Friday, May 28, 2010

Slowly but surely, I'm becoming American once more

I have a small confession to make...

I've been back in the US for over 2 weeks. I came back as planned on May 10, thankfully dodging any interference from the volcanic ash that I was so worried about.

No longer can I use the lack of internet as an excuse to not update my blog. I am constantly connected to the internet - even more so than before due to my new Blackberry.

So my updates will become more regular and I will bring this blog up to date on all my traveling that transpired over the last 6 months or so.

Until then, I'm planning on making a half-hearted effort to find a summer job and readjusting to life in my native country.

I've already been made painfully aware of the fact that I am no longer in Italy by many different events. I miss the blunt approach the Italians have to life - when I spoke to my friends here, they initially found me to be brutally honest. Needless to say both parties had some adjusting to do.
I can't look at the "Italian food" served in the US, let alone eat it. No pizza for the next few months until I can forget what authentic pizza tastes like. And don't get me started on how dismayed I am that I can't buy alcohol for myself yet. How am I supposed to get my wine?!

But for all the cultural differences, I love my home country. And I can't complain that I no longer have to worry about communication errors when going to the doctors or ordering at restaurants. Plus, seeing my friends and family again continues to be a treat each day.

Now that I'm back I can clearly see huge changes in who I am and what I want out of life - all for the better, I think. But more on that later. And more pictures and stories of my travels.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I'm back on blogger but who knows when I'll be back in the US...

It has been 4 months since I've posted - I must apologize profusely for my absence from the web...

To bring you all up to speed with my life in Europe, here is a quick summary of where I am now:

I am still studying in Siena, Italy (Tuscany). The differences between this semester and last are staggering - I am no longer living in an apartment with American room mates, but in a homestay with an Italian family (and none of them speak a word of English). Unfortunately this means I have no internet access at home, thus making it a real challenge to post here. Other than that, it is warm outside (FINALLY!) which means I no longer have to wear 3 layers when I leave the house!

I've been on the move a lot, traveling across the country. In the near future I intend to post pictures and stories about all the places I've been (including places like Prague, Vienna, Northern Italy, etc.).

But sadly I will be leaving in 3 weeks to return to the US. Or at least, that's when my flight is scheduled - my flight that will be going through London's Heathrow airport. If you've been following the global news, you may have noticed a little hitch in European travel as of late...

For those of you who haven't heard, a volcano erupted last week in southern Iceland. The ash from this has been causing flight delays for almost a week now - especially in London - with no definite end in sight. The volcano is still spewing ash and scientists fear another eruption down the road (in a few weeks or a few months, no one really knows).

Some airports reopened (at least some of their flights) today, but a new ash cloud that is moving in could set all progress back to square one again. This may mean that I could end up stuck in Rome if my flight is canceled.

I know, poor Taylor, stranded in one of the most amazing cities on Earth...
I have to admit, I'll use any excuse I can to spend more time in Italy - but unfortunately doing so wouldn't bode well for my dwindling bank account.

But for now, there's nothing I can do except stay optimistic and enjoy my last few weeks in beautiful (and mostly sunny) Siena.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Happy Holidays!

It’s Christmas time in Siena! Lights are up, an ice skating rink has been placed in the Piazza nearby, as well as multiple Christmas trees throughout town.

The best treat was a few nights ago, as I was walking to a friends how, it began to lightly snow. White flakes clung to my coat and eyelashes and I listened to Christmas music on my iPod and soaked up the beautiful lights. It was nothing short of magical.

Christmas time in Europe seems to be treated with a sort of reverence – more so than in America. It’s truly amazing.

I’m leaving this weekend and will be starting my month of traveling (my finals are all done and this semester is over) before returning to Siena in late January for next semester. I’ll be traveling to Berlin, Bologna, Nice, Bordeaux, Dublin, Rome, Florence, Montepulciano, and Holland. I’ll try to update while I’m on the move, but can’t guarantee it…

So until next time, Happy Holidays to everyone! I hope you’re all finding joy in every moment.

20th birthday in Paris!!!

I recently celebrated my 20th birthday (about a week ago) in Paris, France! I have to say that this was absolutely the best birthday I’ve ever had and a fantastic way to say goodbye to my teenage years.
About 20 of my friends from my study abroad program accompanied me and my friend Sabrina (who was turning 21 the day before my birthday) to a 4 star hotel in the business district of Paris. The whole weekend was magnificent – I ate nutella crepes nonstop, drank French wine and champagne, and saw all my favorite places in France!

I started my birthday off by going to Notre Dame, one of my favorite places in the world. The architecture conveys so much passion and devotion that must have gone into constructing this church. Standing there, looking at the breathtaking stained glass gives me a sense of tranquility and clarity. If I lived in Paris, I would be in Notre Dame every day just drinking in the beauty.

I also went to the Champs Elysees where there is a Christmas market and the Arc de Triumph where the Christmas spirit is nearly palpable.

I went to Montmartre – one of my favorite areas of Paris – and sat inside the Sacre-Coeur for a while.

On the way back to dinner, we encountered a band playing in a metro station. There was a huge crowd and a ton of strangers started dancing together. It was so much fun and there was so much positive energy. I felt as though it was my own personal dance party in the metro. I couldn’t stop smiling. :)

The best part of my birthday though was the evening. On 9:20 all my friends and I jumped on the metro and got to the Eiffel tower just at 9:54pm (the time I was born). I stood under the Eiffel tower and turned 20 there. I popped a bottle of champagne under the tower as a fantastic light show began and music played. My friends and I all watched the light show with awe – it was fantastic. We danced under the tower until we got too cold to stay any longer and went off in search of some other place to dance.

Upon returning to Italy, I had so many birthday wishes from my friends and family back in the US. My brother even wrote a special blog for my birthday :) check it out here:

The whole experience was so memorable – I feel so lucky to have celebrated my 20th birthday in the city of lights and have received so much love from the people in my life. Thank you to everyone for making it so special.

The Immaculate Conception in Spain

Living in Italy has many perks, one of which is the holidays I receive due to the Catholic dominance in this country. I myself and not Catholic, but if the Italians want to give me a five day weekend to travel in order to celebrate the Immaculate Conception, then I'm a happy camper.

So a few weeks ago I went to Spain with some close friends. The plan was to spend a few days in Valencia and a day or two in Madrid, but honestly, I could have stayed a few months (or more) in Valencia.
Valencia is Spain's third largest city (after Madrid and Barcelona) but in my opinion is the best. Now, I haven't been to Barcelona and I understand it's quite interesting, but Valencia is located on the South Eastern coast of Spain. This means that in the dead of winter the temperature hovers around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. So much warmer than the 30 degree weather I'm currently having in Siena...

Valencia is also incredibly beautiful. The historical center is similar to Siena due to its winding cobblestone streets, preserved buildings, and busy plazas. The inner city is beautiful with churches and fortresses. But there is also a fantastic amount of night life there with tons of bars and dance clubs. Valencia is also incredibly clean and safe. I stayed in a hostel near one of the main plazas (Plaza de la virgen). Here are some pictures of the city center.

Here you can see that Valencia really outdoes itself when decorating for Christmas. Look how beautiful!

There is also a park that used to be a river (which flooded out) that runs through Valencia. There are skate parks, mini golf courses, a park shaped like Jesus, lots of grass and fountains there as well.

If you walk a bit out of the city center, there are sky scrapers and modern office buildings. Keep walking down the river/park Turia from the city center and you'll find the City of Arts and Sciences (designed by Santiago Calatrava and FĂ©lix Candela). This is a cluster of incredibly futuristic looking buildings that house museums and laboratories and aquariums.

Past the City of Arts and Sciences is the beach with lovely long stretches of soft, white sand.

While out at night, I drank only Aigua de Valencia - a specialty alcoholic drink of Valencia containing Oranges and a ridiculous amount of different hard alcohols. Delicious, but deadly.

Upon arriving in Madrid after being in the paradise of Valencia, I couldn't enjoy myself with all the throngs of tourists and pickpockets. Something about Valencia enchanted me. I am now seriously considering studying for a year during graduate school in Valencia if possible. Valencia was quite possibly my favorite city in Europe that I've visited so far.

Thanksgiving in Paris

Ok, so I know I'm almost a month late on the update, but I finally have a few hours to catch up on all I've been up to these past few weeks!

This is the first holiday season that I have not spent with my family (being in Europe, its a bit difficult to celebrate with everyone in America). This last Thanksgiving, I went with a few friends to Paris for a long weekend. While I didn't have any turkey in honor of the holiday, I did eat some pretty delicious foods: crepes, duck, rabbit, and French wine were just some of the delicious French dishes I enjoyed.

Here's a picture of my Thanksgiving dinner: Duck and potatoes - so delicious!

The Thanksgiving trip to Paris was my second time in the city (the first being over three years ago). I hit up all the normal touristy areas and re-visited some of my favorite places in Paris such as the Louvre, L'arc de triumphe, Les Champs Elysees, and of course the Eiffel Tower. While walking down the Chaps Elysees one evening (which is beautiful - all lit up for Christmas), my friends and I stumbled upon a special event with a famous French singer who I had never heard about before named Sliimy. We got to hear him sing a bit and snapped a few photos.

Here is my favorite sculpture at the Louvre: Psyche and Cupid. I just think the lines are so beautiful and there's a feeling of pure and innocent love to it.

I also visited the Musee d'Orsay for the first time and spent a few hours admiring all the Van Gogh paintings and Rodin sculptures.

I stayed in the Quatier Latin (Latin Quarter) near St. Michel. The Latin Quarter is crammed with fantastic crepe and gyros/kebab stands as well as a fun variety of bars and little dance clubs.

Now, with any big city, there are bound to be con-artists and Paris does not disappoint. There are gypsy women who have English speakers read letters that tell these women's supposed sob stories and then beg you for money. There are men who offer to spin you a bracelet from thread, but even when you refuse, they offer to show you and begin weaving thread around your wrist. When they've finished they hold on to your wrist by the bracelet and refuse to let go until you've paid them five euro. The scam that I personally encountered was one where a man bends down to the ground and appears to pick up a ring (typically a gold band) and then asks if its yours. When you say no, they say (in French or broken English) "Oh, have it, it's a gift from the angels...but I haven't eaten in days. Please give me some money for this ring". They refuse to leave you alone until you give them money or their friend has picked your pocket. I, however, having no patience for these things, eventually threw the ring on the ground at the mans feet before anything could be taken from me.

Apart from the frustrating scams, I felt so at home in Paris -I felt so at home in Paris. My French is still leaps and bounds ahead of my Italian and I loved being in a country where I can effectively communicate with the locals.

I'm aware this entry is a short one, but I will be following this post with another one about my 20th birthday in Paris!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rome, Florence, and Siena within 2 days...

About 2 weeks ago my Italian Cinema class went on a field trip to Rome (Roma in Italian) to see a movie at the Casa del Cinema there and then chat with some influential Italian directors and writers. We watched “The Conformist” (with English subtitles, thank god – my Italian isn’t that good yet). Afterward we had a round table discussion with Dacia Maraini (an Italian writer), Adriano Apra (Italian film specialist in film history and director), and Giuliano Montaldo (Italian director). It was a treat to hear them discuss “The Conformist”. Here’s the best photo I was able to secretively snap of them:

The day after Rome, my entire study abroad program went on our last excursion together to Florence (Firenze in Italian). Florence isn’t too far from Siena – only an hour and a half on the bus. There we went to the Uffizi museum as well as the museum that houses The David statue. Florence was gorgeous, especially it’s duomo.

Upon returning to Siena, I decided to finally take photos of my apartment that I’ve been living in for the past 2 and a half months…
My apartment is more spacious and newer than your typical Italian apartment. I also have a fantastic view of a Piazza. I often sit on my windowsill and watch as contrada’s parade by, people converse in Italian, and vespas zoom all over the place. Oh, one thing about Italian bathrooms – each and every one has a toilet and a bidet. So European.