Tag Archives: all dogs are perfect angels

Berlin

So, remember when I promised that I would be caught up on all my intended posts before I left to travel last Friday?

I might have broken my promise, a little bit.

Despite my best efforts, I didn’t quite make it to this post: Berlin!

I went to Berlin the weekend of November 18th, and it was actually a very special trip because I went alone. I know. It was sort of a stressful decision to make. Okay, it was a really stressful decision to make.

Traveling somewhere alone was actually an idea I had stored in the back of my mind for something I would do abroad if I magically became very cool and independent. There was a kind of allure to the idea…it just seemed like something that a real, grown-up, mature, fearless (a.k.a. not me) person would do. But, instead of spontaneously booking the tickets and eagerly anticipating the weekend, I went back and forth for days trying to decide if I was making a horrible decision, if I would be bored and lonely, if I would be taken the moment I landed in the airport and my parents would spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened to me on my way to Berlin. I turned it into a huge deal, but encouraged by tales of how cool Berlin was and reassurance from friends and family that I might just be mature and street-smart enough to pull the whole thing off, I booked the flight and hotel…two days before I was supposed to be leaving. And then I cried. Really, though.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that I’m 100% thrilled to have made the decision I did! And that I obviously was not kidnapped or murdered in a dark German alley. There were definitely moments when I wished I had someone to talk to (or, more often, someone to make decisions for me), but it was a really great trip. And perhaps most importantly, I returned to France feeling that much more confident in my ability to eventually become a real, grown-up, mature, fearless person. Someday.

Berlin began with yet another sign that, as much as I love the places I’ve been able to travel to this semester, I really did make the right choice when I decided to study abroad in Paris. As I walked from the airport to the metro, I passed a whole row of advertisements for the European budget airline Easyjet. Each ad was for a different city and basically had an orange (the company’s color) object that was representative of that city. Brussels had an orange chocolate bar. London had an orange tea pot. You get the idea. I wondered what Paris’s would be and kept my eye out for it…and finally, after passing what felt like dozens of other cities, the last one was my temporary home sweet home.

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It’s a dog. A white, super girly dog. Even though it’s big, and not a Bichon, and much more devotedly groomed than my little ragamuffins ever will be, it just confirmed that, yes, I do belong in Paris. Good decision-making, me one year ago.

But anyway! I got into Berlin at night, so I just checked into my hotel, watched a movie, and crashed. And yes, I stayed in a real hotel…it seemed a little bit safer than a hostel. So I guess that makes me a little less daring and adventurous. But it was really, truly wonderful to be able to sleep in a nice bed, work out in a gym for the first time since August, shower in a bathroom I don’t have to share with a million other people, and even order room service. After months of hostels and the smallest dorm room ever, I felt like royalty.

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So, seeing as I was alone, my Berlin weekend looked sort of similar from day to day and was heavy on the sightseeing. I always woke up later than I intended to, went to a Starbucks (I pre-mapped them before showing up in Berlin, I know, I know) for breakfast and then saw sight after sight until it got dark, at which point I’d go back to my hotel and take advantage of the workout room. Working out in shorts and a running top again was awesome. I was not made to handle cold weather.

One of my first major stops was the Pergamon Museum, which was awesome. Basically, Germany went to other countries, snagged some really incredible, often really large things, and reconstructed them inside this museum. Things like, you know, the Ishtar Gate. And the Pergamon Altar. Small, insignificant…you know.

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Really, these things were so monstrous, there’s no way to fit them into a single picture without the use of a helicopter and an impressive lens.

I also went to the Berlin Cathedral, which was beautiful and impressive.

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I was sort of miffed because you had to pay four euros to get in, which is soooo un-churchlike and I personally don’t think Jesus would approve, but then there ended up being a teeny little gallery/museum inside–and, more importantly, you could climb to the top and have access to some pretty impressive views of Berlin. So obviously that was going to happen! And I got over my irritation with the whole four euro thing.

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Possibly the most well-known place I visited was the famous Brandenberg Gate. In the words of Let’s Go Europe, the best travel guide ever, “Friederich Wilhelm II built the gate as a symbol of military victory, but Germans these days prefer to shy away from that designation, you know, because of WWI and, uh, WWII.” So there’s some semi-humorous background for you.

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And here’s a semi-humorous photo of me cheesing with some faux German/American soldiers.

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Aux armes, citoyens!

There were two potential correct languages (slash national anthems…) I could have gone with there, and I still got it wrong. Oh, France, what have you done to me?

As cool as the real Brandenberg Gate was, I liked this one better.

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MAYBE BECAUSE IT’S MADE OF PURE CHOCOLATE.

I saw this total gem at Fassbender and Rausch Chocolatiers, a famous chocolate shop that also boasts chocolate replicas of the Titantic, the Berliner Dom, a volcano, and other large, impressive things. The place was enormous, and it would have been extremely out of character if I hadn’t picked up a few little gifts for certain chocolate-lovers back home (just a warning, Crevasses, you might end up with chocolate from every country I’ve visited). And of course, a little treat for myself.

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(To be honest, that was not mine. I got some much fancier and more decadent truffle thing obviously, but I forgot to take a picture. So instead you get to see the cute little Berlin bear they threw in for free. Because they totally loved me and sensed my German ancestry.)

A trip to Berlin wouldn’t be complete without spotting some remnants of the Berlin Wall…which was definitely cool, but you know, it was before my time. It’s like the difference between seeing a WWII memorial and a 9/11 memorial. We’ve been talking about this sort of thing a lot in my artsy farsty classes…so you know…sometimes I go to school. There’s your proof.

Seriously, though, I wish I’d made it to the East Side Gallery, where there’s some pretty impressive street art displayed on remnants of the wall…but alas, I didn’t. Next time!

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One of the most moving things I saw was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, located just down the street from the Brandenberg Gate. The structure was incredibly somber, and it was actually a little bit frightening and disorienting to walk through the blocks. They were taller than me in the middle of the memorial, and it’s impossible to see other people walking around them until you literally run into each other. So, you know, creates a little bit of a jumpy atmosphere. The children flying over your head as they jump from block to block really add the excitement.

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I also visited the Topography of Terror Museum, which details the rise and fall of the Nazi Party, and where I took one picture…of the most frighteningly Aryan family EVER.

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And the DDR Museum, where I also only took one picture.

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Come on, it’s pretty funny. Also, as you might notice, while I thought the museums overall were really well done, the translation was not always excellent. Not a problem or annoying or anything, it’s just kind of interesting to notice where and when that happens in Europe.

One of the things that was interesting but sort of sad about Berlin was that there almost seemed to be this air of necessary atonement in some these museums and memorials. When I went to Normandy in early November, I remember talking with my friends about how in the south, decades after the Civil Rights movement and even longer since the abolition of slavery–both events that I and my peers were in no way involved in–you still have to be really careful when you talk about “southern pride”. It’s necessary to be specific about what that pride stems from. I can’t help but wonder how young people in Germany feel about the events of WWII, and how long it will take before the horrific events of WWII truly feel like a horrific part of the past than something haunting the present. For all of us, really. I mean, I’m sure no Germans are ashamed or upset to be German–I’m not ashamed or upset to have been raised in the South, after all–it doesn’t have to define the country the way it once did. It’s just interesting to think about.

On a lighter note, I spent some time doing less formal sightseeing–primarily wandering around Berlin’s famously plentiful flea markets and the Christmas markets that were being set up around the city. These were some of my favorite things I did–I didn’t even buy anything, it’s just so fun to wander! And even more fun when you’re sipping on mulled wine. πŸ™‚

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Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bretzels. Which, in full disclosure, I began using as meal replacements at some point during the weekend. So much carby goodness.

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Berlin was a really cool city that somehow felt very different from most other cities I’ve visited this semester. I really am so glad that I did a trip alone, but someday I’d like to go back with friends…specifically so that I can explore the Berlin nightlife scene, which I hear is really cool. Above all, considering that I made it back in one piece and, as far as I know, without any creepy stalkers in tow, I’d say the trip was a success. I’d do it again!

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. πŸ™‚

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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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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.

Versailles, Part II

Okay, I’m kindofalmost regretting hyping this post so much, because it’s not like anything mind-blowingly amazing happened at Versailles last Sunday. It was really just one of those days where all the little things went right.

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Let’s start with the fact that Paris has been experiencing unseasonably warm weather this week. So remember my whiny comments after my last Versailles trip about how it was so great, everything was so pretty, BUT I REALLY WISHED I’D BROUGHT A JACKET? (Okay, maybe that’s just how I remember that day in my mind. I’m one of those obnoxious people that’s freezing the second the temperature dips below 65 degrees.)

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Anyway, the point is that the weather was perfect and beautiful and wonderfully warm. I was actually almost hot a few times–I know, I’m Goldilocks. But I’ll take hot over cold any day!

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So, go ahead and chalk one up for sunshine & warmth.

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Moving right along. Reason number two why this day was great: I skipped actually going into the chateau. Don’t get me wrong–I am so glad I saw it the first time around. But honestly, the house has nothing on the gardens. Plus, it was such a stunningly beautiful day, the last place I wanted to be was fighting my way through flocks of rabid tourists and trying to avoid getting taken out by an errant flying camera. Nope, I just wanted to be outside. In nature.

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Well, in my kind of nature, which is immaculately manicured, snake-free, and where you’re always conveniently within eyesight of a massive chateau.

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So outdoorsy!

Here’s another thing that made Versailles awesome.

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Actually, I see a lot of little white dogs in Paris (shocker, right), but it’s difficult for me to get a picture without the owner thinking I’m a crazy dog-napper. Which is fair enough, because I’d be lying if I said I haven’t considered it. Anyway, this little guy just seemed especially happy and adorable…and its owner was conveniently absorbed in the process of purchasing fresh orange juice. So I snapped a picture. Pretty cute, right? But here’s something even cuter…

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Not that I’m biased or anything.

Back to Versailles. Everything made this day right. Lunch was a picnic (!) of some yummy cheesy “focaccia verdure” thing (didn’t take a picture, don’t even known what it really is, but I’ll remember it forever) and iced tea. After lunch, I had my first ice cream CONE in years. I ate it by the huge, beautiful…uh, man-made water feature (?) that was full of people enjoying the sun in these beautiful old-fashioned boats that looked straight out of The Notebook. (Don’t lie, you know exactly what boat I’m talking about.) I’m really kicking myself for not taking a picture of that; I was too busy trying to remember how to keep ice cream from dripping all over my clothes. It’s a skill I’ve forgotten in the past ten years, apparently. It was so surreally perfect and beautiful, truly one of those many Parisian moments where you feel like life isn’t even real…that you’ve stumbled into some kind of utopia or have gone back in time or have mistakenly shown up on the set of a movie. It was just…perfect. I just felt so sublimely content. I remember wishing I could actually freeze time, thinking I could stay like that forever. But we were off!

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To the Grand Trianon, a house/chateau/large building built on the Versailles estate built by Louis XIV so that he could “escape the pressures of court life”. What that means is that he wanted to carry on an affair with his mistress, Madame de Montespan, more privately. (If this were Twitter, I would tag this #historydork.) The reason for this journey was so that we could see the exhibit being held there that was kind of a “then and now” of French fashion. It was really interesting and I’m glad I saw it, but I will say that some of the modern pieces had me scratching my head. Pictures, shockingly, were not allowed, but suffice it to say that every other garment (as my fashion crush Tim Gunn would say) looked more like a ridiculous costume than actual clothes. Or like something Lady Gaga would wear. I think I’d prefer the Marie-Antoinette-era outfits they had on display, to be totally honest.

Anyway, the real treat came after the Grand Trianon. Because…you guessed it…I FINALLY MADE IT TO LE HAMEAU!

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Sadly, I did not get to ride a bike there (I had this image in my head…), because by the time I was at the Grand Trianon, I was almost there anyway. But it didn’t matter. I was obsessed with this place.

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This little (relatively speaking) corner of the Versailles grounds feels absolutely nothing like the rest of the place. It’s rustic and charming, full of winding paths and vegetation that’s actually been allowed to grow freely.

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It was also much less touristy–I looked up at one moment and realized there wasn’t a single soul in sight. I can’t even remember the last time I was that alone outside.

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Lily pads!

I felt a million miles away from Paris and even the rest of Versailles. I can only imagine how Marie Antoinette must have felt…you know, back before there was a parking lot right outside of her little hameau. I can’t help but feel like I would have wanted to spend all of my time here, too.

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There was even a little farm! It definitely wasn’t the most fragrant part of the day, but animals are animals, and I love them. (Except for cats. I have met, like, three cats I actually liked in my entire life. I think they’re mostly demon creatures.)

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As hard as it was, I eventually meandered away from Le Hameau and all of its sun-dappled perfection. This was easily one of my top five favorite things I’ve done in France so far, though, so if you ever find yourself at Versailles, I highly recommend you take the time to go out to the Queen’s Hameau. Rent a bike! I wish I had.

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I reunited with some friends and we attempted to watch one of the fountain shows (the fountains at Versailles do interesting musical things, I guess like France’s answer to the Bellagio or something…), but we were at the wrong fountain and not even within sight of the right one (only at Versailles), so we missed it. It didn’t matter, though. The day felt perfect as it was. I was absolutely exhausted once I got back to the dorm and had every intention of collapsing in my bed for all of eternity…but then my friends told me they were going to get falafel. So all intentions of resting were, obviously, thrown out the window.

Funny thing about the falafel, though…the line for the famous place I’ve raved about was really long, so we went to the falafel place across the street instead. Um, it was even better than L’As du Fallafel. Awkward. The falafel tasted even more delightful (which I know because they gave out free samples while we were waiting in line), they put more eggplant in than the other place, I’m pretty sure the pita bread was homemade, and, to top it all off, THEY HAD SPICY SAUCE. It is so difficult to find food with some spice to it in this country (I know, feel sorry for me, I have to eat all this French food), so I was all over that. And I think they made a convert out of me. So I’ll just go ahead and say it. If you’re in Paris, don’t bother waiting in the long line for L’As du Fallafel. Go to Mi Va Mi across the street. You’ll get better food, faster. (Not that L’As isn’t amazing, because it totally is…I just liked the other one a bit better. What can I say. It was spicy.)

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One more solo shot…my mother tells me she likes seeing pictures of me in places. I’m assuming this is so that she knows that I am, in fact, alive. And not wasting away to nothingness, despite the fact that I spend approximately half of every Skype session we have complaining about the cost of food here. And the lack of peanut butter–which is, after all, where 90% of my nourishment came from in America. I love the stuff. If anyone wants to send me some PB&Co Bee’s Knees peanut butter (it would go nicely with those J.Crew boots I showed you the other day), I just might love you forever.

adjusting

Well, there’s not much to tell for my last day in London as it was technically only a few hours, but I’ll share anyway! Allison and I had breakfast at Whole Foods (I know you’re shocked). This time we mixed it up by meeting her friend Jana, though. Jana is from Germany and goes to school in London, so she had lots of useful tips on living in and traveling around Europe. It was great to talk to her.

After sitting and chatting for a while, we headed back to the hotel to rapidly throw things in our bags so that we would make our 12:00 check-out time. I’m still praying I didn’t leave anything behind. We then headed out for one last pub lunch. As per usual, we loved the pub and thought it was perfectly British. We scored great seats: right by the window, in arm chairs, next to the fireplace. I often test out the uniqueness of U.S. cities by determining whether I could figure out what city I’m in if someone showed me a photograph of only my immediate surroundings. New Orleans passes this test with flying colors. πŸ™‚ London does, as well, and our lunch view was no exception. From our seats, we could see a bus stop for red double deckers, a pair of London-style telephone booths, and the edge of Kensington Gardens. It was the perfect farewell meal.

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sorry for the bad lighting

After a quick stop for a requisite telephone booth picture…

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… we went back to the hotel so that I could catch my car to the airport. This was, of course, the first time I’d driven in a car in London, and yes, I kept finding myself feeling panicked as I’d realize the driver was driving on the wrong side of the road.

He wasn’t.

Despite this little cultural adjustment, it was really nice to be able to drive through London and see everything again (and some areas for the first time!). I was sad to leave, but I’m sure I’ll be back…London’s got a hold on me. πŸ™‚

I took a train from London to Paris, marking the first time I’ve ever actually traveled by train. I sort of forgot to plan for some little things…like, you know, security and passport control. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and I’m pretty sure everyone around me knew it. The two fifty pound bags didn’t exactly help me blend in, either. But it doesn’t matter–I made it onto the train just in time. Yay!

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Driving through the countryside (both British and French) was peaceful and very pretty. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures, in part because I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to pull off taking photographs while going 200 mph, and in part because the nice British woman next to me was sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake her to get my bag out of the overhead compartment. But take my word for it, it was picturesque.

I’d been warned that arriving in Paris would be a culture shock, but I think I underestimated just how overwhelmed I’d feel. Between hearing what sounded like dozen of different foreign languages around me to getting yelled at by a Parisian woman to trying to communicate to my cab driver (in my shabby French) where I thought my dorm was, I was feeling way in over my head. Luckily, we managed to find my dorm, and within a few hours I was all moved in and had met my roommate, who is very sweet and who I’m very excited to live with.

Unfortunately, by the time I was all settled in, it was too late to get real food, so I’m sorry to report that this was my first Parisian meal:

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Oh, well. Did the trick!

I’ve felt much less frantic today, but it’s still been exhausting trying to get my life set up here. I’m just really ready to feel settled in. I don’t even feel much like exploring the city yet (which is shocking to me) because I’m just so eager to feel like everything’s all set up for the rest of the semester. It makes me really glad that I got to go to London first…I got a fun European trip where I didn’t have to worry about negotiating the complexities of living in a foreign country for several months. It also helps that I spoke the language!

Anyway, today was fairly crazy. I went from filling out stacks of French paperwork (that I was instructed NOT to lose, or apparently I’ll be stuck in the country forever or sent to prison or something…so bureaucratic), to running from phone store to phone store trying to figure out how to acquire a Parisian Blackberry (in French), to setting up a French bank account (in French), to getting my French social security set up so that I’ll have healthcare while I’m here (also in French). Did I mention how awful my French is?

Luckily, it’s getting better by the second. I’m actually glad that not everyone speaks English as I was told they would. I came here for a reason.

Anyway, I was running around so much that I didn’t get to take many pictures, but I do have a few.

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Walk to my dorm room window, look to your right, and this is the view. Can’t complain about that!


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Finally, my first authentic Parisian macaroon! I can promise these will be a regular feature.


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We found this precious little friend right near school. I desperately wanted to take her home with me. So much. I’ve been really worried about her all day, because she had no tags. 😦 She did look well-fed and well-groomed, though, so I’m hopeful.


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Near school!

Tonight, my school hosted a dinner for everyone at a really cute little restaurant. It was so nice of them! Our table was very international (the whole school is, actually)…I think between everyone, six or seven different languages could have been spoken fluently. I’m so jealous of all the multilingual people. I spent the night quizzing my neighbor on different French phrases. I can’t wait to get better!

I have pictures, but I’m feeling too sleepy to put them up. Until next time!

P.S. I went for my first Paris run today! It was wonderful. In the midst of my arrival in Paris panic yesterday, I was talking to my former roommate/future housemate/always BFF Hayley (aka Squints) and she wisely reminded me that I’d start feeling like myself again the second I went for my first run. As always, she was so right! It was wonderful. It’s always such a treat to run around a new city, especially one as beautiful as Paris.