I arrived home via plane on May 6th. My mom met me at the airport, where she patiently waited for me to say goodbye to the people that I had grown close to over the past four months. There were no balloons, posters or fanfare, but I didn’t want any of that anyway.

Directly after leaving the airport, my mom took me to one of my absolute favorite places to eat: Portillo’s. So, yes, I was back in the States for an hour and I was already sitting down to have a cheeseburger, fries and chocolate shake. Do you have a problem with that?

My family isn’t big on making a big deal out of things. Yes, they were excited to see me, no it was not necessary to have a party. I was just happy to be home and give my dad a hug and pet my dog and see the look on my sister’s face when I gave her the beret I bought her in France (she loved it. I wish everyone was as easy to shop for as her!).

I guess that I assimilated back into life in the U.S.A. relatively easily. I mean, I kind of had to. A week went by and before I knew it I was moving into my apartment for the summer. I’ve since settled in, started my internship at Healthy Schools Campaign and also started my job at Gap as a sales associate. Summer has started and it feels somewhat strange to ride the el downtown every day to go to work. But this is what growing up is all about, right?

However, I must admit that I’m Romesick. The slight grasp that I had on the Italian language is fleeting, my cravings for Nutella and cappucini have yet to subside and I miss all of the wonderful people that I met and lived with for four months.

I miss being able to travel with ease from one European country to another. I long for the days and nights spent talking, laughing and running around without a care in the world. Yes, I was a guest in Italy. But I do have to admit that it felt like home.

There isn’t a way for me to summarize  my entire semester abroad in a way that would do it justice. If you have been reading, you know that I  traveled to eight countries (including Vatican City) and countless cities, tried new foods and spoke different languages than my own. I maneuvered public transit in each city and problem solved when it came to getting to and from the airport, figuring out ways to save money and trying out ways of communicating in languages that I did not understand. I learned that by traveling  with someone,  you see their true colors. I become accustomed to hostel beds and little personal space.

What did this teach me though? Studying abroad taught me that, like anything, the experiences you have are what you make of them. Some people sulked all the time and focused on the negative things. I immersed myself into the culture of Rome and Italy and made new friends. I learned that students will fully embrace the lower drinking age while abroad. I learned that in spite of the aforementioned fact, I kept my promise to myself (I promised myself that I would never taste alcohol or try any kind of drug… simple, right?).

This is where I end this blog. I’m still conflicted about how I feel being back in the United States. I missed my family and friends so much. Now I just have to figure out how my these two separate parts of my life are going to fit together.

I’d like to personally thank everyone that has read this blog and provided feedback about my writing style and content. It was nice knowing that people were interested in the things that I had to say.

Well, ciao for now, readers!

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Yet again, I begin a post with an apology: I am so, so sorry that I have not been updating. I didn’t realize that my last post was from Helsinki… Almost a month ago. Things are a little crazy here, so I’ll give you a brief update of the last few weeks that I’ve spent in Rome. What better way to procrastinate on final papers than updating my blog, right?

  • My voice professor invited all of us over to her house, where she cooked us fettucine and served us a certain kind of wine, both of which are mentioned in the song Arrivederci Roma, which we will all be singing tomorrow night at our end of semester performance. It was nice to sit on a couch for a change and it was really nice to eat a delicious, home-cooked meal with friends.
  • I performed in the talent show that we had here. I sang in an a capella group that some of us threw together a few days before. It was a lot of fun, especially because the last time that I sang in front of people was when I was in fifth grade. Crazy, right?
  • Calcio: My team lost our last game that counted for playoffs. The orange team (my team) and the blue team didn’t get to compete in playoffs, but we were allowed to compete to see who the winning losers were. Orange won!

    Orange team!

  • After a few interviews, a few offers, and a whole lot of thinking, I have accepted an internship with the Healthy Schools Campaign for this summer. I will be living in an apartment in the city and getting college credit for my internship. Though I will miss my family, my friends, the pool, and having a car at any moment’s notice, I think that this experience will be good for helping me decide what I want to do with my life (maybe).
  • One Saturday last month a group of students from our campus went on a nature walk, cleaned up a few parks, and planted flowers around a tree near our campus. The Italians looked at us like we were crazy (per usual), but some seemed to be genuinely happy that we were trying to make a difference, even if it was small. It was the first time that anything like this was organized here at the Rome Center, and it seems like it will be a tradition that will be fulfilling for many semesters to come.

We cleaned around a tree so that we could plant flowers!

  •  Holy Week and Easter were crazy. There were people everywhere and everything was crowded. One of my friends from Loyola that is studying in Spain came to visit Rome and we met up to get gelato at Old Bridge. It was nice to see her! I didn’t go to Mass at the Vatican for fear of getting trapped in a huge crowd, so I spent Easter here on campus instead. I had a relaxing day. For dinner that night, a group of us went to the Hard Rock Cafe here in Rome for some American style food. I had a cheeseburger that proved to be quite delicious and worth the price.

Kenny and me: I'm clearly excited about my onion ring, while Kenny is more apathetic about his Legendary Burger.

  • We had our end of the year banquet on Thursday night, fitting as our last classes of the semester were the same day. The school rented a really, really nice banquet hall where we were served dinner. Everyone dressed up and it was a really nice atmosphere to end the semester on. It was here that they presented the handful of academic awards, superlatives (the certificates for which I made as part of the Student Activities Committee here), and allowed some acts from the talent show that were particularly entertaining to perform one last time. My friend Christina did the funniest stand up routine and the a capella group that I sang with performed again, this time with another song and featuring yours truly on one of the numbers. Once I upload the videos to YouTube, I will post them here!

Erica and I took awkward pictures before the banquet.

Christina and I always take the best looking pictures together!

  • On Friday, the Student Activities Committee hosted an “American-style” brunch, proceeds from which went to benefit the earthquake victims in Japan. It was a big deal, as the Mensa workers were taught how to make pancakes and French toast, among other delicious breakfast dishes. It really tasted like home and was a bittersweet reminder that we would all be returning to our respective cities, schools, and lives in a few short days.
  • Yesterday, I took my first and only final that I was worried about: Italian. While I’ve progressed a lot in my abilities to speak and pronounce words correctly, it is still difficult to deal with six different verb tenses, along with the accompanying pronouns and the large amount of vocabulary words that we learned over the course of the semester. I think I did okay, though, so everything should be smooth sailing from here on out.
  • I have two papers and two finals to go, though  I don’t really count my voice final as a final exam, since we’ll simply be singing our pieces three times through. We’re graded on improvement and my professor has assured me time and time again that I have made great progress in my vocal ability (though I will probably never fully believe her). After I hand in my final philosophy paper on Wednesday morning, I will have the next day and a half to absorb as much of Rome as I can before I depart for Chicago on Friday morning.

I am both sad and happy that this semester is coming to a close. I miss my sisters , my dog, my parents, my friends, the rest of my family, and the familiar things of every day life. More on that later, though. I will write a comprehensive post – a final post – about my post-departure depression and how it will affect  my life from there on out. But for now, I am going to embrace my final days here and go out with a bang. Not doing so would be unfair to me and this beautiful city that I have called home for the past four months.

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Hei hei, Helsinki.

Last weekend I did something that I really never thought I would do: I went to Finland.

I’ve tried a lot of new and different things this semester. If you had asked me if I would ever go to Europe when I was a freshman in high school, I probably would have laughed at your question. I never really foresaw studying abroad in Rome, but I’m glad that I did. I’ve met so many great people and have seen so many interesting and beautiful cities. I’ve tried new foods and spoken other languages. It’s truly been one of the best times of my life.

I’m not really sure where or when I decided that I wanted to go to Finland. All that I know is that I’ve wanted to go to since I was about nine years old. Maybe it was a project on my heritage that I had to do for school. Maybe it was because I was raised in a church that is almost solely Finnish, a church that occasionally features Finnish ministers. Who knows? The point is, I wanted to go and have dreamed of doing such for a long time. Since the flight was a bit more expensive than flights to other countries and discount airlines don’t fly to Finland, I decided to do this trip solo (I also waited to tell you all until I arrived home safely…).

Stepping off of the plane in Helsinki-Vantaa airport was a great feeling. I couldn’t help but smile as I waited for my luggage to come around the conveyor belt. I was finally in Finland! All of my hopes and wishes had come true. Well, some of them, at least.

I took a 30 minute shuttle ride from the airport to the city center, where I then proceeded to walk to my hostel and check in. I picked up a map at the airport, though I didn’t really need it (Helsinki is a relatively small city when compared to American cities). I passed the South harbor and market square on my way to my hostel. I didn’t really know what I was looking at, but I would soon enough.

I had some issues checking into my hostel due to problems that happened when booking. After straightening everything out (and not having to pay a cent more than I was supposed to), I put my things down in my room and headed out for the day.

While the weather was not quite as warm as it was when I left Rome (it was in the 70’s and sunny…), it wasn’t as cold as I had imagined it was going to be. It was in the upper 30’s each day that I was there and there was ice and snow on the sidewalks, the roofs of houses and lining the streets.

I started out by walking to Market Square. Market Square is at the start of Helsinki’s main Esplanade, essentially two boulevards with parks in between. The Esplanade is lined with shops offering Finland’s finest and cafes serving up hot cups of coffee and Finnish pastries.

I stopped into the Tourist Information Center to pick up some brochures for different things to do and to buy a Helsinki Card. The Helsinki Card was really nice because it bought unlimited public transportation use, as well as admittance to almost any of the museums in Helsinki. I definitely got my money’s worth.

Let me just take the time here to explain how I communicated with the people around me. Contrary to my belief (and Rick Steve’s, for that matter), pretty much everyone in Finland spoke English, if only basically. The only Finnish words that I really used were “hei” (hello), “hei hei” (goodbye) and “kittos” (thank you). The rest was English.

Anyway, I then continued down the Esplanade to Stockmann department store, Finland’s version of Harrod’s.


They had EVERYTHING there. I stopped in the cafe here for lunch after shopping for a bit. I had a grilled sandwich with mozzarella, pesto and sun-dried tomato on it. It was served on the typical Finnish flat rye bread, which I absolutely loved. I thought about getting something else since the panini (plural form of panino, the real Italian name for grilled sandwich) here in Rome are so delicious, but this tasted completely different, so I didn’t feel bad. After lunch, I grabbed a cinnamon roll from the bakery for dessert. I’ve been on a cinnamon kick lately, for some reason.

After eating lunch, I decided to check out Helsinki’s famous design district. The city has been appointed the World Design Capital of 2012. Basically, this means that Helsinki is being recognized for its use of design to change itself for the better. The design district has over 100 stores and boutiques and occupies a large section of the city. In the center of the district is the design museum.

World Design Capital 2012!

I checked out a few shops and then happened upon the Museum of Finnish Architecture. While it was a relatively small museum and all of the exhibits were in Finnish and Swedish (Swedish is Finland’s second official language), it was still really interesting. There was a short film about the history of the design of architecture throughout Finland that I found particularly interesting.

After the museum I decided to walk around for a bit more. I found a church with an ice rink next to it:

This reminded me of home, for some reason.

Across from that was the Finnish Design Museum, a place that I’ve wanted to go for quite some time.


With my Helsinki Card in hand, getting into pretty much any museum was a piece of cake. I stowed my coat, camera (no photos were allowed) and backpack in a locker and went to have a look around.

The first floor was dedicated to the evolution of Finnish design. I don’t quite remember the earliest pieces that they had, but they were pretty old. The descriptions wove an interesting story about the reasons why Finnish design changed the way that it did. As it turns out, the early designers of household items and furniture were influenced by other cultures, but as time went on, they made a move for more simplistic designs. This is still true today, of course, though I wouldn’t really include Marimekko in that group for some things.

The basement floor was a temporary exhibit on Korean design. It was really interesting to see how the present-day designs have been heavily influenced by the designs of old. There were also a few interactive exhibits, including one that used the new 3D television technology.

Finally, the top floor was dedicated to Marimekko, one of Finland’s most influential designers. The display included pieces from the original collection, a display of the styles currently sold by the company, a video of the fashion show, a timeline of the company’s move from oilcloth manufacturer to textile designer and designer bios. The display was a flurry of color and cloth, with pieces displayed on stands, hung from the walls and ceiling and in other creative ways. I left the museum feeling satisfied, particularly with the Marimekko exhibit.

I went in a few more shops, and by that time it was starting to get dark, so I headed to the grocery store to pick up something to eat for dinner (a money saving effort on my part). I grabbed a package of the Finnish rye bread and some yogurt, as I was still full from lunch, and returned to my hostel. I ate and then sat down to read the book that I bought from the bookstore in Stockmann earlier that day. I then got a much needed night of rest.

The next morning, I decided to take a tour of Suomenlinna Fortress to start my day. It was a foggy day, but it didn’t feel too cold while I was walking. I got to the dock from which the ferry departs and saw that I had some time to kill, so I decided to walk around Market Square for a bit.

The booths in Market Square are open on Saturdays in the winter and Saturdays and Sundays in the summer months.

I did a little souvenir shopping and the decided to stop into one of the tents for some breakfast.

I decided on coffee and a jelly-filled doughnut.

After a while more, it was finally time for me to hop on the ferry to go to the fortress guarding Helsinki Harbor. Suomenlinna has a long history of use and is the biggest sea fortress in the world. It is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is also presently home to over 600 people. It is no longer a functioning fortress, but rather serves as a museum.

This was my view going toward the island. It was so cool to see the ice break apart as the ferry hit it!

I met a nice Canadian woman on the ferry. Her name was Joanie and she was studying in Espoo for a month as part of her Ph.D. program. She was the one that told me about how most Finlanders are taught English, Swedish and Finnish in school. Many also speak another language or two, typically German, Russian or French.

Part of the fortress. It was hard to see a lot of it because of all of the fog!

The tour took us all over two of the larger islands (there are four in all, though the smaller ones are closed in winter). Like most of Finland’s history, the fortress’ history has strong ties to Sweden and Russia and the wars between the two nations. The fortress was also used during WWII. There was so much more to the tour that I simply can’t remember at the moment, though I wish I could.

The main port of the fortress.

I wish I could have stayed longer, but I wanted to make it back in time to visit another museum or two, so I headed back to the ferry for the mainland.

The view of the South Harbor from the ferry.

I wanted to visit the flea market, so I walked in that direction, but found that it is only open in the summer (or until 2 P.M.?). I’m not really sure which was true, but when I reached the place that it was supposed to be on the map, it was not there. I then decided to do part of a walking tour that I found in the Rick Steves guide book I checked out of the library. This tour took me right to the museum that I wanted to see, so I figured why not try it out?

One of the biggest things that Rick Steves said to see in Helsinki was Temppeliaukio Church, which is literally carved into a huge rock.

Temppeliaukio Church was under construction, and therefore closed.

Since the church was closed and I was losing daylight, I decided to go straight for the National Museum of Finland.

I got there with plenty of time to look around.

This museum had everything. They had artifacts and information starting from the 12th century and continuing onward. They also had a collection of religious artifacts and panels describing the reasons behind why over 80% of Finland ‘s population are practicing Lutherans instead of Catholics (the government wanted the money that was initially going to the Vatican). I also enjoyed perusing through the treasure room.

After spending ample time in the museum, I decided to walk back to the center of the city. It was starting to get dark by this point and I was starting to get hungry (I had been snacking on the leftover flatbread that I had from the night before). I stopped in a hotel to ask about a restaurant that served traditional Finnish cuisine and found one near the city center.

Though it was a little pricey, I decided to order the braised reindeer with mashed potatoes and lingonberries.

For dessert, I ordered a coffee and a mint brownie with a berry mousse.

While my dessert may not have been entirely Finnish (though ultimately delicious), my entrée definitely was. I’ve never had venison and never really had any desire to try it, but I am assuming that reindeer and deer in the Midwest do not taste that different. The reindeer almost tasted like beef, and the lingonberries were a nice addition to the meal. I don’t know if I will ever eat reindeer again, but at least I can say that I tried it! I then hopped on the tram and headed back to my hostel where I read for a bit and then got some sleep.

The next morning, I got ready and checked out of my hostel. While I had every intention of attending service at the Lutheran Cathedral, my body had other plans and overslept. I decided to drop my luggage off at the train station (for €2, it was definitely better than carrying it around all day) and went to grab some breakfast. I decided to try a restaurant in the Esplanade named Kappeli. It was essentially a glass building that doubled as a cafe in the mornings and a high end restaurant at night.

I had a doughnut, coffee and a "kiss" (a chocolate of sorts).

I then went to the Lutheran Cathedral to have a look around. The Cathedral is one of Helsinki’s defining architectural works; the Lutheran Cathedral is to Helsinki as the SEARS Tower is to Chicago.

Lutheran Cathedral with Senate Square in front.

The altar.

The inside of the church was very plain and unadorned, at least when compared to other churches that I’ve been to here in Europe. I felt comfortable there, though. I decided to sit in a pew for a while and reflect before I had to catch my bus to the airport. It was calm and peaceful in the church.

After a while, I reclaimed my luggage and hopped on a bus to the airport where I waited for my flight back to Rome. I’m still at a loss of words for my experiences in Helsinki. It was amazing to finally see the place that I’ve dreamt of visiting for so long. The people were nice, the culture and history were really interesting and I couldn’t help but smile walking through the streets. Neither my camera nor my words can do my trip justice.

I eventually plan to return to Helsinki, though possibly in the summer this time so that I can see the city showered in sunlight. I’d also like to visit the parts of Finland I didn’t see like Espoo and maybe even the lapland . There is so much more that I’d like to say and talk about, but I feel that I’ve written a long enough entry for today. Email me if you have any questions at all about my trip!

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Spring Break Part 3: Dublin!

Emily and I departed from London early on Thursday morning. We landed in Dublin and met our friend Erica at the airport (she had been in Paris with some of our other friends and decided to meet us in Dublin for the remainder of the week).

I immediately found the Irish to be very nice people. Our cab driver from the airport was nice, the man and woman working the desk at our hostel were nice… They were just all-around nice people. It was English-speaking country number two of our break, and we were enjoying being able to (generally) understand everyone (through their thick accents..).

We started by taking a walk around for a bit until we were able to check into our hostel (check-in time was 2:00 P.M.). We walked down O’Connell St. and around to the shopping district, stopping in a used book store on our way. Then we headed back to our hostel and checked in.

After checking our email briefly, we decided to go and find St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Since Dublin is not very large, we were able to find it relatively quickly. Emily went in, while Erica and I decided to walk around the park next to the church for a bit. I felt that I had seen my fair share of cathedrals in Europe and I didn’t really feel like paying €8 to get a look at the inside of this one.

Part of St. Patrick's cathedral and its park!

Afterward, we warmed up in a cafe before going to adventure some more. Our next destination was Dublin Castle.

Dublin Castle!

That photo shows only part of Dublin Castle. Most of it burned down in the 1700’s and have rebuilt it many times since. We were more interested in the gardens next to the castle:

We didn't really know what this was, but we thought it was cool...

Flowers were in bloom!

It was  starting to get dark, so we got some dinner and I turned in for the night.

The next day was a rainy one, which is why I decided against bringing my camera. There wasn’t really much to photograph anyway. Though we checked the weather before we left Rome, and even checked the night before at our hostel, the weatherman was proved wrong yet again.

I started my day with a hot towel shave. It was probably one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever done. Basically, they massage shaving cream onto your face,  then put a hot, wet towel on your face to open your pores, pass over your skin with a razor once, put another hot towel on, then pass over with a razor again, then a last hot towel. Then they put a cold towel, aftershave, talcum powder… And you’re done! It was kind of scary, but I think it helped my skin, especially since it’s so sensitive.

After that, we started the day off with some Starbucks and then decided to make our way to Trinity College, Dublin’s most famous university. It has a huge history and it was cool to think about that. I was most excited about the used book sale that was going on in one of the auditoriums. We didn’t really see much else of the university but the library where the Book of Kells is kept. They charged admission, and since Erica and I didn’t really mind not seeing it, we waited for Emily while she went to see it.

Afterward, we went to a wool shop. They had pretty much anything wool that you could ever want. My mom would have been in heaven. After that, Emily, Erica and I split ways. We decided that some time to ourselves would be best since we all wanted to do different things. Erica and I shopped for a while and just walked around before heading back to our hostel.

We met up with Emily a few hours later and got dinner at a pub. Emily and I got Shepherd’s pie and Erica got the Irish stew (stew with lamb), all of which were served with Irish Soda Bread. The Shepherd’s pie was delicious and is definitely something I’d eat again.

Saturday morning, we got up early to take a tour of the Irish countryside. The tour was around €20 and lasted pretty much all day. Our tour was also conducted on a large van, rather than a charter bus, so we were able to access parts of the countryside that buses simply were not able to reach. Our tour guide was an older Irishman that was hilarious. His voice commanded our attention and he was very knowledgeable about many thing on our tour.

Dublin as seen from a hillside.

Unfortunately for us, it rained on and off throughout out entire tour. But apparently this was to be expected.

Sun shining through the clouds.

We would periodically stop and everyone would pile out of the van and follow our tour guide. For being older, he was very sure of his feet, while I slipped quite a few times to Erica’s delight.

We stopped at one of Ireland's many lakes.

We saw a huge waterfall... This photo doesn't really do it justice.

Around lunch time, we stopped at a pub in a small town in the countryside for lunch. I had some great vegetable soup and a dessert called “Death by Chocolate.” It was really, really good. After an hour’s time, we were back on the road.

One of the first Christian cemeteries in Ireland, I believe?

The last stop on our tour included a walk around two beautiful lakes and a brief tour of the ruins of one of the first Christian churches and cemeteries.

The upper lake!

The upper lake was much larger than the lower lake. We didn’t have enough time to walk all the way around it, unfortunately.

The lower lake!

When we got back, we each split ways again. Emily and I decided to go souvenir shopping while Erica searched for an adequate sushi place. We met up later at our hostel to discuss plans for our departure back to Rome.

In the morning, we all got up and got ready for the day. We had a few hours before we had to catch a cab to get to the airport, so we decided to walk to a park that Erica and I had found on Friday. The park was called St. Stephen’s Green. It had a few ponds, tons of birds and greenery and a play area for children. We just walked around and took our time to enjoy it, as it was a nice, sunny day.

One of the ponds.

Another view of the ponds.

After hanging out in the park for a few hours, we grabbed lunch and then started our journey back to Rome.

In all, I really enjoyed Dublin. The people were nice, they used a currency we were familiar with (the Euro) and the countryside was beautiful. I would definitely visit again.

Let me just end this by apologizing (again) for my lack of updates. I plan to update tomorrow or Sunday about the trip that I took last weekend to Helsinki, so keep a look out!

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Spring Break Part 2: London!

Let me begin this post by apologizing for the lack of updates… I’ve had a lot to do for school lately, in addition to interviews for internships, volunteer positions and extracurriculars.

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous in Rome for the past week and a half or so. It’s been in the 60’s and hasn’t rained and hopefully won’t for a while. It’s going to be difficult to go to Helsinki next weekend for that reason alone, but more on that later.


We left our hotel in Paris on Sunday morning and headed for the international train station, where we got our passports stamped for the first time since coming to Europe (our student visa gives us the privilege of going through EU security, so we don’t need stamps). Then we boarded our train (sometimes called the “chunnel” train) that took us under the English Channel to London.

We arrived at King’s Cross Station (yes, THE King’s Cross from Harry Potter, though on the international side, not the regional side) and bought our Oyster Cards to take the Underground to our hostel. The Oyster Card is a reloadable card that is cheaper and easier than purchasing a day pass. Emily and I found this extremely accommodating, especially because everyone that we talked to spoke English. It was almost like being in the U.S., but not quite.

Check in time at our hostel wasn’t until 2:00 P.M., so we walked around Hammersmith (the part of London we were staying in, also once home to Lily Allen…) for a while. We grabbed a cup of coffee at Starbucks and then shopped for a bit in TKMaxx (I don’t know why it was TKMaxx instead of TJMaxx, but whatever). We also stumbled upon a movie theater and used book store. We dropped into Tesco so I could quickly pick up some toiletries that I had strategically left behind in Rome as to leave more room in my bags and then checked in.

From there, we decided to stop first at Covent Garden, one of London’s main shopping districts.

Loaded with tourists...

We shopped for a while and walked around, enjoying the ability to understand people around us and the sales associates in the stores.

This whole alley was so colorful!

We stumbled upon Chinatown, not realizing how close we were to the West End.

We walked around for quite a while. It wasn’t terribly cold, so we embraced the adventure and kept going.

We found Piccadilly Circus... By accident!

Everything on this street looked so much classier than it would have elsewhere.

Emily and I then grabbed dinner at a place simply named “The Diner.”

Easy enough to remember, huh?

They served typical American fare. We each got a cheeseburger, fries and a chocolate shake. It was a meal that truly reminded me of home.

I added peanut butter to mine for an extra level of goodness.

We then hopped on the tube and headed back to our hostel for a night of much needed rest.

The tube!

We started off day two of our English excursion (gotta love alliteration, right?) with a trip to Buckingham Palace. Before heading over, though, we decided to pop into Hyde Park to see what all of the fuss was about.

It so happens that Hyde Park is just that; a park.

We got to Buckingham Palace right in time for the changing of the guard. Unfortunately, since the guard only changes once every two days in the winter months, there was a HUGE crowd around the palace and the surrounding parks. We couldn’t really see, but we could hear the parade of guards coming toward the palace.

This picture shows just a small number of the people that were in attendance.

We weren’t sure that it was the changing of the guard and some other people were confused as well. One woman was visiting from outside of London and asked if Obama was in town, since he was supposedly coming the week we were there. Though we were excited at the thought of our President being in the same foreign country that we were in and at the same time, we asked a policeman who kindly told us that it was just the routine changing of the guard.

Since the Royal Palace has upped its security measures in recent years, we were unable to take a photo with a guard. I can’t remember if the guards were outside of the gates I visited in 2008; we never got to get close enough because we were crunched for time.

This is the closest we could get.

We decided to take a walk through James Park while we decided what we wanted to do next.

We spotted where we wanted to go next over the tops of the trees in the park: The London Eye.

Emily and I made a list of things that we wanted to do in each place that we visited. At this point in London we had already crossed a lot of things on our list. As we made our way to the Eye, we passed Big Ben and Westminster Abbey.

I even managed to get a double-decker bus and London cab in this picture.

We crossed the bridge over the River Thames and finally got to the Eye. The wait in line for tickets was intimidating, but proved to be quite efficient (dissimilar to the system that Italians have established for waiting in line..).

The Eye!

The view of the city from The Eye!

We were so high... Everyone and everything looked so small!

After exiting The Eye, we decided to walk back towards the river and check out the Globe Theater. Apparently, the Theater is reserved on weekdays for school presentations, which meant that we would have had to wait until after 4 P.M. to see a play. We decided to walk toward Tate Modern and cross Millennium Bridge instead.

While we were walking to the bridge, we ran into my friend Gen from Loyola! We had been trying to decide on a place to meet up and my phone wasn’t cooperating. But it turns out we didn’t even need it.

Gen and I are both part of our university's programming board, ((dop)).

After talked with Gen for a while about the rest of her spring break plans, we came to Millennium Bridge. Millennium Bridge was featured in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Millennium Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral.

Emily and I then stopped for lunch at a pub. She had traditional fish and chips and I had a traditional cottage (shepherd’s) pie.

It was delicious!

After lunch, we walked to the Tower of London. This is probably one of my absolute favorite places in London, even if it is a tourist attraction. There is just so much to see there.

The Tower!

The Tower of London is also home to the White Tower.

The White Tower is really cool because it is home to the armor used by a number of kings throughout the ages. It also includes artifacts gifted to the Royal Family and the Kingdom by other countries.

We then went to the Jewel Tower. This Tower holds a majority of the Royal Family’s Crown jewels. They have a number of priceless pieces on display, including trumpets from the Queen’s coronation.

After the Jewel Tower, we walked around the outside for a bit. We saw the monument that was dedicated to all of the people that were beheaded, most of which were beheaded by Henry XIII.

Inscribed along the circumference of the monument were the names of the guillotine's victims.

We also saw the royal ravens, kept merely because of King Charles's superstitions.

Upon exiting the Tower, we took a look at Tower Bridge.

Emily and I, still full from lunch, took a quick stop at Starbucks (we were taking full advantage of our love for the coffee company) and then decided to walk around Oxford Circus, London’s largest shopping area, for a while.

We made a stop at the biggest Topshop that I have ever been in. It was five floors!

As many of you know, Topshop will be taking over the recently vacated Michigan Avenue Border’s location. Michigan Avenue, among other things, will look completely different when I return to the states. I can only imagine what else will be different.

After shopping for a bit, we returned to our hostel. The next morning, we got an early start and decided to head for London’s main department store: Harrod’s.

Harrod's was HUGE. Emily and I bought cookies from the bakery inside.

We went back to Buckingham Palace so that we could take a look at it when there weren’t thousands of people standing in front of it. We eventually walked through St. James’s park again and ended up in Trafalgar Square. We stopped in a book store there and I purchased a novel written by Stephen Fry.

Emily and I then walked back towards West End, where we attempted to get student tickets to see Les Miserables. We were told to return later. We walked back through Chinatown, contemplating places to eat for lunch, though we couldn’t get Chinese, as we were given peculiar looks when we asked if any of the food contained MSG (Emily is allergic).

I grabbed a chicken bun from a street vendor for a snack.

We eventually ended up at Chipotle. England is the only European country that is home to Chipotle. I don’t particularly like it, but I was satisfied with a cheese quesadilla, chips and guacamole.

Emily and I wandered around for a while after that, waiting for it to get closer to 6:00 PM, the time that we could finally try to by tickets to a show. While we were unable to get student-rate tickets to Les Mis, we managed to score some balcony seats.

The play was phenomenal and made me want to read the novel again!

After getting some much needed sleep, we hopped on the Tube and went to Abbey Road. I must say, I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be. To me, it just seemed like any other road, but with a camera live broadcasting your attempts to take a picture online.


We then decided to go to the National Gallery. They had a great collection of paintings from a number of artists. My favorites were two of Van Gogh’s paintings: Still Life: Vase with Twelve Sunflowers and Van Gogh’s Chair.

The National Gallery!

The National Gallery also offers a great view of Trafalgar Square: 

After visiting the museum, we spent the rest of our time relaxing and taking the time to reflect on everything that we did during our stay in London. We departed the next morning for Dublin.

I apologize for the length of this post, but I felt that I had to do my trip justice. I will post about my weekend here in Rome after I post about Dublin. Both will be posted this week. Keep checking for updates!

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Spring Break Part 1: Paris!

Since virtually everyone on campus is out drinking for St. Patrick’s Day and pretty much everything besides bars is closed for Italy’s 150th anniversary of unification, I thought I’d sit down and pen my first of three spring break posts. Basically, I will be writing a post for each city that I spent my time in over the course of my 10 (1o!) day vacation.

So, I started in Paris. Now, as many of you know, I have been to Paris before. I went on a three week trip abroad the summer between my junior and senior years of high school. We toured Italy, France and England over the course of three days. I guess you could say that I’m no stranger to the beautiful city that is Paris.

We (my friend Emily and I) arrived in Paris at around 10 A.M. We thought we would brave the Metro to get to our hotel after taking a shuttle from the airport to Paris city proper, but it proved to be a long wait and we decided to catch a cab and keep our fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be a ridiculous fare. As it happened, our cab ride took about fifteen minutes and only cost about €10. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

Unfortunately, check-in time for our hotel was 1:30 P.M., so Emily and I decided to walk over to the Eiffel Tower, take some photos and then check in. The Tower was less than a 10 minute walk from our hotel, which was really nice. It was a little chilly, but the sun was out so it wasn’t completely terrible.

The Eiffel Tower!!!

Emily and I decided that I would be a good idea to walk up the steps instead of taking the elevator…

The number of steps it took us to get to the second deck.

Now, we didn’t go to the tippy top because the line was super long (and we liked the view from the second deck just fine).

The view of Paris!

Then we proceeded down all 669 steps and headed back to our hotel to check in. After getting everything in order, we decided to take on the Louvre. It was a bit of a walk, but it was sunny out, so we carried on anyway. It probably would have been easier to take the Metro, but why not enjoy the city?

The Louvre!

We didn’t spend much time in the Louvre, as it was near closing time and there were tons of people there. I had been there already and Emily was okay with speeding through it.

Not to worry, we made sure to stop to see the tourists flocking around the Mona Lisa.

We stumbled upon some fashion week events on our way to the ChampsÉlysées. There were people everywhere with cameras (I blended in, minus my jeans and vibrant, red shoes…) and it was fun to see people dressed up walk past us to the event tents.

On our way from the Louvre to ChampsÉlysées, we stopped to grab a crêpe from a stand in the park. We each got one with bananas, Nutella and cinnamon. It was sooo good. (I would post a picture, but Emily was the one who took them and has yet to upload pictures.)

We made our way down the famous shopping street and stopped in a store every so often. They had the biggest Swatch store that I’ve ever seen, among other things. at the end of the ChampsÉlysées is the Arc de Triomphe. It was cool to see everything lined up.

The Arc!

After shopping for a while, we decided to head back to our hotel to get some rest. We had done a lot of walking and were exhausted.

We mustered the energy to stop and take a few photos on a bridge overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

The next morning we woke up and decided to start our day by heading to Sacré Cour Cathedral.

On our way to the ATM we saw the BIGGEST DOG EVER!

We decided to take the Metro to the church. As you may or may not know, I have been doing my own personal analysis (not on paper, but in my head) about public transit in each city that I’ve been to. In addition, I have saved every fare card that I have needed. Paris’s fare cards were small strips of paper. They were cool.

The Metro system in Paris is similar to that in Barcelona and London (though London’s is arguably better…) in that different lines intersect at a number of points, creating a sort of web that makes it simple to transfer lines quickly and efficiently. This is much different than the CTA, whose lines intersect in the Loop and branch outward from there. I won’t even talk about the inefficiency of Rome’s two Metro lines.

Anyway, we took the Metro. For those of you that don’t know, Sacré Cour is at the top of the highest hill in Paris.

The Metro cautioned us, but this was no match for the 669 steps that it took to reach the second deck of the Eiffel Tower!

The area leading up to the church itself was quiet and peaceful. It was a good way to start the morning. Upon arrival, we found a different ambience.

Hundreds of people had the same idea we did that morning, I guess. Oh, and there's the church!

We decided to go into the church and take a look, but found that we were intruding on mass, so we left.

One thing that Sacré Cour is famous for is the beautiful view that is has of the entire city. It was kind of foggy/hazy the day that we went, unfortunately.

It was a beautiful sight nonetheless!

After grabbing a crêpe for breakfast and taking a look at some original artwork, we decided to make our way to Notre Dame.  While we were making our way back to the Metro station, we happened upon a brass band! It easily made my day. The members seemed around our age and were playing a number of classics, including Besame Mucho, one of my favorite songs to play on my trumpet. It made me miss my band friends.

They even painted the Sousaphone!

Notre Dame!

We made it to Notre Dame. It was at this point that I really felt like I was reliving my previous trip to paris, but with weather that was nearer to 40 degrees than 80. I didn’t go in last time, so I was interested to see what I missed.

I guess the high, Gothic ceilings were a sight to see.

We also ran into some of our friends from school INSIDE THE CHURCH. It’s funny how small the world is sometimes, isn’t it?

After spending some time in the church, we walked for a bit with Megan and Matt and then parted ways. We were in search of the Longchamp store. After finding the store, we decided to stop by a French bakery.

I just HAD to buy a French baguette!

After eating some of our baguettes, we went to Musée d’Orsay, one of Paris’s other highly regarded museums. They had a large collection of Degas and Monet, which I absolutely loved. They also had a temporary Van Gogh exhibit. Did I mention that we got into both museums we visited for free with our Italian visa? Fine with me!

We decided to eat a quick dinner at a restaurant on our way back to our hotel. We each got a cheeseburger (how American). They served it with this weird sauce on it. It was still good, though, especially because I haven’t had one since… probably December.

Our last order of business in Paris was to see the Eiffel Tower sparkle. Every night, the Eiffel Tower sparkles (i.e. flashes lights) on the hour. Unfortunately, my lens on my camera didn’t allow me to capture it sparkling. I did catch it lit up, however.

It was so bright!

I even decided to get my picture taken in front of it.

Yes, that is a beret. Yes, it looks terrible on me. No, I do not care, as it is a souvenir and I took it off after this picture was taken.

Well, that concludes part 1 of my spring break posts! Be on the lookout in the coming days for my next post on London!

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Pompeii and Rome

Well, it has taken me a while to finally post about my weekend. Whoops.

Unfortunately for me, the John Felice Rome Center is a real college campus with really college classes and real midterm exams. I spent my week studying for and taking said exams. I have one more tomorrow that I’m not really worried about.

Aside from exams, I haven’t really been doing much. My team and I lost our calcio game last week. However, I scored a goal! I also slipped a few times (running shoes have proven less than ideal for playing soccer on turf fields) and got pretty scraped up. I’ll spare you the gruesome pictures.

Then on Friday I went on a study trip to Pompeii. Study trips are basically trips that the Rome Center sets up for you. Some are weekend trips, others, like Pompeii, are day trips. All you have to do is pay and you are set to go.

We arrived at Pompeii around lunch time, so we ate our sack lunches (lunches made for us by the Loyola dining staff). It wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever eaten, but it was good enough to tide me over until dinner.

Then we started our tour led by Dr. Nicholson, a professor here at the Rome Center. Pompeii was very similar to Herculaneum, only it was much larger and Herculaneum was better preserved because of the mud. I’ll spare you the repetitive photos and only include some that I found particularly interesting.

Mt. Vesuvius as seen through a hole in the wall.

The entire tour only took about 3 1/2 hours, so there really wasn’t much to it that you don’t already know about. It was just so cool to see it in person!

An archaeologist developed a method of pouring plaster into the cavities left by the bodies. In some moulds, you can see bones.

It was really sad, yet fascinating, to see these moulds.

Spencer and I pretended that the volcano was erupting. Sorry if this is offensive to anyone reading...


Pompeii is a poorer part of Italy, so there were many stray dogs wandering around.

I found an ancient Lego!

We made it back to campus in time to eat dinner in the cafeteria, which was nice.

On Saturday I didn’t really do much. I went shopping on Via del Corso and finally bought a watch. I selected a red Swatch like this one:

Then, on Sunday, we went to a flea market at  Porta Portese.

Porta Portese!

It was a really fun experience. I got a sweater for €2 that I really like. We almost didn’t go because it looked like it was supposed to rain… But it didn’t start raining until we got back to campus. Imagine that!

Flea market!

I apologize for the lack of text and quality in this post. I’m kind of worn out from midterms and getting ready for spring break. You can expect some long posts about my adventures in Paris, London and Dublin in a few weeks!

I hope everyone has a safe spring break (if you have spring break next week) and I will post tons of photos and stories about my spring break!


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