally as the doors were closing) that no more buses were coming that day, so we were stranded in small-town Normandy. Uh, great. He then sped off, leaving a small crowd of nine or ten very confused Americans in his wake. HEY BUDDY, remember that time we saved your scrawny French derriere in WWII We were unimpressed. Very unimpressed. And let me just say, I imagine if that if the French had pulled off an incredibly courageous and daring wartime feat comparable to the Allied Forces landing on the beaches of Normandy and, you know, fighting off the Nazis, there would be government-sponsored trains running every five minutes to the site of said feat. And everything would be forever preserved in solid gold. And encrusted in diamonds.

I really do love, you France. All in good fun.

All American patriotism aside, though, I really do think it should be a little bit easier to do what we were trying to do. After all, it is a pretty important site in, you know, WORLD HISTORY. Anyway. It was worth it.

The beaches were beautiful in an incredibly solemn way. Maybe it was just knowing what happened there, but it was almost haunting.

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(Didn’t stop us from snapping a few tourist pictures. American and proud, y’all.)

We also visited the D-Day museum by the beach, which was small but cool. I think my favorite part of the day, though, was visiting the British cemetery. (Because, oh wow, shocking, the rest of the day had been so easy! But the American one was closed.) Still, even though it wasn’t the final resting place for fellow American citizens, it was incredibly moving and really very upsetting to stand among the graves. Fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, young and old, my age, my sister’s age, my dad’s age…it was really incredibly difficult to fathom the losses so many people faced that day.

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Normandy was definitely on my abroad bucket list, so I’m really, really glad I got to make the trip. It was worth every little bit of difficulty the French put me through to do it. (Kidding, kidding. Sort of.)

Another recent day trip was to Rouen! Which any fellow art history dorks might recognize as the home of the Rouen Cathedral, which Monet famously painted multiple times in a series that experimented with the changing qualities of light. Others might know the small city as the site of Joan of Arc’s (or should I say Jeanne d’Arc’s?) death at the stake. So, that’s whimsical and artsy, too. No it isn’t.

Here’s the famed cathedral.

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And see the cross? That’s where Mademoiselle Jeanne d’Arc was burned. Alive. So. Ahem. That’s…awkward.

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All drama aside, Rouen was a really cute little town…that somehow, with a population just over 100,000, still gets to have an Hermes?

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That seems sort of unfair, Hermes. But whatever. Whatever.

I spent most of my day in the Vieille Ville, which was really charming because the architecture is almost entirely that style that I think is called half-timbered (but I’m not sure) but definitely looks like this:

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I liked it. It’s the kind of city I would love to see at Christmastime, because I already felt like I was walking through a little gingerbread village. (A gingerbread village with an Hermes.) Charmed.

Aside from walking through the streets, highlights of the day included the cathedral…

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…an especially delicious apple pastry (just embracing fall)…

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…and a visit to the museum that houses the second largest collection of Impressionist works (behind the Musee d’Orsay, obviously, holla…). As cool as it was to actually see some of Monet’s (haha I just typed Money’s…) Rouen Cathedral paintings in Rouen, I think my favorite thing I saw there was the temporary exhibition installed in the stairways.

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It was cool. It made me smile and wonder how on earth the artist did that. And hey, if art does that, it’s doing something right…right? Maybe I’m just on serious art overload over here.

All in all, it was a great day. It’s consistently amazing to me how different the rest of France feels from Paris. I was told several times when I first arrived here that there’s Paris, and there’s the rest of France…and there are Parisians, and then there’s the rest of the French. Very different. I get where they’re coming from. And I am so, so grateful to get to experience it all.

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Plus fall.

Rome

Roma Roma Roma…the last stop on our amazing trip. The Eternal City. Rome was nothing like I expected in some ways and exactly like I expected in others. The city was sprawling and beautiful, at once modern and ancient. Cars raced down streets and around traffic circles in a frantic, interminable river, making crossing the street a heart-pumping, adrenaline-filled experience. Ancient ruins sat waiting around every corner, Vespas whizzed by constantly, and the food–the food. It was unforgettable.

Rome was actually a little bit sad at first, because our little travel family went separate ways upon arrival. Amanda is studying in Rome for the semester, so she went back to her homestay. Heather’s parents were in town, so she headed off to their hotel. Meanwhile, Nicole, Tess, and I checked into our hostel. But we also gained a traveler! My friend Eric met us in Rome, bringing the Tulane count to six. NICE.

Nicole and I celebrated our arrival in Italy with some McDonald’s french fries. What, that’s not what you want immediately upon arriving in the capital of the greatest food country ever? Weird of you.

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Our first night, we wandered around a bit before meeting Amanda for dinner. We ended up passing this impressive building. I’m still not entirely sure what purpose it serves, but Tess’s guidebook described it as a monument basically just meant to say “WE ARE ITALY. WE ARE GREAT.”

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Fair enough.

We also sat by these Roman ruins and tried to figure out where exactly the Colosseum was. Embarrassingly enough, it was pretty much right down the street. We didn’t find out until a day later. It would seriously be like standing on the Champs Elysées and scratching your head over the location of the Arc de Triomphe. I pray that no actual Romans overheard our conversation. Or, you know, anyone.

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Dinner that night was 1000 kinds of amazing. (This was sort of a theme in Italy…shockingly.) We went to Dar Poeta, an amazing little restaurant located on the most charming cobblestone alley you’ve ever seen in your life. It was in Trastevere, a.k.a. Amanda’s hood! Unreal.

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We feasted on bruschetta (Amanda and I had a blue cheese and honey variety that was actually life-changing, I crave it regularly) and some of the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.

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Oops, blurry.

The real highlight of the meal, however, was this:

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That, my friends, is a Nutella and ricotta calzone. Mark your calendars for our upcoming nuptials.

The next day was insanely and wildly successful in terms of sightseeing. Rome is huge, and we knocked out a serious chunk of the requisite attractions in those 12 or so hours. I slept like a rock that night. Actually, I always sleep like a rock. But you get the point.

Our day started bright and early and in line for the Vatican museum. We thought the entire Vatican experience would take until around lunchtime or so…we were very, very wrong. And I’m so glad. I don’t think there’s a nook of that place we left unexplored. Including the Pope’s living quarters. Okay, that’s a lie, but we found out which windows belong to him.

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(They aren’t those ones.)

The museum was really incredible! Eric and I went all out and sprung for the audio guides…any shame I might have once had about marking myself as a tourist has completely dissipated since August. American and proud, y’all.

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Highlights included:

dead mummy feet

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the super cool map room

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a Gator! For you, Dad. And because all ancient Romans were obviously Florida fans.

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I guess the School of Athens was pretty cool. (Especially because it was commissioned just to decorate a pope’s living quarters…which is funny, because I also commissioned Raphael to paint a mural in my bedroom! Great minds think alike, Pope Julius II.)

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Annndd then there was this tiny obscure work of art I really liked! Sadly I couldn’t take any pictures…no idea why…but it was called the Sistine Chapel, if that helps you imagine it.

(This might help, too: http://www.vatican.va/various/cappelle/sistina_vr/index.html)

After spending several hours touring the museum, we grabbed a bite to eat…

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SALAD PIZZA! It’s carb-y and vegetable-y. In other words, my dream meal.

And then made our way to St. Peter’s.

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Heather and her parents reunited with us there, so that was exciting! We ended up accidentally in line to go to the top of the dome…best mistake ever. We not only got to see the inside of the Basilica from the dome, we also got to see the view of Rome outside of it! It just took a ridiculous number of steps, winding staircases, and narrow passageways.

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Once we came down, we wandered around the inside of the basilica…

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…and saw some more semi-famous art.

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Also, do you know that you can get married in St. Peter’s? If you’re willing to pay an absurd amount of money and wait 147 or so years. Cool!

We met up with Amanda (this was probably around 4:30 in the afternoon, mind you), and then the sightseeing whirlwind began. Because 7 hours of thoroughly exploring the Vatican and 551 steps wasn’t enough.

We walkednacross this beautiful bridge designed by Bernini. (Angels, quit being so dramatic.)

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had some of the BEST gelato of my life (that’s pumpkin…my heart fluttered with happiness for a good 24 hours afterward)

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wandered around this beautiful piazza (which I should definitely know the name of but have forgotten)

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past (and through) the Pantheon

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made our way to the Trevi fountain, where I of course tossed a coin in so as to ensure my return to this magical city

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and eventually ended up at the Colosseum, which was very cool to see at night.

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From there, we took another lengthy stroll in the direction of the restaurant we planned on eating at. At this point, it was nearing 10:00. We also caught sight of the Vatican in the far, far distance at one point and realized that we’d not only spent 7 hours walking around the place, we had since put several miles between ourselves and the capital of Catholicism. On foot. Taking a very indirect route. On cobblestone streets. It was worth every step, but I guess it wasn’t a surprise that my feet felt like they were about to become unattached at the ankle?

And that we were total gypsies at the tram stop.

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And that dinner tasted like heaven and then some.

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And that I completely CRASHED that night.

Sightseeing slowed down after our first day, but we still managed to continue seeing the Eternal City at a pretty impressive rate. The next day started at the Colosseum, again.

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Heather made some gladiator friends.

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We lingered over Roman ruins.

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We ate a delicious lunch at a mozzarella bar in a little piazza that was hosting a great market.

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We went to the Piazza del Popolo, home to the Twin Churches (that I think might be mentioned in Angels and Demons?)

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…and more importantly, home these days to a middle school track meet. Can you imagine if your track meet were there?!

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We went to the Villa Borghese, a beautiful and expansive park that offered great views of Rome.

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We laid down in the grass, where I took a much-needed nap. After an hour or so of lounging and chatting, we made our way back down into the city…

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past the Spanish steps…

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and to Heather’s parents’ hotel, where we had some wine and appetizers and shared lovely conversation before heading out to the world’s most perfect dinner.

All of my dinners this trip were completely amazing. Not one left me at all unhappy in any way. But something about this last dinner was very special. It just kind of…sparkled.

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We ate at a restaurant on one side of a small, quiet square. When we first showed up, we were the only people there. There wasn’t even anyone in the little piazza–it was just us and a team of waiters, and I felt like so at home in this far away place with my oh-so-special fellow travelers (and Heather’s parents, who were completely amazing and ever so kindly took us under their wing).

Everyone’s meal was impossibly good. We all nibbled on this asparagus covered with cheese and shaved white truffles. It was…incredible. (The photo quality is not, sadly.)

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And then Heather, Amanda, and I made two really excellent decisions. Between the three of us, we had ordered two plates of gnocchi with pear and gorgonzola sauce and one plate of cuttlefish ink gnocchi with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes.

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Like I said, my photos aren’t the best quality (far from it), but this meal–it was unforgettable. And I think black pasta is one of the coolest, greatest things ever. (Also the way the desserts were plated was completely charming.)

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We said goodbye to Heather that night, and I definitely might have shed a tear or two that our little family was splitting up and our absolutely amazing trip of a lifetime was coming to an end. Sad, sad night, friends.

Nicole, Tess, and I still had another day, though, which we spent eating at this charming little pizzeria…

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where I had some amazing funghi pizza and Nicole finished off my cheese for me. But not before sprinkling parmesan on it…told you the girl loved her cheese.

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That afternoon, we wandered down Via Julia, which was absolutely charming and full of some of the most irresistibly perfect boutiques I have ever seen in my life. (We also visited a really beautiful synagogue to make up for our thwarted attempt to visit a Florentine synagogue, but pictures weren’t allowed, so I have no evidence. Sorrryyy!)

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We even made a little friend. 🙂

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We eventually made our way back to Trastevere, where we got drinks in a little wine bar and watched little kids run in and out as they trick-or-treated. Because oh yeah, it was Halloween!

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(Blurry but necessary.)

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(Girly drink.)

Our last dinner was at an adorable little restaurant. As with every meal this trip, the company was amazing, conversation was sparkling and full of laughter, and the food was impeccable. It was really, really rough to part ways afterwards. This trip was truly incredible.

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But you know what? I got to come home to this. I suppose life is fair, after all.

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Florence

Florence. Florence was one of those cities that just feels right, almost immediately. Small enough that it’s not at all overwhelming, big enough that there’s a seemingly endless supply of beautiful things to do, see, and revel in.

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We arrived on a rainy afternoon. Everyone was feeling that bone-deep travel exhaustion–after all, at this point, we’d been in three cities and two countries in the previous 24 hours (give or take) and were feeling a little overexposed to the endless stream of planes, trains, water taxis, buses, and metros it had taken to pull off that particular feat. So, everyone else took advantage of the grey and sleepy afternoon to catch up on some much-deserved napping. I, on the other hand, turn into a too-excited-to-sleep little kid upon arrival in a new place and instead opted to spend some quality time in the hostel kitchen with a cappuccino, Nicole’s guide book, and a map of the city, plotting all the can’t-miss points. If I do say so myself, I think the resulting marked-up map ended up being very useful indeed. (I’m also going to take a moment to pimp out the aforementioned guide book–it’s a “Let’s Go” book and if you’re traveling, anywhere, at all, I highly recommend you get one. It never gave us bad advice, and it’s also hilarious. Except don’t get one if I know you and you’re going abroad in the spring, because then I won’t have anything to get you for Christmas.)

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That night we wandered, tentatively exploring the cobblestoned, colorful city we’d arrived in, charmed by the feeling that it was frozen in time and humbled by the knowledge of the countless incredible minds and souls that had walked the same streets centuries before us.

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We imagined Medicis gazing down at the Palazza della Signoria from the high windows of the Palazzo Vecchio…

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…and gazed in wonder at the dome Brunelleschi was somehow able to imagine against all odds, against history, against what architects and engineers had managed to achieve at that point. Do you know that Arnolfo di Cambio began the construction of the cathedral in the 13th century before anyone knew how to create a dome for it, acting on the faith that, by the time it was finished, someone would? He was right, of course–Brunelleschi came through for him in the 15th century and created what is still the largest masonry dome in the world. This whole story just baffles me and makes me feel like my imagination is a little lacking. (I know my engineering skills are.)

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One of the coolest parts of that first night by Santa Maria del Fiore was realizing that 20 years ago, give or take, my mom was walking around the very same building, probably feeling just as awestruck as my friends and I were a few weeks ago. Even cooler to me than knowing that Gaudi stood and stared at the Sagrada Familia or that Michelangelo himself touched the David is thinking about all the people I know and love who have stood before these incredible sights, exactly as I have, feeling something like I felt. Thousands of miles away from most of the people who occupy my thoughts, it makes me feel a little bit closer to home to know that I’m doing something they, too, found worthwhile at some point. This blog wouldn’t be me without a little bit of sap every now and then. 🙂

Just as important–if not more important–as our reveling in these amazing sights in Florence was our ardent devotion to–what else–the amazing food the city had to offer. That first night, we had an amazing introduction to the gelato of Italy when we stopped at Grom.

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What you’re looking at is heaven-sent nougat and coffee gelato (endorsed by the guy behind the counter as his favorite combination of flavors!). This met and then smashed to bits every expectation I had for Italian gelato. If the Duomo had me silently thanking God, this had me rousing a crowd in the streets to a foot-stamping, clapping, echoing rendition of the Hallelujah chorus. (I mean, not really, but in my mind, yes.)

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God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food.

Oh, and here’s a fun gelato fact for you: apparently, if gelato is piled high and brightly-colored, you don’t want it. That stuff is no good. Well, it’s probably delicious, to be fair, but delicious in a normal, American gelato way. Real gelato is mixed in the metal container it’s served in and “should look like poop”. So there you go. If it doesn’t look like poop, don’t eat it.

The great food adventure continued that night with an unforgettable meal at Trattoria Anita. Sorry for the dim lighting!

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This pasta…wow. This pasta is what made me realize that every time I don’t eat fresh pasta, I’m basically taking one of God’s greatest gifts (to continue with the religious theme) and throwing it back in his face. This pasta is the pasta that would allow me to run a marathon, qualify for Boston, and then just run another marathon right away just for fun. This pasta changed my life. This pasta is what caused me to send numerous frantic emails to my mother insisting that we purchase a pasta press, promising to cook endless supplies of fresh pasta if we purchase a pasta press, claiming that I’ll somehow earn millions of dollars and buy my parents a house in the South of France if only we can have a pasta press.

I’m pretty sure we’re getting a pasta press.

I’m pretty sure my parents still aren’t getting a house in the South of France. (I mean, never say never, but don’t hold your breath, Mom and Dad.)

This night pretty much set the tone for the rest of our Florence trip. Our days always started at the same adorable, perfect little breakfast place around the street from our hostel. Every morning, I had a cappuccino, yogurt, muesli, and fresh fruit. And every morning, without fail, it was delicious.

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Fruit that fresh and that perfectly cut makes my heart flutter. So does the adorable miniature silverware they gave us to eat it with. From there, we’d wander across the river, basking in the absolute beauty that is Florence in the morning (and any time of day, really…this picture was taken in the afternoon, full disclaimer).

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We wandered from place to place, delighted to find that Florence was every bit as inviting and manageable as we’d imagined on our first afternoon. Not only did we get to visit most of the city’s can’t-miss spots, they actually became a part of our daily landscape, as familiar and friendly as the kind woman who owned our little breakfast place.

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And the food–oh, the food. I’m not sure if our sightseeing was punctuated by breaks to eat or if our eating was punctuated by breaks to sightsee. Trattoria Anita turned out not to be an untouchable first experience (although we did love it enough to return there on our last night), but rather an indicator of the equally delicious and varied feast that was still to come.

At Sergio’s, which was recommended by my favorite leather vendor (Massimo–more on him later), I decided to truly take advantage of my location and enjoy some Tuscan specialties.

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This is ribollita soup. I know it doesn’t look like much–or, well, maybe it looks like something you don’t want to eat–but trust me, it’s amazing. “Ribollita” means “re-boiled”, I think, and I guess the original concept for the soup is that it’s basically a stew made from whatever food is just taking up room in the kitchen. People would just cook whatever vegetables they had around with broth and bread that was getting stale, and this was the result. My mom actually makes it at home, and twice last year after very long, cold runs, I gobbled down three or four bowls, no problem. It’s heaven.

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This is vin santo and biscotti. Vin santo is an Italian dessert wine, and from what I can tell, it’s always served with little almond biscotti. (At Sergio’s, they just brought us a giant basket…you can see the edge of it in this picture. SCORE. Um, yes, we ate it all.) Weirdly, the wine tasted more alcoholic once you dipped the biscotti in it than it did if you just sipped on it. I bet a science person could explain that to me. However, until that happens, have no idea why that is. It was a perfect, charming, authentic-feeling dessert.

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At Trattoria Le Mossacce (recommended by the guide book to end all guide books), I realized that I actually, contrary to what I’d always thought, love roasted potatoes…as long as they’re covered with a ridiculous amount of garlicky amazingness. And especially if they’ve been roasted to an ridiculously soft consistency. These potatoes in the picture are basically my dream potatoes. I couldn’t get enough of this particular side dish in Florence, and I suspect I will spend the rest of my life trying to make roasted potatoes that taste like Florentine roasted potatoes.

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At Mercato Centrale, I finally found my very favorite pasta–orecchiette! I used to ask for this all the time growing up, but it’s hard to find. It’s even harder to find freshly made and covered with pesto (my very favorite sauce). But Mercato Centrale came through for me, and I loved every delicious bite. Fun fact: “orecchiette” means “little ear”. So cute. As long as you don’t think about the potential cannibalistic implications, which I never have until I just typed that. So, yeah.

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Gelateria dei Neri might have ever-so-slightly beaten Grom as my favorite gelateria in Florence. It had a really cute, old-school feel (our unbeatable guide book said it was the local favorite), and if the ricotta and fig (yup, you read that correctly, changed my life, I’ll never love again) gelato wasn’t enough to win me over (it was), the absolutely divine tiramisu semifreddo I paired it with certainly would have done the trick (no need, but I definitely appreciated the effort…amazing). (Parentheses are my favorite.) Also, this place earned some bonus points for being decorated with pictures of Gelateria dei Neri cups all around the world–I should have taken mine back to Paris with me! They already had one of the Eiffel Tower, so I guess I would have gone with the next best thing and put it next to a pissoir.

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We returned to Trattoria Anita for our last meal, albeit somewhat guiltily. We all felt like we should be trying as many different places as possible, but Trattoria Anita was just so good. Luckily, it wasn’t too much of a repetition, because they had already completely changed their menu when we went for the second time! (You know a place is authentic when….) We split that amazing asparagus side dish, and I don’t think I’ll ever eat asparagus not covered in parmesan again. And then I had tagliatelle with mushrooms. It was incredible. The mushrooms were like…butter. But more flavorful. I died.

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Oh, and I think it goes without saying that we loved the delightfully bubbly prosecco and giant multi-liter jugs of Italian wine everywhere we went. 😉

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the leather market. It was a pretty big part of our Florence trip, I have to say. Somehow, I ended up with no pictures of the place…probably because I was too busy frantically tracking down deals on scarves, gloves, bags, and, of course, the perfect jacket. My story was almost a sad one. It all started with a recommendation from my friend Emily (who’s in Paris with me and went to Florence a few weeks before I did) to go to Massimo’s for a jacket. Not really knowing what I was dealing with, I was happy to have a recommendation to go off of. Massimo immediately impressed us with his lunch recommendation (Sergio’s, home of my first Tuscan ribollita). We returned after lunch, and I had every intention of buying a jacket. Well, I tried on several, and I liked lots of them, but none of them were quite what I was looking for. Until I found the one. It was perfect. The right color, the right style, the right feel. I felt like I imagine a woman feels like after finding the perfect wedding dress. All my friends agreed: it was perfect! Why even look anywhere else?! The only problem? It wasn’t quite the right size. At first, that didn’t seem to be much of a problem at all–the friendly and helpful man working in the store assured me that I could custom order one and it would be sent to Paris. Once he began talking with Massimo, though, it became clear that that wasn’t going to work out. I guess the particular leather I had fallen in love with wasn’t in stock anymore, so they couldn’t make the same jacket. They had similar colors, but they weren’t quite right. Here’s why Massimo is the best. It would have been so easy for him to have had a jacket made in a near-identical color and then shipped it off to Paris, where I would have been stuck with a not quite right jacket for the rest of my life, way too many euros poorer. But he didn’t. And this is in a sea of vendors who were pulling things like trying to sell us jackets that were made for children and displaying bags with fraying seams.

So, if you skipped that long paragraph, I don’t blame you one bit. Just pay attention to this part: if you end up in Florence and want to buy something leather, go to Massimo. He’s honest, kind, and he won’t rip you off.

I know you all were on the edge of your seats wondering, so wonder no more: I did end up with a leather jacket. It looked like a no-go…I thought I was ruined for all other jackets after the perfect one fell into my hands and then was ripped away. But after a sad period of following Heather around the leather market looking like a kicked puppy, I found it. And I love it. I think maybe I was meant to find my real jacket but had to go through the pain of losing the first one to really appreciate it. Which goes to show you that…good things fall apart so that better things can fall together…and…better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all (but then love again)….and…every other cliche I made my AIM status in 7th grade…they’re all true.

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So glad we found each other, jacket. It was fate. And if it doesn’t work out for some reason (like you get stolen in a ghetto European airport or someone spills Natty Light all over you at the Palms, God forbid)…we’ll always have Florence.

We also made some time for a little art while we were in Florence, and visited a few museums, my favorite of which was the Gucci Museo. Yes, it’s real, and it was wonderful, and my favorite museum I’ve been to in Europe, and no I’m not kidding, and you should really just go, even if you think you’re above it, or you’re not into fashion, or you’d rather do something else, or you live in the middle of the Pacific (because I totally have thousands of international readers) and think I’m joking when I say it would be worth it to pay for a plane ticket to Florence just to see this museum. I’m not. Go.

Pictures weren’t allowed, so this, and my word, will have to suffice.

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We also did something a little more traditional and stopped by the Accademia to see–what else–Michelangelo’s David. I don’t have pictures of the actual statue, but I do have pictures of the wall outside the museum (where we waited in line for an hour, give or take). And a story to go along with them.

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The wall was covered in graffiti. Covered. People were just inspired by their proximity to a famous work of art, I guess, and their inner Michelangelo took over.

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Hey look, my mom’s name!

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And some people said disgustingly syrupy sweet things. If I ever write or say anything like this, ever, someone, please, lobotomize me.

Anyway, I decided that I wanted to leave something of myself behind on the wall, too. So, representing the whole group, I proudly penned a little “XΩ” as high up as I could reach.

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You can kind of see it next to that sign. Anyway, as soon as I was done with my little graffiti project, I took it upon myself to read the sign. Which informed me the area was under video surveillance and it’s illegal to make marks on the “historic site” we were standing in front of. Well, damn.

Ever calm under pressure, I completely flipped out. It got even worse when I saw a man in a very official-looking government uniform getting off his moped just across the street, looking very solemn. My heart was pounding. I was trying to decide if I could outrun him in my ballet flats. I was going to spend the next four years of my life in an Italian prison, just like Amanda Knox! What had I done?!!?

At some point, it became clear to my highly amused friends that what was surely a terrifying police officer approaching me with handcuffs was actually…a mailman. So, yeah. That was really embarrassing, considering I had a full scale freakout in front of not only my friends but everyone in line. That just goes to show that I wasn’t made to break rules. Ever. (When I was a toddler, my mom could put me on a blanket and tell me to stay there. If I so much as set a finger off of the blanket, all she would have to do is sternly say “Tessa” and I would go crawling back to the middle of the blanket, where I would no doubt resolve to remain indefinitely. Not much has changed, apparently.) I lost some pride that day…but not enough to stop me from hiding out in the leather shop across the street until it was our turn to go into the museum.

The David was cool. Very cool. Larger than I expected. Symbol of Florentine pride. Cool that Michelangelo touched it. Very cool. Cool. Neat-o. Awesome. This has been a really long blog post, y’all. Sorrier for you than I am for myself. I think what I’ll remember the most, though, is the two prim-looking ladies about my grandmother’s age sitting next to my friend Tess and I. (Oh yeah, Tess met us in Florence! Nicole started calling the two of us “the Tessi”. Everyone say hi to Tess! She’s the blonde one on the left.)

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Anyway, we were sitting behind the statue. (Warning, blog’s about to get a little PG-13, things are getting cR@zY!!!) Tess observed that David had a nice butt. I was about to quietly agree when the proper-looking ladies next to us did it for me, except loudly, for the whole world to hear. So that gave us all a good giggle. But things got even funnier as we continued to listen in on the women’s conversation: “It’s too bad, really. Big shoulders…big hands…big feet…big disappointment.”

Hilarious. (I would say it would be like hearing your grandmother say that, but honestly, my grandmother saying that wouldn’t surprise me one bit. Love you, Amma.) It wasn’t until we left the museum that I was really able to get it together after that one. Sorry, maturity, it was fun hanging out for a little bit, but I don’t think things are looking good for us long-term….

I’ll end on a slightly more serious note. (And then, I promise, I’m done…this has been an epic post. I really loved Florence, what can I say.) Onwards, to the Piazzale Michelangelo. I had the pleasure of unknowingly stumbling upon this popular tourist spot while I was running one morning. I was running along the river, saw a path leading up, figured up would lead to views, and followed the path without hesitation. Which turned out to rank prominently on my list of “Best Decisions Ever”, because the view that resulted is one I’ll never forget, ever, for as long as I live. (This blog is my Notebook…read this, and I’ll come back to you.) (If you don’t catch that reference, maybe we shouldn’t be friends.) I don’t think I could pick a favorite moment from my Italy trip, because honestly, the trip was nothing if not a string of impossibly perfect and completely unforgettable moments. But I have to say, there was something very special about that morning at the Piazzale Michelangelo. The tourists hadn’t really arrived yet, so I felt alone on top of the world, free to take in Florence in all of its splendor, bathed in the light of a new day, dappled in that fresh, clean way that seems to only result from morning shadows. It was just cold enough to be refreshing, I felt fully awake and invigorated from my run, and life just felt so perfect in that moment I almost wished I could stop time. But of course, that’s silly. So instead, that night, I took my friends back just in time to watch the sunset.

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Florence, you’re magical.

Barcelona

My trip started bright and early on the morning of Friday, October 21. I was up at six to take the metro to the starting point for an hour-long shuttle that then took me to the way out of the way Beauvais (Ryanair, y’all) airport. By noon, I had landed in Barcelona and met up with my friend Nicole!

The first afternoon it was just the two of us while we waited on everyone else. (I’m just way above having class on Friday, what can I say….) After a delicious lunch at a cool, very modern-feeling burger place (mmmveggieburger) called Kiosko, we wandered down to the beach, through a park, and then around the Gothic Quarter, where our hotel was.

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I would like to eat this again, right now.

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Someday, I’ll stay at this hotel and laugh about my hostel days.

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fall, love

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favorite european fountain thus far

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Barcelona’s Arc de Triomphe: the Arc de Triomf. Yup, kid you not.

That night, our friend Amanda arrived! We all went out to dinner at this funky atmospheric restaurant. I split risotto and an awesome salad with Amanda, but I didn’t take a picture because these were the early days of the trip when I was young and foolish. It was great, but we were tired. Exhausted. Early night.

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The next day involved lots of wandering and sight-seeing. The day started like all my days start in my dreams:

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Doubling fisting Starbucks and a cup of fresh mango from this cute little market we wandered through. Well, I guess it’s not technically double fisting, because as you can see in this picture, yes, my hands are giant and my fingers are weirdly long and thus I am able to hold both cups in one hand. I fondly describe my fingers as “piano fingers”. Most of my friends fondly describe them as Salad Fingers. Okay, fine.

From there, we walked over to La Rambla, the famous pedestrian thoroughfare in Old Barcelona. We made a beeline straight for this place:

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Here is where I died of happiness. This place is right up there with the Harrods Food Halls and the Kensington Whole Foods. It’s the largest open-air market in Spain, and it was absolutely incredible. It took a lot of a restraint not to buy…everything. I’m going to let the pictures do the talking, because honestly my mind sort of glazed over with happy memories when I started remembering this place.

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Second double fisting of the day: Sangria and fresh fruit juice. Yes, it was noon. No, I’m not kidding.

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If you can’t tell, I went pretty snap happy. My friend Nicole pointed out that even though there are lots of incredible markets in France, none of them come close to being anywhere near as colorful as this one. It was a feast for the eyes…and a feast in the traditional sense. We loved it so much that after we tore ourselves away to go meet our friend Heather, we came right back.

Once we left for good, the four of us walked all the way down La Rambla towards the water. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and we had so much fun wandering around. And goofing around.

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We walked around looking at the boats for a bit before we all decided we needed a break and sat down on the edge of a dock. We probably spent an hour or so just sitting there, looking at the boats, chatting, and trying to come to terms with the amazing fact that somehow the four of us had managed to reunite…in Spain. We were in Spain? We couldn’t get over it.

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Butttt we were still in the mood to do some more sitting around and gabbing after that, so we just changed locations. We wanted to go to the beach anyway, so walked up to one of the many restaurants located right in the sand and enjoyed some drinks and hummus. It was heaven…so relaxing, so beautiful, so nice to be with these amazing friends I hadn’t seen in way too long.

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I’m just now realizing how done-in we apparently were on this particular afternoon (I’m pretty sure we were all coming right off of a week of midterms), because after our little aperitif, we went back to the hostel for a power nap. I’m not usually much of a napper, but I was OUT. I woke up feeling fresh and ready to enjoy the most amazing dinner EVER…

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At this brightly colored little gem of a place. It’s called Juicy Jones and it was VEGAN…apparently I’m making this whole vegan restaurant thing a little bit of a theme when I’m traveling. I didn’t take pictures, but we shared the yummiest tofu and peanut sauce appetizer, and then for dinner I ate a delightfully fresh salad, some sort of pasta bake, and apple crisp. It was quite the spread, and I was in heaven.

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Happy faces! (Except I don’t think Nicole was nuts about the place. I wish I had a euro for every time she asked “what do they have if they don’t have meat or cheese?” The girl’s lactose intolerant and probably eats more cheese in a day than I do in a week. Respect.)

Our night also included an awesome bar that’s housed in the horror wing of the wax museum. It was like a different world in there. For any Chattanoogans reading, imagine the Yellow Deli, but creepy (in a horror way, not a cult way). My pictures all came out blurry, but I’ll share anyway.

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It was awesome. We closed down the bar. Which is less impressive than it sounds considering the relatively early closing time. But the atmosphere was so fun here and we had the best time chatting while we sipped on giant goblets of sangria. And then the funniest thing of my life happened on my way out…but I fear the story would be lost in translation. Or it’s maybe one of those things only the four of us think is funny. Then why mention it, you ask? Because someday when I’m eighty and I re-read this blog post, I want to remember that. That’s why. I took a video of Amanda telling the story (she tells it best) so that senile me really can’t forget anything.

Sunday started with a run that was supposed to be a casual four or five mile leisurely jog by the beach. But, me being me, I got lost. After a truly hilarious series of events that included me being directed to the starting line for a race occurring that morning and endless sprinting through small Barcelona side streets, I finally made it back to the hotel, nine or ten miles later, exhausted, dehydrated (I brought no water, oops), and just in time to take the world’s fastest shower, gulp down some cereal, and make it the the hostel lobby in time to join in on the free Gaudi walking tour the hostel was offering.

I’m SO glad I miraculously found my way back in time, because the tour was great. Our guide was hilarious and managed to teach us everything about…everything, from Gaudi to what paella should look like to what she’s naming her new puppy to tales of her ex-boyfriend drama. Honestly, I didn’t know that a guided tour would be my thing, but I’m really glad we did this. I think running around the city just to see the Gaudi stuff and then, you know, snap a few pictures and leave wouldn’t have felt nearly as cool. In fact, I might have downright disliked it. But doing it this way was great!

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We finished the tour at the impressive Sagrada Familia (above), which sounds like it will be finished…never. I mean maybe my great-great-great grandchildren will take a field trip on their school rocketbus to go see the finished product, but even that seems ambitious. Still, even unfinished, the cathedral was beautiful and impressive and utterly unique. However, when my mind wanders back to this part of the tour, two things come to mind…

1.

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Look at that smug chihuahua in his doggles, just chilling outside of Sagrada Familia…he’s cooler than all of us, and he knows it.

2.

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Okay, so you probably can’t see the actual baby, but you might be able to make out the nativity scene over the main door. Well. Well. There’s a baby in that nativity scene, obviously. I guess Gaudi was having trouble making a realistic baby on his own, so his totally normal solution? He stole a dead baby from the hospital.

GASP.

I’m still disturbed. I don’t like to think about it. I probably shouldn’t have told you that. I’m just trying to get this image out of my mind by sharing it with the world wide web.

Anyway. Moving on. By the time the tour was done, we were starrrvvviinngg (me in particular after my unexpected long-distance sprint session this morning…oh goodness). We had a pact to hold out for Italian food until we got to Italy…but yeah, we rescinded on that one and went to the yummiest Italian place. Unfortunately, I have no pictures. I don’t know who I was in Barcelona. Just wait until I get to my Italy posts.

Once we finished lunch, we decided to see some Gaudi sights that weren’t included on the tour and took the metro to Park Guell. Lots of trekking up San Francisco-esque hills and one Chupa Chup later…

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Side Story: I learned about Chupa Chups on my tour, too! Apparently the Chupa Chups creator have a patent on the concept of lollipops on a stick. Or did. So every time anyone, anywhere, puts candy on a stick, they have to pay up to Chupa Chups & Co. Insanity.

We ended up with all of Barcelona laid out in front of us, and y’all know I love my views. Probably has something to do with all my past lives as royalty, ruling over kingdoms, view from the top, you know…yeah.

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To be totally honest, I love you, Barcelona, but compared to most of the European views I’ve seen, this one was sort of a yawn. God, I’m a spoiled brat. Ugh, can someone please replace this foul heap of concrete with a French Riviera scene? No, seriously, I’m being really unfair to poor Barcelona. The view was fine. Fine! Just…fine.

The real highlight of the park was my Chupa Chup.

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Just kidding. The real highlight of the park was hiding in a cave when the rain came. Yup, that happened.

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Just kidding. The real highlight of the park was me freaking out at the top of this weird little tower structure and climbing down on all fours. Yup, that also happened. It wasn’t my fault…no one was there to remind me that I hate heights. Heather was smarter…she got halfway up and declared that she “just didn’t want to go there.” I didn’t take a picture because I guess it’s not really a memory I’m all that keen to relive, but here’s the cross at the top of said structure. YEAH, IT LOOKS OMINOUS FOR A REASON, PEOPLE.

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Okay, I’m done. (I know, thank God, right?) Here was the actual highlight of the park.

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Just look at all that Gaudi gorgeousness!

Also, can someone tell me if this was featured on an episode of America’s Next Top Model? Because I swear it was. You’re not allowed to judge me because I’m not sure, so it’s only 99% embarrassing that I’m asking as opposed to 100% embarrassing.

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Didn’t they use that as a runway or something? My sister will totally know.

Here’s my attempt at being America’s Next Top Model…

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That’s me, totally pulling off the oh-so-chic drowned rat/wet hair/goofy smile look. Just hanging out in a little nook in the wall. Fierce. I’m doing something weird and hunchy with my shoulders, though, so I think that gets me extra points.

After our park trip, I enjoyed this beautiful snackfeast…

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Churros and chocolate! That hot chocolate was amaaazzzing. Second only to Angelina. Ooh, and maybe that hot chocolate I had in Venice.

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Flashback…you’ll always have my heart.

Dinner that night was at a place called Sandwich and Friends. There are several of them around Barcelona, and it seemed very…LA-ish, almost? (Los Angeles. Not Louisiana. Pfft, I wish.) One of the cool and unexpected things about Barcelona was that all of the restaurants were very trendy and modern feeling in different ways. It almost felt American, really. They all seemed designed with a particular “feel” in mind, and they all seemed like they were built (or at least redesigned) in the last decade or so. This is completely different from France, where 90% of the restaurants all have very similar but utterly charming and lovely French vibes. A Parisian cafe is fairly indistinguishable from any other Parisian cafe, in my humble opinion. I love that, because that means that all Parisian cafes feel equally wonderful and authentic, but there is a little part of me that misses the variety you find in American restaurants. In fact, even just generally speaking, Barcelona is far and away the most American-esque city I’ve visited thus far in Europe. It didn’t feel nearly as Spanish as I expected it to. (I probably sound really American saying that, but oh well…I mean, I am American, no point hiding it.) I think this would have disappointed me a little if I had crossed the Atlantic with the sole intention of visiting Barcelona, but for a brief weekend trip smack-dab in the middle of a very European semester, it was the perfect little Euro-flavored taste of home! I really loved it. The city is young and modern and funky and cool…I would go back and do it all over again. The one bad thing is that I learned they outlawed bull fighting in Barcelona…and if I go back to Spain, I’m seeing a bullfight.