To preface this post, I know that I said that I was going to post a blog on Thanksgiving in Milan, but seeing how it is a month later that would be kind of anticlimactic. So in short, we went drank beer and played some backyard football on Wednesday night (yes, you can do both at the same time here, there are no open container laws!), followed by a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner with chicken substituted for turkey on Thursday night, and then everyone went out to our favorite local pub for the last time afterward. It was genuinely awesome, because although we weren't with our families we were with friends that have gotten very close over the past couple of months.
This brings me to my next point. The past couple of months have been probably the best four months of my life. Not only have I seen much more of the world than most people will see in their entire life, but I have met so many great people from all over the world. Don't get me wrong, everywhere I have been has been absolutely incredible: I have gone on a gondola ride in Venice, visited old friends in Madrid, seen Big Ben in London, drank a pint of Guinness in Dublin, seen all of ancient Rome, been to the Louvre in Paris, witnessed Da Vinci's Last Supper in Milan, and countless other worldy experiences. But despite all of this, it feels so much better just knowing that I have friends all over the world. I have friends in England, Portugal, Brazil, Spain, Turkey, Georgia, Canada, Japan, and many other countries. It's really weird because leaving all of this is unlike any other feeling I've had before. Similar to freshman year of college, you come here and make new friends and get to be pretty close over the next couple of months. But the difference is that when you leave at the end of your freshman year, you know that all of these people will be back in the fall. I leave here tomorrow night, and most of the people that I have gotten to know over the past couple of months I will never see again. It's a pretty weird feeling. But now if I want to, I can go ski in Whistler and have a free place to stay. I can go party in Brazil, and know that I have people that can show me where all the fun is.
I came here as an exchange student and as far as the student part goes it has been quite a failure. My grades are not up to par with what I would like them to be. Despite this, the experience as a whole has been a success. Sometimes what you learn isn't necessarily reflected in a letter that an instituition imposes on you. I have learned more about other countries and cultures, I have learned more about our country, and more importantly I have learned more about myself, both good and bad. I feel like as I return to the US, I'm a different person than I was when I left. I know more about what my values are in life, what my strengths and weaknesses are, and a little bit more about the direction that I want to go in.
It's 4:15 am here and I leave for the airport in 17 hours. It's a happy and a sad feeling, but I'm ready to come home. I know that I'll be back on this side of the Atlantic soon enough, as I haven't covered all of the ground that I want to yet (Top of the list: Budapest, Prague, Morraco, Greece, and Switzerland!)
Sunday, December 14, 2008
So it's December 15 and I haven't updated since November 24, even though a bunch of cool stuff has happened since then. I guess that I suck at this whole blog thing. Paris one of the coolest cities that I've been to so far, I know that I say that about every city that I've been in, but Europe has just been that cool.
We got in to Paris on Friday evening (11/21) and headed straight to the Louvre because it's free for students on Fridays from 6:00-Close. If I had to pick one word for the Louvre it would overwhelming, there is just so much stuff to see there! As a typical tourist I headed straight for the Mona Lisa, and just as everybody that's every been there will tell you, it's kind of disappointing. It's very small and there is tourists everywhere around it. I spent a little bit more time checking out the essential art that is in the Louvre, as well as a Picasso exhibit that they had going on for a limited time, but I spent most of my time looking in Egyptian antiquities as well as Greek, Roman, and Etruscan Antiquities. They had a ton of cool artifacts, probably the coolest of which I thought was the original Code of Hammurabi. It was huge, coming in at almost 7 feet tall and scrawled with ancient rules about throwing your wife into the water if she cheats on you and fun stuff like that.
The next day we went on a free four hour walking tour of the city that took you through all of the essentials: Notre Dame, by the Louvre, Jardin de Tuileries, Champs Elysees, Arc de Triumph, and looking on to the Eiffel Tower. If you ever go to Europe, take advantage of the free walking tours, you learn so much more than you would on your own and all you have to do is tip the guy at the end, definitely worth it. After the tour we headed over to the Eiffel Tower and took pictures and all of that good stuff. Some of the group went up to the top, but it was €12 to go up and about a 45 minute wait and that didn't seem worth it to me to be able to say "I've been at the top of the Eiffel Tower!" Just standing under it and admiring it was enough for me haha.
On Sunday we went to Versailles, and again we're cheap college students and didn't pay to go in (it was €15!), so we just walked around the grounds and went into where Marie Antoinette's resided. That was cool, but honestly the best part was just walking around the grounds because it was snowing really hard and was just very beautful. Unfortunately the snow didn't keep up and turned into rain once we headed back to Paris, and we found ourselves wandering around Paris in freezing rain. We honestly just wanted to get out of the rain as fast as possible, so a couple of us ended up escaping into a movie theater to go see Burn After Reading. I know, I know, it's lame to go see a movie in Paris.
The only other things I have to say about Paris are: Paris is the most expensive city that I've been to by far, and yes the French are assholes. It almost seemed to me though like it wasn't towards American's in particular, they're just generally pretty pessimistic people. And to elaborate on how expensive it was, we sat outside at a cafe and all I got was a cappucino figuring that it couldn't be that expensive. When the bill came it was €7!
Once again, sorry for not updating as often as I should. I promise that tomorrow I'm going to try and get on again to write about Thanksgiving in Milan, which should be my last one other than a wrap up entry concluding my time here in Italy.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Apparently some people have been waiting for my Amsterdam post, so here it is haha. Given that a lot of my family reads this blog, I'm going to write about what kind of festivities are available in Amsterdam rather than reflect on my personal experience. If you don't want to hear about a city full of drugs and hookers, don't read on, I've warned you.
Amsterdam is probably the weirdest city that I've ever been in. The hostel that I stayed in was about a 10 minute walk from the Red Light District, probably what Amsterdam is currently most famous for (sorry Anne Frank). The Red Light District is full of "coffee shops" that are seriously about every third or fourth store, where you can go in and buy marijuana. This could come in several forms of course, you could order straight up pot, a pre-rolled joint, or even a space cake, which is a muffin or brownie with pot baked into it. Also in the Red Light District are "smartshops", or pretty much what would be a head shop in the US where you can buy pipes and bongs and all sorts of smoking accessories. What differentiates these from a head shop in the US is that they sell magic mushrooms, in several different intensity levels. The reason you can buy marijuana and shrooms openly in Amsterdam is because "soft drugs" are legal, whereas "hard drugs" like coke, heroin, and extacy are illegal. This doesn't mean that they aren't readily available though. If you walk around the Red Light District at night, every 15 feet a black person will whisper to you "Coke? Extacy?" It kind of catches you off guard at first, but you get used to it in a weird kind of way after the first couple times. The last thing that I have to comment on about the Red Light District are the hookers. Yes, prostituition is legal as well. Some of the streets in Amsterdam are lined on both sides with hookers in windows waiting to do whatever you want for the right price. Some are actually pretty hot, others are hideous. Apparently if you're going to partake in these activities, you should be pretty careful what street your on because some streets are lined with hookers that may look like females, but when the bottoms come off you'll be in for a surprise.
Outside of drugs and whores, Amsterdam does have some good clean fun! One of the primary modes of transportation there is the bicycle. They're seriously everywhere, they even have the right of way on the street rather than cars or pedestrians. We rented bikes for 3 hours and rode around, which was a lot of fun. We also went to the Anne Frank house, which was also fascinating. One thing that struck me about their hiding space was how big it was. I pictured them to be living in small, cramped, terrible conditions, but they actually had a lot of room. What made it terrible was just that they pretty much could not move at all due to the fear of being found. At the end of the tour of the house they had the original diary on display! The main Heineken brewery is located in Amsterdam as well, which we took a tour of. While it was still a lot of fun, the Guinness tour in Dublin was a lot better in my opinion.
Amsterdam itself was a very beautiful city; it almost seemed like a cleaner version of Venice. Scattered around the city are really cool windmills which also add to it's aesthetic value. I said at the beginning of the post that Amsterdam was the weirdest city I've ever been in, and I guess this helps to contribute to it as well. Here you have this city where you can pretty much do anything that you want to, things that everywhere else in the world deem immoral or wrong, yet it works for the city. Amsterdam is not out of control, it is a generally safe city, and it is beautiful as well. If somewhere like this were in the US, left wing hippies would go crazy on drugs, right wing religious nut jobs would be up in arms and condemn everyone to hell, and the city would eventually burn to the ground. It's just interesting to think about how a city got to be this way and make it work in today's world.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Rome was one of the coolest cities that I have been to so far. It's hard to compare to some of my other favorites like Dublin and Cinque Terre because those were just beautiful and fun cities, whereas Rome was more of constant sight seeing.
The first day I was there we took a tour of the Colosseum. It was crazy just standing there and thinking about a stadium packed full of people watching prisoners and animals fight to the death. I learned a lot of cool stuff, such as how sometimes they would flood the fighting arena and bring in small boats and re-create famous sea battles. After this we kind of hung out outside of the Colosseum to watch the sun set, which was beautiful to watch over the Colosseum. We went out to dinner and got to bed early, as I was exhausted from waking up at 4:30 am for my flight.
The next day we woke up really early to catch a 3.5 hour tour of the Vatican. The Vatican museum was pretty amazing, they had a lot of cool paintings from artists such as Raphael, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio. The tour ended in the Sistine Chapel, which was a lot smaller than I thought it was going to be. The ceiling was pretty awe inspiring, as was the Last Judgement, but I found it a pretty unpleasant place to be in. People were constantly trying to take pictures and talk, both of which were unallowed, resulting in security to literally yell "NO PICTURES" or "SHHHHHHH" every 10 or 15 seconds. It would be even more unpleasant if there were constantly talking and setting off flash photography, which kind of made me wonder why people can't just respect the rules and admire the artwork for a couple of minutes. Here you have a beautiful room covered in some of the most well known artwork in the world, and the whole aura of the room is ruined by yelling security guards. After the tour we walked briefly through St. Peter's Basilica, also amazing.
The next day we took a free tour of Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. It was really interesting because I was talking to my dad afterwards and he was saying that he didn't find them that interesting when he was there, and that all it looked like was a bunch of ruins. It made me realize that you pretty much need a tour guide for these kinds of places to get the full effect. Because we had a tour guide, we got to see places such as where Julius Caesar was killed and where he was cremated. People to this day still but flowers over the spot where he was cremated!
That night was our last night in Rome, which turned out to be an excellent ending to our weekend because Andrea Bocelli was playing a free concert! I'm not much of an opera person, but hearing such a world renown singer perform live was incredible. He sang for almost two hours! I guess that we came on a good weekend, as apparantly he rarely does live performances let alone free ones!
All in all, Rome was one of my favorite places that I've been so far. It's just awesome how you can walk through a city and be surrounded by ruins of one of the most important civilizations in history. If you get a chance to go to Rome, take advantage of all of the tours that you can, it will make your experience there much more memorable!