All Things Swiss

5 12 2010

Emma’s mom Lisa said that her absolute favorite European country was Switzerland, so naturally that’s where we went our last weekend together. I was all about it since I wanted to see the famous Swiss Alps (even if I couldn’t ski them… I’ll save that for next time) and obviously I love everything Swiss: cheese, chocolate, fondue, and men. Our friend Jena who was spending the semester in Copenhagen, Denmark was also able to meet us there which we were psyched about. I met up with the two in Zurich a date late because of my internship duties and was shocked to find them half drunk in a 4-star hotel room. Turns out that 1. They had a rough night trying to find the hotel and decided to remedy it with a full night’s sleep and a case of Heineken and 2. The “Hotel Allegra” that I had booked on hostelworld.com was by fay nicer than any hostel I’d stayed in Europe. It was a legit hotel and rivaled sweet hotels like the Hilton in quality and amenities. I was pumped to not only have the bomb-ass hotel room, but to find two of my best friends with beer… heavenly.

view from our hotel!

Although our hotel was a bit outside of the city, I made plans to meet up with Spyros (you know, the funny, cute Greek guy I spend a week partying with on Ios Island) who was at Grad School in Zurich of all places. I was so excited to see him again! Jena, Emma, and I caught up while having ourselves a little pregame with beer and wasabi-flavored snacks. You feel it? Finally around midnight we hopped on the train to meet Spyros at the Zurich main station. When we finally spotted him, Spyros was excited to take us to one of the nicest bars in Zurich. The problem (which we didn’t realize until we got there) was that you had to be not 18, not 21, but freakin 23 to enter. Shocking.

Of course we worked our charm/ played the ignorant American card and they eventually let us in. “This is our ONE night in Zurich…!!” Afterall, I look Swiss, right? They basically didn’t have a choice haha. One problem about Switzerland is that everything is CRAZY expensive. Even though the exchange rate is about equal to the USD$, the prices are out of this world. My Bud Light was, I kid you not, 12 swiss francs. Needless to say I did not drink a lot at the bar (and was thankful for out lengthy pregame). The bar was quite glitzy, walled with mirrors and with a thirty-something, business-y crowd. At this point I was questioning how classy Spyros really thought we were, but it turned out fine. We had a good time dancing with the DJ and mingling with locals. Later on in the night I started speaking (not singing) the song “Bis Du Bei Mir” (the one German song I know) to try to convince them that I could actually speak German. Yea, that didn’t work. I still have this strange interest in learning to speak German. One guy said I looked Albanian which I guess is supposed to be offensive? I still tell people I look Swiss, haha.

SPYROS!!

Emma and Spyros really hit it off and they spent the night dancing and talking while Jena and I preoccupied ourselves elsewhere. At around 4am we decided it was time to make our way back to the train station. As luck would have it, our train only came once every hour, ten minutes past the hour. When Spyros told us this, we literally had five minutes to get to the station so we started sprinting in the frigid night air. Alas the train had left two minutes before we got there. I was not a happy camper. I think it was Spyros’s secret scheme to spend more time with Emma because over the course of the night he had basically fallen in love with her… oh geesh, twas amusing. What was not amusing was the fact that we had to wait another hour for our train. Jena and I decided a late night snack would temporarily occupy our time so we went to the Burger King in the train station. The “value” meal—burger, fries, and a drink was, I kid you not, 15 Swiss francs. Unbelievable… I got a small order of fries for 5. We were more than ready to hit the hay.

Since we didn’t get back to our hotel until the crack of dawn, we didn’t get the early start we were hoping for. By around noon we were finally ready to head to Lucerne— the destination we had been waiting for. I was vaguely disappointed that we didn’t get the chance to explore Zurich more, but I think our night tour that Spyros gave us somewhat sufficed. We wanted to get to the real good stuff anyways. Our train to Lucerne lasted about two hours and it was so exciting to see the Swiss Alps unfold before our eyes. They were spectacular. It made me realize how much more I need to appreciate natural beauty in America. I mean how many times have I seen the Colorado Rockies and not even thought twice about it? They are just as majestic and there’s so much in the U.S. I take for granted! Being abroad has opened my eyes to beauty… I never miss a sunset. Speaking of I need to explore more of America… it’s my own country for darn sakes and I’ve only been to what twenty out of the fifty states? Shameful.

view from the train

Regardless, within seconds of arriving to Lucerne, my breath was literally taken away by the utter exquisiteness of these mountains—which engulfed the city in all directions. Possibly the most amazing natural phenomenon I’ve ever seen, rivaling the floating boulders of the glorious Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. An intense feeling of awe, happiness, and thankfulness overwhelmed me as we stood there, time standing still. Unfortunately by this time it was about 4pm and the sun had already begun to set. We decided right then and there that we had to spend as much time there on Sunday so we could use all the daylight to soak up the incredible scenery.

After finding our bearings we headed to the hostel. Now unlike the Zurich hotel, this was truly a hostel through and through. We shared a room with a German girl in town who was working at the Christmas market in town and we used a communal shower/kitchen with the fellow guests. Now of course I love nice hotels, but there is also something to be said about hostels. I like how exposed you are to the other guests, it gives you a real opportunity to meet new people from all over the world. I wish I could’ve taken more advantage of this, but my stays in hostels were always too fleeting to make any real connections. Once we settled in, we asked the receptionist/ hippy Swiss girl what the coolest, most local place to grab a drink and a bite was. She recommended a café called Luz where we spent the majority of our night. We navigated our way through the small city and found the small café. At first we were just going to stop for a few beers, but we simply enjoyed each other’s company so much and cozied up there for the night. Sipping on Grolsch’s we talked about everything—school, boys, careers, problems, love, and just life. It was refreshing getting lost in good conversation with dear friends as the hours flew by. Eventually I think even the waiters were getting weirded out by out lingering, so we decided to explore Lucerne by night.

The city is divided by a canal and bridge between New and Old Town and Lucerne is famous for its medieval bridges and churches in Old Town. At night, although the peaks are invisible, the ancient buildings magically come to life. There are sweet, small alleyways defined by the 12th century Europe on one side and the other bustling with modernism. I preferred the quaint Old Town, picturing what life must have been like centuries ago. Jena had an early flight the next morning so we woke up with her to get a kick start to our day. For breakfast we ate at a nice Swiss bistro which overlooked the spectacular Lake Lucerne. We nibbled perfectly crusted bread and Swiss cheese with an assortment of jams— apricot, kiwi, strawberry and more. It was a wonderful, typical Swiss breakfast as we said our farewells to Jena who whizzed back off to Copenhagen.

The whole day was ahead of us— Lucerne was our oyster. First we wanted to explore and to SHOP. We wandered aimlessly in and out of shops, stopping by anything that caught our eye. Chocolates, cheese, souveniers, cows, salt and pepper shakers, gorgeous buildings, we spend hours taking it all in and embracing Lucerne. We strolled for miles by the lakeside admiring the snow-capped mountains and fog rising from the water. Around noon we were back at the train station browsing the German Christmas Market. Goodies like sheep blankets, candles, ornaments, fun hats, candies, and jewelry filled the first floor of the station. I spotted the most adorable angel holding a sign which read in German Ein Engel für den besten Opa der Welt… an angel for the best grandpa in the world. I immediately thought of my papa, the General, who to me truly is the greatest grandfather a girl could ask for. I hope he liked his Christmas present!

We then decided we just had to take a boat ride across the lake to see more of the Alps. We hopped on a ferry that took us on a two hour cruise of the lake. Emma and I filled our lungs with the brisk winter air and let the wind and scenery engulf us. It was heaven, even in the freezing weather, as we bundled up in our eskimo jackets. I felt like an Arctic princess. As we were on the boat out of the blue I got a call from my mama; I couldn’t believe where I was and that I was describing to her! Unbelievable. I am so blessed. Next time I am definitely skiing those babies.

snow princess!


Our final stop in Lucerne was to indulge in what in something Switzerland is known for— fondue! Yes, it was touristy. Yes, it was freakin expensive, but it had to be done. What we stumbled upon was Dfistern, an outdoor fondue restaurant in Old Town that overlooked the Chapel Bridge. We cozied up in furry blankets and handwarmers that the restaurant provided while sipping hot mulled wine; it was the perfect evening for our last in Switzerland. We examined the list of dozens of fondue options and finally settled on the curry cheese fondue, a savory combo of spicy and cheesy… mmm mmm it was gooood. We used bread, boiled potatoes, and mushrooms as dippers for the bowl of delciousness. Even though we were stuffed by the cheese, we just couldn’t resist treating ourselves to the dessert chocolate fondue. Incredible! Disclaimer: when the price of fondue says 36 swiss francs, it actually means 36 swiss francs per person. Woops- spent twice as much as we thought we were, but still well worth it. As we finished up dinner, we kept hearing these strange buzzing sounds and drums echoing throughout the streets and restaurant patio. Turns out it was Lucerne’s St. Nicholas Parade, a celebration for the beginning of the Christmas season. Men and women dressed in traditional Swiss clothing and celebrating through whistles, drums, and cheers as loud as they could. It was wild. We sat for hours enjoying the atmosphere until it was finally time to head back to Zurich. It was the cherry on top of an unforgettable weekend and trip with one of my best friends… from Amsterdam to London ending in Switzerland (love you Emma!). Off to the airport where our flight was delayed over two hours until midnight. Thank goodness we have a gang of British blokes to keep us entertained. Back to the Crofton and South Kensington by 3am…

Getting Emma back to American the next morning was an interesting experience to say the least. After bidding her adieu around 6am, I got a call from Emma via pay phone that she had literally forgotten the one thing you can never forget: her passport. Naturally, she was freaking out and I was freaking but told her to go talk to the Delta people and call me back. I never heard back from her! So, I scrambled for the next hour trying to find solutions—get the passport to her somehow, reschedule her flight, meet her halfway…anything! Eventually I tried getting in touch with Emma who was both passport-less and phone-less. After trying literally twenty different airport numbers I finally got in touch with the Delta people. Leave it to Emma Davis Weldon to fly from London to the USA without a passport. Those big, green eyes never fail. I was beyond relieved to hear the good news and honestly, thoroughly impressed… definitely makes for a great story. Some airport security we have 😉 She made it home safe by Monday night and I was back into my London routine. We’re already planning our next international destination! Until next time yall… GO BRAVES!!!

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BIRTHDAY WEEK

30 11 2010

Emma and I were in London for the week and we had both my 20th birthday and Thanksgiving to look forward to. Unfortunately for the majority of the week I had work (except for my birthday on Wednesday that I took off for the day to celebrate!). Regardless, we had a lot of cool things planned for the week. As my birthday approached, I started thinking about everything that has happened in the past decade. Ten years ago my biggest concerns were the new Spice Girls CD and how to throw a change-up and now I’m thinking about law school and falling in love. I wonder what the next decade will hold, but for now being with my best friend in Europe will have to do.

1. Queen’s Arms– I took Emma to this cozy pub her first night in London. It’s literally just around the corner from my flat and my friends and I go there on the reg for its delicious pub food and Strongbow cider. By far my favorite dish is the bangers and mash, with the fish and chips coming in a close second. It’s always so packed because of its quaintness and proximity to Hyde Park, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The other day I was looking for restaurants on Urbanspoon and what do you know, Queen’s Arms was listed as “best cheap eats”. So true.

the roomies and me at Queen's Arms

CIDER

2.  O’Neill’s & Chinatown- London’s Chinatown is only a few streets right in the middle of Soho and a place called Covent Garden. However, when you’re in Chinatown you know you’re in Chinatown because of all of the Asians running around, the Chinese characters, and the restaurants emitting savory scents every which way. Even though it only consists of a few streets, one of our favorite bars was located smack dab the middle, ironically an Irish pub called O’Neill’s. I took Emma here for a few beers after Queen’s Arms even though it wasn’t its usual rowdy self since it was a Monday night. There are four floors to O’Neill’s and on the weekends a live cover band plays on the top, definitely the craziest floor of them all. My memories abound from my time here: a gigantic Wake Forest union, bloody fist fight (not between me of course), creepy old men groping me as I walk by, dance sessions with my girls. While O’Neill’s wasn’t the most unique or authentic pub in town, it was a guaranteed good (or at the very least interesting) time, so we frequented it throughout the semester. On our way home, Emma and I tried some Chinese from one of the restaurants…bad idea.

3. London Eye- The eye is one of London’s most famous landmarks, an almost 500 feet tall Ferris wheel that (according to Wikipedia) is the UK’s most popular tourist attraction. Did you know that the eye was supposed to be a temporary attraction (built in 1999), but because of how popular and lucrative it is has been made a permanent structure. Atlanta is thinking of building one like it… intriguing. I wanted to save the £17 “flight” for a special occasion and so decided to take Emma for a nighttime ride. The London skyline is one of the most magnificent sights to see, especially at night. Funny enough we rode with a group of senior British citizens who pointed us out all of the major landmarks of the city. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abby, Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral… the works. It was also really cool to hear the elderly British perspective of how the city has changed, I just love old people. I know it was really touristy, but the London Eye still is one of my favorite things I did there. There’s just so much to see, and you can see it all from above.

on the bank outside of the eye

Parliament at night!

inside the London eye

4.  Harry Potter 7- The weekend Emma and I were in Amsterdam was the Harry Potter premiere weekend so we made Tuesday night our own

ain't she gowwgeous?? if you're wondering what the red poppy signifies, British people wear them around veterans day to remember fallen soldiers

little Harry Potter night. While England made a big deal out of the premiere, it actually wasn’t AS publicized as you would think, London being the birthplace of the series. It was basically the same Harry Potter craze found in the states. My friend Sydney has some awesome connections and actually got to go to the premiere and boy oh boy was she lucky. The day after I got a play by play, and of course she got up close and personal with the likes of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson (who is absolutely stunning), and JK Rowling among others. All of Leicester Square was transformed into Hogwarts and looking back I probably should’ve made more of an effort to join the mob scene at the premiere because it sounded epic. Emma, my friend Mattie, and I went to the Westfield London (the coolest mall EVER with every store and restaurant you could possibly imagine) to go see Harry Potter “Xtreme” as the theater put it… apparently it had some special sound and visual effects to enhance the experience? Obviously I loved the movie and cannot wait for the last one! I must say that Ron was looking buff… I can’t wait for him and Hermione to get it on.

5. Camden Market- Yet another market in London! Except for this one is open every day of the week, so I had to take Emma so she could get an idea of the market scene in London. Camden Town is in the northern part of London and has a reputation for having a sort of grungy, seedy crowd that hangs out there at night. Caroline and I when she visited met up with her friend in Camden Town at an all you can eat sushi restaurant, it was fabulous. However during the day it is full of eccentric clothes, exotic foods, and interesting people. The market covers a lot of area, both indoor and outdoor, and we shopped for hours finding trinkets and gifts for family back home. I picked out some cool vintage sweaters and a neat black and white painting of London. I also bought PJ a hand painted England shirt as a Christmas present. We could’ve literally stayed there all day going in and out of the stores, but after our Chinese lunch we were ready to do some real damage shopping.

6. TopShop- TopShop is hands down THE best store in London. I had been in there probably a dozen times, but hadn’t actually bought anything (it’s a little pricey). I decided though that for my birthday I was going to treat myself to some true British fashion. We went to the flagship store on Oxford Street after Camden Market, which is (according to Wikipedia) is “the world’s largest flagship store”. Kate Moss has her own TopShop line and Emma and I spent hours looking through all of the glitzy garments and quintessentially British fashion. I left the store with a Vintage sequence top and outrageous platform boots.

7. Les Miserables- I really wanted to go see a West End show on my birthday, and since Les Mis has always been one of my favorites I forced Emma (thanks again, babayy) to go with me to the matinee show in Soho. Our shopping gallivants took longer than expected and so we ended up literally sprinting through central London and getting to the Queen’s Theatre about fifteen minutes late. Turns out we had the best seats in the house; smack dab in the middle second row balcony. I hadn’t seen Les Miserables since the 8th grade when North Springs put on the show, my sister being cast as a prostitute and the one and only Andrew Durand cast as Jean Val jean. I swear when I heard him sing I knew he was bound for greatness—turns out he’s now in Spring Awakening on Broadway. The London production was fabulous, I especially loved Javert, played by Norman Lewis (apparently he’s famous? Sarah says so) and Eponine, I think I’d want to be her if I was in Les Mis. I must say however that no one could live up to Andrew Durand, him singing “Bring Him Home” is just simply sublime. Turns out that my alma mater is putting on Les Mis this spring… I wouldn’t miss it for the world! My dad says that out of all the musicals ever created Les Mis would be a 10 and none other would even come close to a 5. Now that’s a stretch, but… can’t say I disagree. It’s such a classic.

the cast at curtain call!

a little blurry but got the sign and our shopping bags!

8. Punjab & Indian Food- One of the best things about London is its abundance of exotic food and, because of the whole Indian imperialist thing, Indian food is especially profuse. Ever since I had my first taste of curry with my family I have been absolutely addicted to the flavors of Indian cuisine. Not only are Indian restaurants easy to find, but market food alongside streets and frozen foods found in the grocery aisle also make Indian food that much more accessible to the British consumer. For my birthday, we decided to go to Punjab, an Indian restaurant in Covent Garden recommended by my boss (who also happens to be British-Indian). It was so delicious. We ordered an array of chicken, lamb, and vegetable curries and of course topped it off with delicious warm naan. Chicken tikka masala is always a crowd pleaser so ordered two of those, but I like to be a little more adventurous and opted for the acchari murgha along with the butter chicken. It was mouthwatering. Punjab, the name of the restaurant, is named after the Northern Indian province Punjab, where one of my best friends Rupal just happens to be born. We had a grand time eating ethnic cuisine and of course I fancied myself to a few Indian Cobra beers which were smooth and light. It was a great way to start off my birthday festivities.

Mattie, Susan, and I enjoying our dinner!

9. Mahiki- Mahiki is the one truly swanky up-scale bar that we frequented whilst in London. The drinks cost well over $20 each, you had to have your name on the list or “know someone” to get in, and most club-goers were children of business moguls, bratty uni students, or rich creepy old guys. I like Mahiki because it has a cool Hawaiian vibe, very attractive men, and good dancing music in the basement. However, the one time I went before my birthday I ended up a high-end strip club with the Royal Guard (aka the men who guard Buckhingham Palace in those ridiculous furry hats and red suits)…it was an interesting night to say the least. Probably the downfall (or perhaps the best part?) of Mahiki is what they call their “treasure chest”—a chest full of some sort of mix drink, costing over $200 and meant for over 8 people to guzzle. Now there was no way in hell that I or any of my friends would buy one of those, but the millionaires that go to Mahiki gladly dish out chests for pretty girls to drink. And so essentially the drinks were free and endless. So per usual my birthday night was fuzzy at best. It also just happened to by the 4th anniversary of Mahiki and so there was free cotton candy, many famous socialites, and every wannabe was standing outside in the cold trying to get in to the “it” place for the night. Haha I sound like such a Gossip Girl. Anyways, I got my birthday kiss. Emma got a taste of London nightlife. And unfortunately I was off to work the next morning.

drankin the "treasure chest"

birthday night...oh god

10. Thanksgiving- There is no Thanksgiving in London. I had to go on with my day like any other, got up for work (extremely hungover), sat at a desk for eight hours, took the tube back to South Kensington, and then dinner time. Now in the Jones/Basnett household, Thanksgiving is a big deal. The entire family gets together at our house with a huge feast— two turkeys (baked and fried), ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, corn pudding, and my personal favorite broccoli casserole. This was the first time I was going to miss Thanksgiving which made me sad and a little homesick, and so the whole clan Skyped me from my kitchen computer. It was so nice to see and talk to everyone, giving me a little sense of home. I also got to meet our new doggy Yager! The whole London crew wanted to do a little something for Thanksgiving and decided to go to the Whole Foods Thanksgiving buffet. I spent £12 on a tub full of mashed potatoes, turkey, and stuffing and I must say it sufficed for a non-home cooked meal. You could tell that everyone in the cafeteria was American, attempting to at least in a small way recreate the feeling of Thanksgiving. I was glad that I could be with good friends who were going through the same thing I was, a feeling of absence but also so much thankfulness at where we were and the places we’d been. We all went around the table and said what we were thankful for. It was nice. I think that Thanksgiving might just be my favorite holiday of the year. I do not intend on missing one ever again. Next year my 21st birthday is on Thanksgiving… oh boy.





Canals & Cannabis

23 11 2010

My good friend Emma Weldon had been planning since summer to visit me in Europe. While I initially had doubts about whether or not this was actually happening, the week of Thanksgiving (and my birthday!) it did! Of course we had to cram as much as possible in the ten days she was here, so within the first five hours Emma was in London, we were off to Amsterdam!

There were two things I knew prior to visiting Amsterdam: 1. Weed is completely 100% legal and 2. I had to go. Now I rarely if ever smoke pot in the states after an epiphany in high school, but come on… it’s AMSTERDAM. I’m pretty sure it’s a requirement to partake in the festivities. The EasyJet flight over might as well been a spring break ride to Cancun the crowd was so rowdy. So naturally after navigating our way to the hostel, it was time to experiment with the ganja.

Welcome to Amsterdam!

Marijuana in Amsterdam is not as obvious or accessible as one might think. For some reason I imagined weed everywhere—cafes, restaurants, hotels, stores, street corners, but to my surprise it wasn’t like that at all. Weed is more jus part of the culture, integrated into everyday life and not a big deal. If you want to you can, it you don’t then you don’t. It’s like the ultimate dreamland in America where people use restraint and just common sense in dealing with natural substances. Never would actually work in the U.S. but for the Netherlands it works swimmingly and actually makes the atmosphere that much more relaxing and laid back. That being said, there were about four different cafes within a block of our hostel so yes mary j is easy to come by. We decided on Bulldog Café, right in the center of Leidseplein in the southern section of Amsterdam where our hostel, Amsterdam Orfeo was located. Even though we randomly chose the Bulldog, turns out it’s Amsterdam’s first and oldest café.

Bulldog Cafe by day

We stepped inside (after being IDed to make sure we were 18) and the distinct aroma flooded into my lungs, a smoky haze surrounding me on all sides. Emma and I had absolutely no idea how to go about this. Besides the smell and doobies being puffed on everywhere, it basically looked like a regular bar. After a few moments of confusion, we spotted a cashier dispensing curious looking boxes and containers. We were intrigued and approached the man who offered us a “menu” of an assortment of goods. I had no clue what any of it meant, but Emma had a better idea and decided on a pre-rolled purple haze joint. I survived about three hits and was set… time to eat.

One of the interns at work suggested we try Indonesian while in Amsterdam (it was a Dutch colony after all) and as luck would have it, a top-rated Indonesian restaurant was about a two minute walk from the hostel (props to me for picking a killer hostel location). The meal was delicious. We started off with some fried spring rolls and each ordered a main platter full of chicken skewers and beef pieces covered in a spicy peanut sauce over rice, veggies, and egg. Indonesian cuisine is sort of Thai meets island and I can’t wait to take my family to try it out! I literally licked my plate clean I had the munchies so bad, one of the side effects of weed along with being really paranoid and stressed; I just don’t like being high… needless to say I won’t be smoking again anytime soon. Emma was still suffering jetlag after a long day of travel and so we headed home to our bunk bed in the tiny 10 x 8 private room with our tummy’s fully satisfied.

my first glimpse of Indonesian cuisine!

One of the places top on my list to visit in Amsterdam was the Anne Frank House (Anne Frank Huis—a note on Dutch, it is extremely similar to English in spelling and pronunciation and therefore a lot of the words are comprehendible to English speakers and almost 100% of the Dutch are fluent in English, very convenient). The Anne Frank House was about a mile from our hostel down a long, beautiful canal. Although it was a bit chilly outside, the should-be twenty minute walk turned into an hour and a half exploration as we stopped in cute shops and to take pictures of the charming canal scene. I loved all of the different boats along the canal, some of them in tip top form and others sinking due to neglect. Emma and I wondered if people traveled here and then simply abandoned their boats because they loved the city so much. We had to admit that it was tempting, the atmosphere and surrounding was just so alluring, unique, and tranquil.  Also, everyone rides bikes in Amsterdam; it’s by far the most common mode of transportation and hundreds of bicycles line all of the railings along the canal. Where the owners are, no one knows.

I learned about Anne Frank in my 7th grade English class and remember being moved by her story and inspired by her courage. But actually being there, reading the different diary excerpts and the story behind each room made it that much real and touching. First we toured the front part of the building in which Otto Frank’s company was located (his company sold jam and spices throughout the war). The non-Jewish workers aided the Franks and others while they were in hiding by providing them with food, supplies, books, and newspapers. The girls rarely went into the front part of the building, only to bathe and occasionally help with work, but the walls of their bedrooms were covered in magazine pictures and newspaper articles of the royal family and celebrities, an escape to the reality that was their lives. “I saw two Jews through the curtains yesterday, it was a horrible feeling, just as if I had betrayed them and was now watching them in their misery” Anne Frank said a few months after she went into hiding. The entrance to the Secret Annex was concealed by a movable bookcase to make the rear of the building truly secret. “One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we’ll be people again and not just Jews! We can never be just Dutch, or just English, we will always be Jews as well. But then, we’ll want to be.”


The first room we entered was the bedroom of Otto and Edith Frank, where they slept with their daughter Margot. On the wall was a map of Normandy where Otto Frank tracked the progress of the invasion. Next to it were pencil marks that indicated how much Anne and Margot grew during the hiding period. Anne’s bedroom was next, where she was often found writing in her diary at a narrow table in the corner. Although the walls were blank and rooms empty, they had been restored through scaled models and with what Otto Frank had given the museum, so I was able to see the wall clippings Anne hung in her room. The small bathroom was rarely used, “at the stroke of half past eight, he has to be in the living room. No running water, no flushing toilet, no walking around, no noise whatsoever”. Four other people lived with the Franks while they were in hiding and the other rooms showcased their living arrangements, where cooking, eating, studying, and exercising all happened. Even with limited means, the families tried to keep living normally and even prepared a festive dinner held in celebration for the wedding anniversary of Jan and Miep Gies. Peter van Pels was Anne’s closest friend in hiding and they spent a lot of time in the attic together, the only place they could be alone together. From here, they could get a glimpse of the chestnut tree. On August 4, 1944 the Franks hiding place was betrayed and everyone sent to concentration camps like Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. The only one to survive was Anne’s father, Otto Frank. After some time had passed, he published Anne’s diary which had been left and recovered in the Secret Annex. By 1960, the public was so moved by her story that the Anne Frank house was opened as a museum and each year thousands of visitors come to learn and grow. “One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live” –Auschwitz survivor.

secret cupboard

For lunch it was Greek where we ran into a fellow Easy Jet passenger and Emma tried her first gyro, then it was off to the Van Gogh Museum. Another one of the great things about Amsterdam is that everything is in walking distance, and so with the help of our handy dandy map we found the museum in no time. We were debating whether to go the Rijksmuseum which has a more wide-ranging collection or the Van Gogh but decided since we weren’t trying to be in the museum all day (the Rijks is gigantic and right across from the Van Gogh) the Van Gogh museum would be better. The world famous Amsterdam statue was at the end of the green where the museum was so of course we stopped for a few shots before the cool, sunny November day turned to night. I want Atlanta to make one of these somewhere; it’s so fun and interactive. We could’ve spent a lot more time there molding ourselves into the different letters and climbing on the A, M, and S. But alas the impressionist summoned.

The Van Gogh museum houses the world’s largest collection of works by Vincent van Gogh as well as many works by other famous 19th century painters. Not only are the masterpieces stimulating, but I also love learning about the life of the artist, and Van Gogh’s did not disappoint. The Frenchman didn’t start painting as his vocation until almost age thirty (died only ten years later) and never sold a painting during his lifetime. Largely self-taught, Van Gogh learned by visiting museums, reading books, and of course practice, usually painting landscapes and scenes depicting real people at work. He sought to represent the life of these simple, hard-working people. I loved all of these paintings, how he made something so seemingly dull, exciting and intriguing through unique techniques and vibrant color. Van Gogh was seriously troubled, admitting himself into a mental health clinic after cutting off his own ear in a fit of rage. He suffered from severe depression and never lived to see the success of his true talent, shooting himself in the chest at the young age of thirty seven in 1890.

I saw this!

After the museum, we wandered around the hauntingly beautiful Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest park just five minutes away from the Van Gogh museum. Admiring the sunset and scenery we simply relaxed and enjoyed people watching all of the fascinating inhabitants of the great city of Amsterdam. Since it was getting quite chilly outside, we decided to take the tram back to the hostel (which ended up taking around half an hour when walking would’ve taken maybe ten minutes, oh well). On the ride I received a text from my mom in the states (a very rare occurrence) that I needed to call her immediately. I received devastating news about my dog Henry, whose health had been deteriorating even though he was only seven or eight years old. I hadn’t talked to my mom in a while and last I heard they were taking Henry to get a CAT scan at UGA to figure out why he couldn’t see and was having frequent seizures. My family found out that cancer had literally consumed all of Henry’s body, starting in the brain and invading nearly all of his organs. My first doggie Henry, my adorable loving buddy whose cute face and bubbly attitude would immediately put me in a good mood, was put to sleep on Thursday November 19, 2010. I’ll never forget the first time I met Henry. I had just gotten home from a softball tournament and my family didn’t even tell me they had gotten him. Instead, they placed him in the bathroom while I was in the shower and I was beyond surprised when I found the hairy bear-ish mutt staring me straight in the face. I screamed at the top of my lungs, but it’s been nothing but love ever since. Needless to say, when I heard the news about Henry I was just about ready to hit the hay. So Emma and I ate a nice dinner at a little Thai restaurant and then I laid in my bed for hours thinking of all our memories together until I finally dozed off. I never thought that last summer would be my last with Henry. The last time I saw him was on Skype with my mommy… he looked great. Henry will always hold a place in my heart, but for now we just got another dog Yager to keep us busy!

Vondelpark

Henry and I in Hilton Head this past summer

Sunday morning we strolled through all of Amsterdam, starting at the very southern tip of the city center and ultimately ending up at the train station in the north end.  First, for breakfast we tried the gigantic, doughy donut holes covered in powdered sugar (the Dutch are known for these) that were sold on almost every street corner in Amsterdam… so delicious. On the way we shopped for souvenirs (I’m happy to report that Timmy loves his hat) which was quite entertaining because they ranged from marijuana leaf shirts to weed lollipops to penis shaped salt and pepper shakers! We also walked through what we decided was the Red Light District because of the half-nude curvaceous woman flaunting her goodies behind the glass windows. I considered that image sufficient enough for my Red Light experience. It’s so strange; you’re walking in the middle of the city, beautiful canals and sophisticated apartments, and then BANG all you see is XXX flags, cafes, and nudey signs. And then before you know it, back to normal… quite odd. All weekend Emma and I had talked about riding one of the canal boats that we had seen navigating through the waters and so we bought tickets for the Lovers cruise, how fitting. We sat on the outside deck at the back of the boat since it was such a sunny day and enjoyed our surroundings as we weaved in and out of the Amsterdam canals. I realized then that this city really is one of a kind.

original Bulldog Cafe in the Red Light District

CANALSS

In the afternoon we made our way to the Heineken Brewery, which before visiting Amsterdam I was under the impression was a German beer. I was especially keen to visit this brewery because unlike Guinness (that’s factory I visited in Dublin) I actually genuinely like the taste of Heineken and two free glasses are included with admission! I loved learning the history of the Heineken family, seeing how the beer is made (with wheat, barley, yeast and the secret ingredient hops aka marijuana), and looking at all of the different posters and advertisements throughout the year. Highlights also include the 4D Theater where we experienced what it’s like to be brewed and bottled, sending an interactive Heineken email to our parents, and of course ending our tour at the Heineken World Bar. We sipped our fresh brewskies while watching Heineken commercials from years past until we felt suitably buzzed and headed back to the hostel.

At dinnertime Emma and I wanted nothing more than a good ole American cheeseburger and what better place then McDonalds? So a Big Mac it was and boy was it delectable. Then we bought a few Heinekens to pregame with for our night out on the town. We started off at a nearby bar called the Water Hole where we each got mugs of beer and listened to a local rock band. Then just across the square we made our way to the Melkweg, a popular music venue and prime nightlife center in Amsterdam.  This night was particularly special because the Melkweg was holding a free concert for various Dutch bands and artists in two different warehouses where locals could freely go in and out as we pleased. My favorite band was Blaudzun, a sort of folky band who sang in English but whose haunting melodies and sober arrangements really moved me. I left with one of their CDs, highly recommend it. We explored all throughout the building and stumbled upon a really creepy art exhibit with red lights and chilling sculptures; Amsterdam is full of some real crazy shit. We also found a room where instead of music playing a Dutch guy was essentially explaining the history of rock and roll to a room full of people. At first Emma and I were extremely confused, but then started understanding when he mentioned songs by John Lennon, Graham Nash, James Taylor…. the greats. It was so cool to hear his perspective and the audience being enlightened, especially since I already was. At the end of the night, I went home with a new cool band and really got a grip on what real Amsterdam-ees do for fun. Amsterdam is a wonderful city and I didn’t want to leave! Yet that Sunday night was a great way to end the weekend, but by 11am Monday morning I was back in the London office. Crazy. But until next time yall… GO FALCONS!!

Blaudzun

jeepers creepers

to being Dutch!





ARTY HARD

14 11 2010

The United Kingdom is full of art—art through architecture, visual arts, performance, music, fashion, and pretty much every aspect of life in London. Each person is a blank canvas and their style, demeanour, and choices create what genre of art they embody. There are the hipsters (or as they’re called in Britain, the “dickheads”), the business-men, the chic socialites, the athletes, and for all of them, art plays an integral role in their life. I guess you could say this about pretty much every place and person, but London especially has a unique appreciation for the arts. All the museums are free, shows to the West End are highly subsidized so that anyone can go see them, there are festivals and markets every day all over the city, and literally every building or landmark has a story behind it. And so, these ten places and events are devoted to the arts. I am officially an “arty”.

1. Brighton– The one “beach-town” I’ve visited in England, on the Southern coast of the United Kingdom. It is known as a gay-friendly, granola-y, college town with beautiful pebble beaches and striking oriental architecture. I took Caroline here when she came to visit London and it is definitely a worthwhile daytrip, only about an hour away from the city. Although it was quite chilly at the start of November, the sun shone warmly on the Brighton Pier and reflected off the calm ocean. Just a few minute walk from the train station were the famous palaces, which are unlike any buildings i’ve seem before. I never got the full story behind the palaces, but their oriental lines and spired roofs left me feeling like I was in Istanbul or Bombay… definitely the closest I got to either of those places this semester! Maybe I can see the real deal sometime soon…
I had never been on a pebble beach before, but one of the pluses is no sand between your toes! I think I gave Caroline quite the hoot when I tried to play with the waves without actually getting wet (water rolls completely differently on pebbles than it does sand, so I kept falling, thinking that the water was coming closer than it actually was). Caroline and I explored the Brighton Pier, which was basically the epitome of a tacky beach pier that you’d find at Panama City or Daytona– extreme thrill/ sketchy rides, game and candy booths, fortune tellers, and ofcourse a wedding package if you so choose to do so. Since it was a Monday in late fall however, it reminded us more of haunted fair grounds it was so deserted. Apart from the pier though, Brighton was quite artsy and unique… I could picture during summertime it being swarmed with retro college kids and lots of fun. I hope to return bikini and sunscreen in hand!!

2. Frieze Art Fair– An annual art festival that is held each year in London’s Regent’s Park which showcases “over 150 of the most exciting contemporary art galleries in the world”. My friends Celeste and Mattie (as well as myself) were really looking forward to the show since there had been a lot of talk about it among the “art-world” and we wanted to experience a new, more sophisticated crowd. Along with the art being provocative and highly stimulating (ranging from nude mixed-media sculptures to minimalist paintings to recycled bottle art), I also felt so cool just to be around the people that were there… they were just so hip. You could tell that there were art enthusiasts from all over the world in attendance, each with their signature style and gorgeous-yet-effortless vibe that these types so easily master. The fair was set up under a huge white tent, and so we navigated through each exhibit like a wondrous maze, in awe of both the art and the viewers.

At the end of fair was the intriguing Sculpture Park in the English Garden of Regent’s Park. The garden alone rivals Hyde Park in its beauty and classic feel, but mixed with the contemporary nature of the sculptures it really was a sight to be seen. We were able to touch and walk right up to any of the artworks which I loved, really brings an entertaining quality to the often delicate world of art. After the fair, my girlfriends and I headed to a nearby pub for a rest and relaxing bottle of wine. I felt so adult getting lost in conversation and wine with great friends, losing track of time and talking for hours about everything under the sun. Could it be? I’m all grown up? Oh geesh…

3. London Film Festival– The First Grader- In the beginning of the semester, I received a booklet from BU of hundreds of different movies that would be showing at the London Film Festival in October. There was a special section of “Premieres” which basically meant they would have a red carpet, celebrities, glitz and glamour… the works. After carefully reading the synopsis for all of the different premieres, my friend Mattie and I decided on one entitled The First Grader. Set in Kenya in 2003, the movie was based on a true story about an 84 year old ex-Mau Mau freedom fighter  who fights for his right to go to school for the first time to get the education he could never afford. I am a sucker for tear jerkers and foreign films, so naturally this movie sounded right up my alley. The only semi-celebrity in the film was Naomie Harris, whose famous role is in Pirates of the Caribbean 2 as Tia Dalma, the magical voo doo witch who steals Jack Sparrow’s enchanted compass. In Pirates she was quite scary looking, but at the actual premiere in London she was stunning, possibly one of the prettiest people I’ve ever seen.

I had never been to anything like this before, but even with a not so well known film, I felt like a celebrity. And we happened to have literally the best seats in the house, front row center with complimentary water bottles and dark chocolate to treat us during the movie.  The movie turned out to be wonderful… funny, sweet, sad, and uplifting. Go see it! At the end of the screening, the cast and director (Justin Chadwick known for directing The Other Boleyn Girl) came up for a question and answer session. Naomie’s dress and heels were UNREAL. I’m not gonna lie, I stared at her the whole time because I couldn’t keep my eyes away. She has that milky caramel skin and skinny, but not TOO skinny body that I envy so much. Oh to be famous. One of the coolest things about the film was that the students were from a real school in the mountains of Kenya. I loved hearing the director talk about how it was all of the children’s first time seeing a camera or van or crew of white people. He spoke of how after weeks the children finally adjusted to being films, and how by the end of it they were truly connected to the characters, their emotions and reactions being absolutely authentic and real. I hope to go to another premiere soon; it really was a neat, London-y experience that I’ll never forget.

4. Tate Modern– According to Wikipedia, the Tate Modern is the most-visited modern art museum in the world with over 4.7 million visitors per year. It is absolutely great that all of London’s museums are free… and fabulous. My friend Celeste and I decided to make a day out of visiting the Modern and took a long walk along the Thames, crossing the London Bridge and entering into Southwark, London. We strolled by the Shakespeare Globe Theatre and admired the choppy waters of the Thames, snapping “artsy” photos every chance we got.

view along the Thames!

The reason I really wanted to visit the Tate Modern was because of the new Ai Wei Wei sunflower seed exhibit in the Turbine Hall—a five-story tall hall that’s exhibit changes every few months with a different contemporary artist’s exhibition. From the Tate website “Sunflower Seeds is made up of millions of small works, each apparently identical, but actually unique. However realistic they may seem, these life-sized sunflower seed husks are in fact intricately hand-crafted in porcelain. Each seed has been individually sculpted and painted by specialists working in small-scale workshops in the Chinese city of Jingdezhen. Far from being industrially produced, they are the effort of hundreds of skilled hands. Poured into the interior of the Turbine Hall’s vast industrial space, the 100 million seeds form a seemingly infinite landscape. Porcelain is almost synonymous with China and, to make this work, Ai Weiwei has manipulated traditional methods of crafting what has historically been one of China’s most prized exports. Sunflower Seeds invites us to look more closely at the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon and the geo-politics of cultural and economic exchange today.” Of course the millions of sunflowers seeds were out of this world, but the story behind it was just as interesting. Ai Wei Wei grew up under Mao Ze Dong and harsh Chinese rule and during that time, Mao believed he was the sun and his people, the sunflowers.

We also went to see the Paul Gauguin exhibit, a French Post-Impressionist painter known for his paintings and drawings from around the world. He loved to travel and depicted different places like Peru and Martinique and was especially fond of the women of Tahiti, frequently painting their portraits and bodies in provocative ways. Along with this show, we enjoyed surveying the different themed rooms with gems from Monet, Picasso, Duchamp, and Pollack among others. I love art. In the office a few days ago a colleague asked me “If you could have one piece of art in the whole world what would it be?” I’m still trying to decide… just some food for thought. When we were all arted out we went to the top of the Tate for a nice cup of hot chocolate topped with marshmallows. Perfect ending to a great day.

Gauguin

5. Bath– A charming little city an hour and a half outside of London, named for its hot springs that the Romans discovered in 43AD named Aquae Sulis. Although these baths have become a sort of tourist trap for visitors, it was cool to see the ruins from millennia past. A lot of the original Roman architecture has been restored so we could get a real feel for what it looked like back in the day. The baths are no longer in use, but steam and heat bubbles emerged from the water in the cold November air. The town itself is also quite delightful, with a small river running through and Georgian architecture every which way. The bridge reminded me of the British version of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, with small shops on each side, when you cross it you’re hardly aware it’s a bridge at all! Bath is also famous as the place Jane Austen wrote (and set) many of her books such as Pride and Prejudice and Emma.


6. Avebury– As an addition to our Bath trip, we (everyone who signed up for the BU-sponsored day trip) were able to visit Avebury, England, the site of an ancient monument consisting of huge rocks (or like they call it, “henges”) in circular formations, aka a ghetto, less famous version of Stonehenge. However, Avebury is way cooler than Stonehenge because you can actually touch and interact with the rocks (Stonehenge is roped off, lame…). We hugged them, climbed them, kissed them, it was great. There are a bunch of crazy theories about what the rocks mean like aliens put them there, or they are an ancient sexual innuendo; frankly I just think they’re sweet and don’t really care how they go there. But the really cool part of Avebury was the scenery. This was the first time I really saw and walked along the English countryside and it was gorgeous. So gorgeous even that I found myself wondering if I could afford a second (or third?) home in the English countryside when I grow up… I decided I indeed could. It reminded me of the little cottage farm that Cameron Diaz spends her Christmas in The Holiday. It snowed a few days ago in London and it would’ve been pretty neat to see the countryside blanketed in white dust… next time, next time. As the sun set, the sky was splashed in a variety of warm colors and I couldn’t have been happier.

rooms in the countryside...

henges...

7. London’s Fashion Night Out– At the very beginning of the semester, my girlfriends and I put on our most stylish outfits and headed to Regent Street for London’s Fashion Night Out, the one night in the year where designers open their stores, offer 30% discounts to everyone, and most importantly free drinks. While I had no real intention of purchasing anything, I felt super glamorous walking into Miu Miu, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton without people staring wondering what the hell are you doing here? I could tell there were celebrities in some of the stores we were in, like in Burberry where an at least 6’3” gorgeous chocolate-skinned assumed-to-be model sipped gin and tonic with 5 inch heels and a shaved head. We stopped by Armani for a look-see because he was reportedly making an appearance, but it was roped off and only real celebrities were allowed inside. Darn. My favorite spot was Chanel, where we were offered champagne and fancy cheese sticks as well as free makeovers and a little photo shoot in their customized, wind-blown photo booths. It was awesome. They dressed us up in all of these fabulous Chanel accessories and then got four prints, Suse and I had a ball. After we decided we had adequately pregamed with the drinks provided by Fashion Night Out, we were off to Notting Hill Arts Club, where the official after party took place. We danced the night away with our new British male companions and I’m pretty positive I ended the night with a goodnight kiss…

Notting Hill Arts Club

8. Dubstep @ Fabric– Dubstep is an interesting phenomenon. It has just gained massive popularity in Europe and the states and I still don’t quite understand what it is. However, when I heard the Upsetters (a famous reggae band) were mixing with Dubstep deejays I was all in. According to Wikipedia, which is definitely a better definition than I could give it, Dubstep is “a genre of electronic dance music originating from London in the early 2000s. Its overall sound has been described as tightly coiled productions with overwhelming bass lines and reverberant drum patterns, clipped samples, and occasional vocals”. The show was also at Fabric, London’s most well-known dance club and supposedly rated the best club in the entire world? Don’t know about that… I had a blast dancing to the mix of reggae and bass, something entirely different from I’ve ever heard before. This past weekend I revisited Fabric for an entirely Dubstep show and boy was it a night. I think my ears are still ringing from the blaring speakers and bass so strong that it made my entire body shake. All in all good fun, but I’m not sure Dubstep is something I would choose to listen to in my spare time… I guess you could call me a recreational user.

Upsetters

9. South Kensington– Although perhaps not the liveliest part of town, the buildings in South Kensington still amaze me as I walk the streets to class, work, and go about my day to day business. I love the white columns in front of each numbered flat and the alternating brick patterned apartments on top of the retail stores on Gloucester Road, which I now call home.

what I witness every sunset 🙂

10. Primark– The craziest store I have ever set foot in. It is in a huge warehouse full Forever 21 style clothes, but even cuter and cheaper and more abundant. I would describe Primark like this: Costco with only clothes and accessories and you have to be sprinting and sweating and touching someone else at all times. You can’t half-ass a trip to Primark… you’re either in or you’re out. I’ve been twice since being here because it is so overwhelming and busy and crowded and it’s just SO much. But when I say cheap, I mean CHEAP. I got a purse for £3, nice shirts for £4, sweaters for £5, and a pair of sassy pumps for £10. I am truly surprised that this phenomenon has not found its way to America. That’d be a sight.

 





Bonjour et Au Revoir en Deux Jours: An Ode to French Cuisine

10 11 2010

Last week I visited one of my best friends in the whole wide world, Miss Caroline Morrow Plyler (you know, my bff that I went to Greece and Hungary with) in the city of lights: Paris. She has been living there for the past few months at a home stay in the suburbs with a wealthy and loving Parisian family with a bunch of kids running around. I think she might have a little bit of a thing for one of her “brothers” named Hugh (pronounced oog) who invited her out a few nights ago… oo lala!! I met Caroline and her best friend from school, Kathleen, in the Latin quarter of Paris as they sipped red wine at an outdoor café. The trip over was thankfully uneventful, and I actually enjoyed my forty five minute train into Paris on the Rer B (pronounced R-E-R, but I like to call it rer, like rhymes with brr) from the Charles de Gaulle airport. After exchanging our giddy helloes we headed to dinner; I was dying to try some real French food… and believe you me did I have my fair share of fabulous French yumminess this weekend.

Caroline immediately clued me up on what dishes I absolutely had to try, including chèvre chaud— hot goats cheese salad, and obligingly I ordered it. We nibbled on French bread and drank French wine as we waited for our French meals. Something I found interesting/odd was that the French don’t use bread plates; they just leave the bread right on the table. Even if a plate is offered with the bread, they make a point to take the bread off the plate back onto the table. Now I certainly had no druthers with this practice (as many of you are aware I am probably about as concerned with germs as an elephant in a mud bath is), but I’m sure all the American germaphobes out there would’ve been absolutely horrified. As for me, I was content with my French bread. The chèvre chaud was everything Caroline described and more: crispy toast with melted goat’s cheese on top of a bed of fresh lettuce and ham with the creamiest yet lightest French dressing I’d ever tasted. In one foul swoop I was a fan of French cuisine.

Once we finished our lovely French dinner, we metro-ed our way to the hostel which just so happened to be about a five minute walk from the Moulin Rouge. As we pregamed and got ready for the night in our small yet suitable room, some of Caroline’s abroad friends joined us. I instantly bonded with Caroline’s friend Matthew, a friendly and colorful theatre major from Huntsville, Alabama who greeted me with his best rendition of Backstreet Boys. Turns out he knows a bunch of Sarah’s friends from school at Bama so we decided that we were going to visit Tuscaloosa to go see a show sometime next semester… can’t wait! Another notable visitor was Sherrie (but for some reason everyone called her Shelly)—a forty something southerner who just recently enrolled at UNC and decided to spend this fall semester abroad just like the rest of us. She was quite the character. The liquids continued to flow and we finally made our way into the city around midnight. The biggest problem with the plan was that we really had no plan. We were in a seedy part of town, were pretty drunk, and completely dissatisfied with every option of bar/club in the area since they were either strip clubs or discos. And apparently I’m too friendly; I was yelled at multiple times by friends (probably for good reason) because I exchanged helloes and struck up conversations with a few Parisians. Turns out Moulin Rouge is not the place to meet people. After a few rather heated exchanges between various people, we decided to split up because some of the girls were down to dance and the rest of us just wanted to chill in a relaxed bar. And so that’s what we did. I ended the night with a nutella and banana crepe, another French MUST.

new friends!

Saturday morning started off at the cutest, authentic French bakery which offered a huge menu of various breakfast items. They didn’t serve cups of coffee but rather bowls which all of the Parisians contentedly sipped over hushed conversation. Paris really is what everyone makes it out to be—beautiful, romantic, and full of people simply enjoying life. Not to mention enjoying the phenomenal food. I don’t think it’s possible to diet in Paris. Unless it’s a wine and cheese diet… doesn’t sound half bad. My favorite part of brunch was the “French toast”—unlike American French toast, but instead a flaky piece of warm bread and cream topped with an apple sauce-y type mush, which combined all together was heavenly.  The bakery was smack dab in the middle of the Montmartre district of Northern Paris, known as sort of the artsy part of town. Many famous artists had studios or worked around the community of Montmartre back in the day such as Salvador Dalí, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh. A large hill on the top of Montmartre overlooks the whole city, the perfect place to paint a masterpiece. It’s also the perfect place to spot every monument in Paris, except curiously the Eiffel Tower which was nowhere to be found. At the summit of the hill is the highest point in all of Paris, the white-domed Basilica of the Sacre Coeur meaning Sacred Heart. We went inside and two things stood out in my mind: 1. it was SO open, usually churches have beams along the sides which sort of stand in between the pews and get in the way. Not this church, it was basically just a huge room with really tall ceilings, allowing you to see basically everything from any part of the church (and it was all ornate and gorgeous, just like every church in Europe). 2. Everything looked new—the statues, stone, windows, tombs… I learned this is because it was only constructed in 1919, relatively new for a historic looking church. Regardless, it was absolutely beautiful.

Did I mention that it was raining? It rained the ENTIRE time I was in Paris. Incessant drizzle, almost more annoying than torrential downpour because then at least you can play in puddles and drink the raindrops. Yet even in the rain, I loved Paris. I want to come back, preferably for a longer period of time… Caroline mentioned to me a few days ago that she wants to live here for a year after college; I’ll start making plans. Any who, after Montmartre we made our way to the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triumph. Once we stared at the arc/took a few pics we were ready to move one and low and behold I find myself stuck in the middle of the Champs, one of the busiest, most expensive, most famous streets in the world. What a lucky girl I am!

Arc de Triumph!

uh oh...

We strolled in the wet, moist air and gazed at the high end retail like Louis Vuitton and the Haagen-Dazs restaurant (no not an ice cream shop, a reservation-only full service dessert restaurant). Our target on the Champs-Élysées was Ladurée, a luxurious bakery known for its mouth-watering assortments of macaroons, which according to Wikipedia 15,000 are sold daily. This was going to be my first macaroon encounter and I was oh so glad that it would be from the “best macaroon shop in the world”. As we entered the bakery, dozens of customers were already in line eagerly waiting for their deliciously treats. A rainbow of colors painted the counter with macaroon flavors ranging from vanilla to raspberry to licorice to lavender. I was feeling adventurous and so tried the pistachio, hazelnut, and ginger rose (okay not THAT adventurous, but the other girls got like chocolate and caramel so I was feeling relatively bold). Since actually eating in Ladurée was uber-expensive we found a nearby coffee shop and munched our macaroons over lattés. I was entertained by our Cambodian waiter who spoke Chinese and French and was excited that I got to freshen up on a bit of my Chinese. Now these bite size cookies may look diminutive, but let me tell you they are so rich and flavorful that finishing three was a task (a pleasant task at that) and afterwards I was both satisfied and on an intense sugar high. If you haven’t tried them before, they are a MUST. After indulging in our treats we spotted a cake made entirely of macaroons; right then and there it was decided that for one of our weddings, there would be a macaroon cake.

Next: the one and only EIFFEL TOWER. A lot of famous man-made landmarks I’ve seen (Big Ben, Statue of Liberty, the White House etc) are completely overstated; they’re not really as fabulous as everyone makes them out to be. The Eifel Tower on the other hand literally made me catch my breath the first time I laid eyes on it. I was not expecting at all the sheer size of the thing; it’s HUGE. Like gigantic-enormous WOAH.  It also looked especially magnificent through the fog and mist from the rain… time for a photo op. We were too cheap and lazy to actually attempt to go to the top of the tower annddd we were too antsy about the forthcoming wine and cheese. Eiffel Tower… check! Caroline was dying to take us to a hole-in-the-wall wine and cheese bar that Caroline proudly told us had been mentioned on a recent episode of Gossip Girl (which I must admit I am recently obsessed with). The bar was quaint and really French feeling and just great. We chatted with Caroline’s Paris friends over a jug of wine and different creamy cheeses… goat, Swiss, and another cheese which was my absolute favorite, but we weren’t quite sure exactly what it was. We really had the French vibe going, complete with an outdoor bathroom with a hole for a toilet. Once again, fine by me!

Of course after wine and cheese it was actual dinner time. Caroline and the group took us to a pizzeria called the Pink Flamingo, a small retro restaurant with a VW 70s van in the front available for dining in. I wanted to order every single pizza on the menu and they all had the coolest names—the Aphrodite, the Dante, the Bjork. Caroline, Kathleen, and I decided to split two pizzas named le Gandhi and le Ho Chi Minh. The Gandhi pizza had a sag paneer base (a Basnett family favorite) with baba ghanoush and mozzarella on top and it was good, but not as fantabulous as the Ho Chi Minh. Now I’ve been to Vietnam (the home of Ho Chi Minh, and if you didn’t know that dear God read a book) and this pizza [thankfully] did not remind me of anything I ate in Vietnam. I liked the Vietnamese food okay when I was there, but none of the flavors were as bold or exotic as I thought they’d be. Le Ho Chi Minh pizza then again was just a mouth full of flavor. It had a curry base with chicken and shrimp, garnished with coriander and a lot of cheese. I think it was ( and still is) the best pizza I’ve ever had… and trust me I’ve had a lot of pizza, I mean I used to work at Mellow Mushroom. I’m surprised Mellow hasn’t come up with such an interesting combo of flavors; once again Europe is just so much more in touch with international cuisine than America is. The Pink Flamingo was the perfect ending to a fabulous day. On our way home the strangest/small world coincidence happened. I ran into a boy a year younger than me that goes to Wake on the metro! Things like this happen more than you might think in Europe, I ran into two sorority sisters in Vienna, two boys from my freshman hall in Prague, etc etc. However, this was even weirder because Michael (the guy I ran into) wasn’t studying abroad and just happened to be in Paris for the weekend. And we just happened to be on the same exact metro car at the same exact time. Crazy crazy. Michael and I bonded last year at Wake because we both are acapella geeks, gotta love it. Of course we documented it with a pitcha!  Outside our hostel I yet again scarfed down a late night banana, almond, and nutella crepe. It made me feel over-stuffed and sick to my stomach because I had eaten SO MUCH, but I just couldn’t resist.

le ho chi minh!!

the aftermath

Falafel. That’s precisely what was on my mind when I woke up on Sunday. Caroline had been telling me about this falafel place in the Jewish quarter literally within the first week she was in Paris and I had been craving it ever since. It was just Caroline and me for the day because Kathleen had an early flight back to Dublin that morning, but it was nice to spend some EC/LC time with each other and have a relaxing, Parisian day together. We were expecting a hefty line outside of L’As du Falafel, which also happens to be Lenny Kravitz’s favorite falafel joint, but were pleasantly surprised when we were immediately seated by a yarmulke-clad Jewish waiter. I devoured the most delicious falafel pita wrap with lettuce, tomato, cabbage, other veggies, and to top it off tzaziki and hot sauce. NOM. I was rather disheartened when my friend Emma told me a few days ago that she neither knew what falafel was or had tried it. So here it goes… falafel: a small ball of mashed chick peas seasoned with sesame seeds and FRIED. Don’t forget the fried part. Aka heaven in a ball… haha. Falafel is definitely not French, but it played an integral role in the success of my French weekend feast.

We had tentative plans to visit the Musee de Orsay which came highly recommended by my mama, but since it was down pouring out it meant it was museum day for everyone, not just us. I got a good look at the outside at least…  Nonetheless, Caroline and I were prepared to brave the rain, umbrella in hand, wellies on foot, and we commenced our day of exploring Paris. First we walked over the Siene, which is beautiful. I like how it’s not as massive as some of the other rivers through major cities in Europe (aka the Thames or Danube) and so it has more of a charming feel. I imagine it’d be even prettier in the sunshine (hence one of Caroline’s pictures below since my camera randomly stopped working after the falafel). Directly across from the Musee de Orsay were the Louvre and the Arc du Carousel. For some reason I was just not in the museum mood and so we admired the world’s most visited and celebrated museum from a distance, picturing the Mona Lisa inside (which Caroline claims “isn’t that great”).  And I believe her.

The Louvre

Arc du Carousel

I loved simply walking around Paris, looking into all of the cool shops, stopping every now and then in a tea shop or designer boutique. Its charm really is remarkable. I know it’s one of the biggest cities in the world, but at one point it felt like it was just me and Paris in one big love affair. There’s not so much hustle and bustle like in London or stress, just the lure of pleasure… and food. Oh and just a note, French men are gorgeous. They don’t really have a distinguishable “look” (like blonde or tall or dark or blue eyed), just plain handsome. WHY can’t one of these fine men fall into my lap?? Unfortunately, French woman are equally as exquisite, and they talk way cooler than I do, and smoke fancy cigarettes. On our walk, we visited the Notre Dame (once more from the outside) and I thought the gargoyles were SO cool… just like The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But honestly, I’m getting kind of tired of churches. I want to go to Asia and see some more temples! Caroline and I warmed up in a plaza café that looked onto the cathedral and then tasted a “Cheap Blonde” beer at the infamous Lizard Lounge which is supposedly one of the craziest night spots in all of Paris. The weather hindered out sight-seeing capabilities, but in the end I pretty much knocked out all of Paris sights in 48 hours. And all of the Paris FOOD.


The last few hours of my Parisian trip was spent in a delightful Middle Eastern restaurant back in the Jewish district, Chez Marianne. The dim lighting, relaxed crowd, and phenomenal food really summed up my trip—brilliant. Caroline and I snacked on dishes like baba ghanoush, couscous, hummus, pastry puffs, and other vegetarian delights over my last bottle of French wine. We talked about our lives, past present and future and how everything just seems to fly by. Caroline played “fortune teller” and predicted my future life and all of our closest friends as well; it was quite amusing (and if anything comes true that she predicted I will die a happy woman). It’s crazy how much we’ve grown up. I’m so lucky to have a friend like Caroline in my life. She is loyal and honest and constant, and even with her quirks I love her to death. It was a sad farewell, and an amazing weekend getaway. I can’t wait to reunite in Atlanta! Until next time yall… GO FALCONS!! (Daddy bought us tickets over break, I’m SO PUMPED).





Life in Londontown

9 11 2010

I realize that in the past two months my blogs have been devoted to trips through Europe, even though I do in fact spend the vast majority of my time in lively London. So I decided it is high time I start revealing my life here, from friends to school to work to nightlife and to all of the fabulous things I find myself doing in between. Thus for the remaining weeks I will be listing ten experiences/observations/anything really (in no particular order) about London life, ultimately producing my London Top 50 on my departure date of December 11. I can’t believe I only have a month left. It has truly flown by and been incredible, but I must admit that I definitely miss America. But for my last days here I am going to make the best of it, seize the moment. One of my best friends Emma flies in on Friday for ten days and it should be great fun. Can’t wait to tell all yall about it! For now, here is my first London Top 10 list.

1. The Mayor’s River Thames Festival– This festival happened roughly two months ago on the embankment of the River Thames. It is a spectacular celebration of London and its river through a mixture of street arts, performance, illuminations, art installations, exhibitions, clothing vendors, music and dance, food and feasting… and the best part is it’s completely FREE. Except for you end up buying so much cool stuff at the food and clothes sellers that I don’t think you can really consider it free, but I suppose if you had enough will power you could spend zero cash. I however seized the moment. On Saturday night we had such a great time that I decided to come back not once but TWICE on Sunday. Probably the biggest reason I returned was for the amazing and exotic food. Any type of cuisine you wanted, you could find here— Indian, Mexican, Thai, Ghanan, American, Italian, Moroccan, Brazilian, Spanish, Greek, the list goes on and on. Let me see, I tried falafel, curry, crepes, churros, a burrito, and ended my Sunday night with a nice frozen yogurt. Nom nom nom…

the river!

During the day on Sunday I was signed up for a bike tour of London and it met at the River Thames Festival. I won’t elaborate on this tour that much because while it did give me a great view of London and basically all of the best sites you can see, I was preoccupied with my burning thighs and wheezing lungs. I thought I was just ridiculously out of shape, but turns out I had a flat the entire tour. Needless to say, I got a great workout and would recommend it had it not been for the bike malfunction. That night, we all returned for the finale of the festival, the Night Procession. This includes a huge parade, live music, great food (obvi) and ends with a spectacular firework show. Munching on my sugary crepe watching the fireworks was fabulous. Big Ben, Parliament, the London Eye and all the buildings along the river were lit up… beautiful!

2. Ministry of Sound- One of the most popular clubs in London devoted solely to the purpose of sound and “house music”. My girlfriends and I decided to go on a whim one Friday night and didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into. It was pretty much just room upon room of crazy lights and smoke combined with trance and electronic/techno music in a huge crowd of sweaty people. For a one time experience it sufficed, but I must admit that I will not be returning. I’m much more of a bar and fun dancing kind of girl, and since that night have strayed from the true London “club” scene, partly because of my taste and partly because they are freakin expensive to get into. I will however say that in the next month I do want to try out one or two of London’s most famous clubs solely so “I can say I’ve been”. I know. I’m a hypocrite.

outside ministry of sound!

3. Class- Yes, I actually go to class while abroad… crazy right?! The first six weeks of my semester I took two classes from Monday-Thursdays. My Mon/Tues class met from 2:45-6:45 and was entitled The Foreign Correspondent: International Reporting. I have never taken a reporting class, but ended up learning a lot about the media, war reporters, interviewing, and general knowledge about global issues that will prove valuable down the road. I’m glad I took it, especially because my professor was a baller and has worked as a foreign correspondent for BBC news for over thirty years; he had some really interesting personal anecdotes about his job, including interviews Princess Diana and working in the Middle East.

My other two classes deal with British politics/law and are taught by two lively, old men. One is tall and skinny and the other is short and fat, it’s quite funny especially because they are also opposites in the academic sense. Cousins, the skinny one, focuses on fact and institutions while Sullivan discusses the philosophy and the theory behind law. Both are great, but I prefer Sullivan because I like to think; he makes me think. The two classes have made me realize that I do not really want to go into politics and am much more interested in law—in practice and theory. I already told my mom this, but I am going to graduate (after I get in haha) from Columbia Law School and then go on to be the United States representatives for the United Nations. I want to work in international law. We’ll see how this plan works out…

4. Comedy Store- One of London’s most famous comedy clubs located right outside of Piccadilly Circus in the heart of Soho. I took my friend Stephanie here when she visited on “King Dong” night, which happens the last Monday of every month. Oh and by the way, Monday night is the night for comedy in London so I was hopin this would be good. The premise of “King Dong” is that any brave soul can try their hand at stand-up comedy and if they last five minutes without three judges nixing them, then they make it to the final round. Some of the acts were actually quite good, relaying everyday life anecdotes and making them funny. With a bar in the back and eccentric sometimes amusing participants, it was the perfect Monday night out. On other more professional nights, the Comedy Store hosts musical comedy, French comedy (which Caroline and I stumbled upon when we tried to get in one Monday), and is home to the Comedy Store Players, who laid the groundwork for probably one of the funniest/addictive shows EVER, Whose Line Is It Anyway? Another fun fact: I once was in an elevator with Wayne Brady in Honolulu, Hawaii. If you don’t know who that is, shame on you.

5. Churchill Arms- A really cool pub in Notting Hill; about a thirty minute walk from my humble abode in South Kensington. It is cozy and vibrant, decorated with the coolest things like assorted chamber pots hanging all over the ceiling and historical relics from London and the Churchill period (get it, Churchill Arms?) Oh and if you ever see a restaurant that ends in “Arms” it means it’s a pub, not sure why. The best part about Churchill Arms is its food, which is what for it… THAI. That’s right, a good ole English pub that serves such delicacies as pad see ew, panang curry, pad thai, and masaman duck. And not just any Thai, but rivaling my favorite Thai place in Atlanta “Annie’s Thai Castle”. Definitely, definitely cheaper than Annie’s. My favorite curry at Churchill Arms is just £6! Cheap and tasty? I’ll take it any day.

Sippin on some London Pride with Sydney and Mika

6. England vs. Montenegro football match- Football aka soccer. It was quite the trek to Wembley Stadium, in Zone 5 of 6 on the tube (I live in Zone 1 and hardly ever leave). However, we were excited to experience a national football game, even though it was with Montenegro and sadly ended up being terribly boring. England didn’t even win, they tied 0-0. It only reinforced my belief that soccer is not fun to watch, especially from the nosebleeds. That being said, I am really glad I went. I got to experience Wayne Rooney (the most famous/controversial/talented football player in England) in action and also got to be inside one of the coolest stadiums in Europe and probably the world. It will be used for the London 2012 Olympics, so that’s neat. In the next few weeks I hope to go to a club match, maybe Liverpool vs. Manchester because my boss is a HUGE Liverpool fan. The British really do take their football serious like everyone says; it’s no myth.

Mattie and I at the football match... Roll Tide!!

Wembley and the huge storm of people after the game

7. Imperial College Student Union- About a two minute walk from my room is the Imperial College bar, which we have frequented literally every Wednesday without fail since they started fall term in the beginning of October. Imperial is a university in South Ken that specializes in engineering, technology, science, and medicine, which means that there are SO many boys; and they’re all smart!! It’s kind of like Georgia Tech, except all of the boys have British accents and there aren’t as many Asians. And Wednesday night is when all of the athletes come out to celebrate so the girls have gotten to know the rugby team quite well. All of the “freshers” (first years) on the rugby team dress up every week in ridiculous costumes including leotards, tutus, makeup, and anything funny you can think of as part of their sort of ‘initiation’. And they are all smashed of course. Pretty much the British version of fraternity pledging, brings me a little taste of home. Scotty from Scotland is my favorite and has a crush on my roommate Susan. I think she was into him too until she realized that he is indeed 18. Could be worse.

8. Oxford- As in the university (and the city). One of the prettiest, historic places I’ve been in the UK because of its charm and frankly impressiveness. Pretty much anyone who’s anyone graduates from what the British like to call “Oxbridge”, which technically is a combination between Oxford and Cambridge, but is the American equivalent to Ivy League. Known as the “city of dreaming spires”, Oxford is the oldest university in the British-speaking world, founded in 1096. I really liked Oxford because of the way it’s set up. Instead of declaring a major or something like in the US, you have to apply to a specific college and that’s where you live, eat, and study for all four years of your time in Oxford. Each college (all 36 of them) consists of a hall for dining, a chapel, a library, a college bar, rooms for 200-400 undergraduates as well as lodgings for the head of the college and other dons. College buildings range from the medieval to very modern buildings, but most are made up of interlinked courtyards with a lodge controlling entry from the outside. These quads are unlike American quads, but instead are small and quaint, with little gardens and the student dorm windows looking into the center. Pretty  much all day we wandered around all the different colleges, each with their own unique character and vibe.

quad in Oxford

Fun fact: the dining hall in Hogwarts is modeled after the Christ Church College dining hall in Oxford. We searched for this ‘Great Hall’ sadly, to no avail, but there’s a picture below to compare! The last hour of our daytrip we spent in the Eagle and Child, a famous pub in Oxford best known for its past frequenters— C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. These writers (and professors at Oxford) used to spend long nights in the pub discussing and sharing various literary ideas; who knows, maybe these chats led to The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. Cool stuff, great day.

look familiar?

9. Portobello Market- I took Caroline here when she visited a few weeks ago and it has been one of the coolest things I’ve done so far in London. In Notting Hill and on Portobello Road, the market opens every Saturday and stretches about a mile, full of antique vendors, vintage clothing, and yummy food. I bought a really cool headband/ear warmer thingy with a sparkly accent and Caroline found a bright purple sequined top. We also couldn’t resist the falafel, one of many options at Portobello Market. Had it not been raining, I could have easily stayed the entire day uncovering hidden gems. Unfortunately, rain seems to be a running theme in London so I’m not sure I can work this out…

pretty buildings, sign for portobello market

oh heyy

10. Blood Brothers- In the one day my mom and Susan were in London, we went to see my first show at the West End: the classic British musical Blood Brothers. It’s about two twin brothers in London separated at birth and their lives on the opposite sides of the social spectrum. They end up forging a lasting bond (unbeknownst that they were brothers) and fall in love with the same woman, causing a tear in their friendship and leading to a tragic ending. I will admit that the plot, songs, acting, and the whole thing was ridiculously melodramatic (my mom and Susan thought it was silly), but I loved it. The acting and singing was phenomenal, I laughed, I cried and I am so happy I saw it. Probably the coolest and most original aspect of the show was that full grown men played small boys and then transformed into adult characters. It was cool and different to see men actingl like silly kids, and they executed the roles with perfection. I don’t know if the other girls would agree, but if you want something you can’t find in America and a taste of British drama, go see it. I will say it’s unlike any musical I’ve ever seen! I mean the show has been running since 1988 so there’s gotta be something to appreciate!

Mickey and Eddie!





Honeymoon in Tuscany

28 10 2010

This past weekend was full of pizza, pasta, chocolate, wine, gelato, leather, beauty, and relaxation. I am so glad that I decided to visit Italy for a second time to truly experience everything it has to offer, because it is so much more than I remember. On Thursday night I met one of my best friends Rupal in Florence, Italy where she has been studying since August. We had the most exciting weekend planned, and had it been a couple instead of best friends it would have been pretty romantic, so we dubbed it or honeymoon in Tuscany. Since I had been to Florence before on the infamous “Bounds trip” junior year of high school, I was apprehensive to go again because I want to experience new places instead of visiting old ones. This argument I now realize is stupid because in high school I was so preoccupied with getting drunk and socializing that I didn’t fully appreciate Italy; I took full advantage of its lack of a drinking age. What I do remember is 1. The David statue and 2. The river and buildings/bridges surrounding the river. I also remember singing karaoke to “Love is a Battlefield” in the still infamous Club Space Electronic, but I don’t think we should go there… My memory of Florence is so bad that I commented to Rupal “that’s a pretty church” when we walked by the Duomo, arguably Florence’s most famous site. Needless to say, Rupal was horrified that I neither remembered it or even recognized the name. Embarassing.

the "really pretty church"

This trip was unlike others in the sense that there was less emphasis on history/architecture/information and all emphasis on pleasure… which is precisely why on Friday morning we (Rupal, our friend Katie, and I) boarded the bus2alps service to the Perugia Chocolate Festival. Perugia, Italy is a city about two hours away from Florence in the Umbria region of Italy. Recently Perugia has been in the news because of an American WashU student who was accused of murdering her roommate there, fun stuff! Ha but really none of us really knew what we were in for, just lots and lots of chocolate. It turned out to be the most gorgeous day, in terms of weather and scenery. We started off on the outskirts of the city and boarded the mini-metro/gondola that took us up a steep hill into the heart of the city. Right when we got off the metro, we were met by the most beautiful view— houses cascading down the hills, fall leaves, the quintessential Italian countryside.

We wandered around the cobblestone streets, filled with local chocalatiers selling all types of chocolate—truffles, bars, fruit, crepes, pasta, brittle, basically everything and anything CHOCOLATE. As our mouth watered around every corner, we also admired the historic architecture and quaint cobblestone streets that defines Perugia. My first taste of the festival was a white/milk hot chocolate sprinkled with pepper. It was so creamy and rich, and the pepper added a nice spicy kick. The other girls opted for a chocolate covered banana topped with nuts which of course I sampled and was fabulous. Immediately after, we noticed a girl with a chocolate covered churro… so our mission was then to find such a churro. It only took us about fifteen minutes and we delighted ourselves with the sugary treats while basking in the sun on the steps of the Piazza Danti. Nearby was the biggest piece of chocolate I’ve ever seen; there was a contest going on to see who could guess it’s weight… hmm maybe 758 lbs? I wasn’t sure how to convert it to Kgs though so I couldn’t compete. Shucks.

churros!

We explored all of the different vendors, sampling hazelnut & milk chocolate bars, pistachio truffles, chocolate apples, white chocolate brittle; I collected quite the assortment of goodies for my colleagues at work and Rupal and Katie picked out other treats for their parents who were visiting that weekend. At some point during the day we decided that we needed a brief break and wanted to sit outside at a restaurant eating a typical Italian Umbrian meal: pizza. Ohhh Italian pizza how I love you so… so much that we had pizza again that night in Florence!! While finishing up my delicious mozzarella with prosciutto pizza and particular creature walked by: chocolate ravioli!! A man dressed up in a chocolate ravioli outfit that is. I instinctively shot up from my chair and started running after him… asking Dove? Dove? Dove? (pronounced do-vay, meaning where) and he gladly pointed us in the right direction. Chocolate ravioli is an amazing creation, topped with powdered sugar and fresh strawberries.

Probably my favorite part of the day was the FREE Milka Chocolate Ferris wheel we rode on, overlooking the entire city. Along with our free sample of Milka chocolate we munched on, we spent a good fifteen minutes on the Ferris wheel gazing out at the Umbrian hills and Perugian landscape. I know literally every post I talked about how beautiful everything is, but this seriously was just beautiful, and so natural. I love Ferris wheels; they’re great… the one we were on reminded me of the one in The Notebook. I imagined my Italian lover climbing up the beams to pine to me at the very top of the Ferris wheel just like Noah did in the movie. Too bad NO Italians even slightly resemble Ryan Gosling. Sadly after our ride we had to make our way back to the bus, but along the way I found a pretty pair of earrings and also a shirt that smelled like chocolate. Intriguing. They showed the Diane Lane movie Under the Tuscan Sun on the ride back to Florence; I’d never seen it before, but I dig Sandra Oh as a lesbian. Ow owww. The movie also made me cry, then again literally every movie makes me cry… haha something my family and friends have learned to deal with and awkwardly try to ignore when I’m in uncontrollable hysterics next to them. Usually when I’m with my mom she’s doing the exact same thing so I guess that makes me feel a little better about my blubbering… guess it runs in the family?

We continued our food-filled day by eating the most delicious buffalo mozzarella pizza for dinner. Rupal proclaimed Gusto Pizza, just across the Ponte Vecchio Bridge and Arno River, the “best pizza in Florence”; can’t say that I disagree. It was a bit cold outside, but the melted cheese quickly warmed us up as we wolfed down the pizza on the patio of the Pitti Palace. We then strolled around Florence by night, passing live music in the square to young lovers on the Ponte Vecchio and ending at the Grom Gelateria. Italy truly has mastered the art of pleasure—in food, love, scenery; it’s just such a satisfying place to be. Apparently there is a distinction between “real” gelato and “fake” gelato and Grom is the place to go for the real stuff. Our friend Katie went to a gelato factory a few weeks before and explained that the difference is in the nutritional value and way it’s made. Real gelato is mixed with the real ingredients (ie strawberries or pralines) while the imposters have a plain gelato and simply add a generic mix to make the certain flavor. You can tell what’s real and what’s not by the way the gelato is presented. Grom keeps their gelato in tin metal tubs and you can’t see the actual gelato while the others have huge piles of gelato on display for everyone to admire. I must admit that I have had the “fake” gelato many a time and think it is just as good as the real stuff, but apparently real gelato is A LOT better for you. Sooo of course I went for two scoops because it was just so healthy I didn’t have anything to feel bad about! Haha! I tried pistachio and the “monthly special” which included chesnut… and they were brilliant, especially combined together. Thank goodness I’m not studying in Italy or else I would no doubt be fatter and broker.

Horseback riding through Tuscany and wine tasting… that was the plan for Saturday. And man oh man was I excited, so eager even that we decided to stay in on Friday so that we would be in tip top form for the day ahead. In the morning we met a gorgeous Hungarian man named Peter outside of the train station and he informed us that he would be our guide for the day… lucky us! The other group that joined us was the cutest Brazilian couple with a 5-year old little girl, probably the most adorable girl I’ve ever met, Maria. She looked Brazilian, but had a British accent (we later learned because they live in Manchester, England) and absolutely LOVED Rupal and me. Throughout the day she would go back and forth as to who her favorite was, so cute.

After about a 45 minute drive, we approached the Italian horse stables lodging the creatures that would be taking us on our adventure. My horse was named Giada—majestic, strong, tall, chestnut colored with a white streak down the nose—and Rupal’s was Nadir, slightly more stoutly and miniature. Now I was under the impression that since I had about four years of riding experience (albeit only for two weeks once a year at summer camp from age 8-11) that it would be just like riding a bike, a sort of natural instinct. I couldn’t have been more wrong. First of all, the caretakers literally just hoisted us onto the horses and let us go, without any instruction or direction whatsoever. They herded all of the riders into a ring and pretty much let the horses (while we were on them) do whatever they want—eat, trot, neigh, poop, the usual. Then after a few awkward and confused moments, our guide (different from the Hungarian Peter, this guy was Italian) started our route through the countryside. At first I thought this was extremely odd (not giving us any instruction), but I think it’s because the horses are so well trained that literally I didn’t have to do anything, besides stay on the horse. Occasionally they would start trotting unexpectedly, but it kept our journey interesting. Rupal’s horse had to be second in line or else the horse freaked out so that was funny, although I don’t think Rupal thought it was. But I think some preliminary guidance would’ve been appreciated to ease our mind; apparently Rupal later found out that since we were both wearing Hunter boots they presumed we had horseback riding experience? Since when do rain boots equate to professional equestrian?

Beyond my terrible cowboy skills and sore bum, the view was spectacular. We made our way through Chianti wine vineyards, grassy fields, wooded areas, cute Italian cottages, olives trees, and spent about two hours just admiring the scenery. Our weather was also sunny and warm, aiding in the picturesque effect, which surely would’ve suffered had the weather been sucky.  I tried to take pictures and guide the horse simultaneously, but it didn’t really work; my sad attempts are displayed below although they just don’t do it justice. Once we returned, we were greeting by Peter and a bottle of wine, that’s my kind of homecoming. This was just the beginning of a very long string of wine consumption, and I naively thought that this one bottle of wine constituted the “wine-tasting” portion of the trip. Rupal quickly corrected me on the drive to the castle, where we would be having lunch and drinking… A LOT.

wine vineyard!

The 12th century medieval castle/fort was so cool. It overlooked the entire countryside, built so that the past warriors could protect the castle from invasion. Back in the day there was a moat around it and the whole community lived inside the bastion, with a church, square, well, and living quarters for everyone there. Maria, our new diminutive friend, loved screaming down into the well and we humored her and followed suit. Then it was lunchtime, full of typical Tuscan dishes and more importantly wine. Our first course was bread and olive oil with Chianti red wine. I am not usually a fan of the red and usually prefer a lighter variety, but I must admit that this wine was darn good. Then they served us our antipasti (appetizer)—cheese, prosciutto, and bruschetta. And it didn’t stop there! For the final, main course they served us two plates of pasta: spaghetti Bolognese and pesto gnocchi. I discovered gnocchi when I visited in high school and absolutely fell in love. Pasta made from potatoes? I’ll take that any day. Anddd I am definitely a fan of the basil which was the main ingredient in this heavenly pasta dish. Yumm. Oh and by this time we had opened up a bottle of white wine, and I must confess I had a little “Asian-glow” going on.

Maria yelling into the well... with her papa and PETER

gnocchi!

I was thank goodness not as bad as Lilia (Maria’s mom) who had definitely had a little too much wine. She even invited us to visit her family in Manchester! Might take her up on that offer… Randomly an American woman joined us who we learned had just bid adieu to her Italian lover who happened to be our horseback guide. She spoke of how amazing he was and how she wanted to leave her teaching job in the states and join him in Italy (just so happened she was a professor at Guilford College, just about twenty minutes away from Wake Forest! Ohhh the world just keeps getting smaller and smaller). Our last stop was a wine tasting just across the square from where our restaurant was, that’s right more wine! I sampled pretty much every one they offered, pretending to be really sophisticated by sloshing water in my glass before tasting the next wine. I hope one day I can actually tell the difference; I want to be a wine connoisseur, being able to distinguish the oakiness or fruit qualities in a wine. I’m getting there! On our way back home, Peter surprised the group by stopping through the Piazza Michelangelo, which supposedly is the best place to view the Florence skyline. This was one place that when we parked I immediately recognized it, yay for me remembering SOMETHING from my three week long trip through Italy! The view was certainly astounding, being able to spot all of the main sites of Florence, which turns out is not that big of a city, which I think lets it retain its individuality. The bridges along the Arno River also give Florence a distinct character. In the last five minutes of our ride to the train station we discussed with the Brazilian couple possible dining options for the nighttime. Rupal and I had already decided that we were going to Dante’s, a nice Italian restaurant popular with young people because it offers FREE wine to students. Regardless, we were sad to say farewell to our little Italian family that we had formed in the past few hours. Turns out it wasn’t the last time we’d see them…

new Brazilian friends with Peter!

Florence and the Arno from above!

On the way home we stopped by the famous San Lorenzo market to pick out an item that Florence is known for: a leather jacket. Rupal “knew a guy” who could give us a really good deal on a really nice jacket. She wasn’t lying either as we bartered with Angelo, a charming semi-creepy Italian man who got Rupal’s number once I had picked out my jacket. He said if I kissed him he would give me an even better deal. HAHA. I can’t wait to show off my new brown leather jacket in America; I absolutely love it! I am also glad to report that I found many many goodies for certain eager you-know-who’s back home. Mission accomplished. Then it was NAP and shower time because tonight was the epic night out. And boy oh boy did it live up to the name. We started at Dante’s, and guess who the first person we saw as we entered the restaurant was? None other than little Maria with her parents. They invited us to join them at their table, but Rups and I wanted a little one-on-one time so we declined but were so excited they had heeded our suggestion! Too bad they didn’t get free wine. We were ushered to the basement of Dante’s and spent hours wining and dining on chardonnay, bread, lasagna, and tiramisu. Michael Jackson hits were playing in the background and we just enjoyed each other’s company and the Italian atmostphere. The Brazilian family even came down to say goodbye and Maria hugged us both J  so sweet. I guess we lost track of time because next thing we knew we were the only ones in the restaurant and the waiters were starting to pack up for the end of the night. So naturally we chugged the rest of the wine and moved on to our next destination!

Maria and Rups... gotta love 'em

early birthday celebration?

Rupal was on a mission to find a bar where only Italians hang out at because all of Florence is swarming with American students and tourists. So we went to Zoe, a chic bar across the river teeming with100% Italians, dark and beautiful. Somehow Rupal manages to semi blend in with the Italians because 1. She has the BEST accent ever and speaks the language really well and 2. She’s Indian? By this time we were both rather drunk and feeling very social, so we immediately befriend two middle-aged Italian men. Rupal did most of the talking because she wanted to use her Italian and I just sat there, unaware of what was going on around me. I do know that at some point, I think after a few beers, we all decided that a change of scenery was in order. On to Twice, which was indeed my second recollection of Bounds trip… figures. This club one of the most touristy places in Florence, but it also just happens to be one of the most outrageous and fun places in Florence (if you’re in the right mindset, which I WAS). Our new friends thought it’d be a good idea to buy us all tequila shots and after that… we ditched them. They were getting creepy and were WAY too old for us, so we “went to the bathroom”. Next thing I know I’m dancing and completely consumed with the hot YOUNG Italian man before my eyes. We danced the night away until shutting down yet another place circa 4am. The bright, florescent lights totally caught me by surprise and ruined the mood, so Rupal and I ran into the Italian night. On our way home (we were completely lost) we ran into some fun fifteen year old boys who pointed us in the right direction. End to an unforgettable night.

Since the past two mornings we woke up wayyyy to early, we decided to sleep in on Sunday. And by sleep in I mean until around 1pm. I know it’s lame, but we were seriously sleep deprived and would’ve been miserable otherwise. Eventually though we did get our booties out of bed to take in Florence. We first stopped at an American diner and I got a bacon cheeseburger, yes I did.  I want wing factory RIGHT now speaking of greasy American food… can’t wait for trivia night with my peeps. Moving on… afterwards we pretty much banged out every site in Florence one by one. The Duomo, Ponte Vecchio, Santa Croce, Pitti Palace, Piazza della Signora… you name it, I saw it. Since Florence is so small it only took a few hours to see the city, wandering in and out of cute streets and shops on the way. My favorite part was walking along the Arno and all of the unique architecture of the buildings. We passed a chain on the bridge completely overridden with locks which Rupal informed me were “love padlocks”. It is a custom, not only in Florence but all over the world, for lovers to affix locks to railings and throw the key into the river, proclaiming their enduring love for one another. I want to bring a lover back to Florence at some point. I ended my trip with gelato and a Panini. It was the cherry one top of one hell of an ice cream Sunday. Next trip is Paris, guaranteed more talk about food… but until next time yall… GO FALCONS!!

love you Rups!!