Thursday, December 17, 2015

An ode to Switzerland

An ode to Switzerland
I'll miss seeing the mountains on the train to school every morning; I'll miss the peculiarly trained Swiss dogs; I'll miss the swiss cheese and chocolate; I'll miss hearing at least 3 languages a day; I'll miss hearing the tram speaker saying mysterious numbers in French; I'll miss walking along the river every morning; I'll miss the croissants before class; I'll miss my professors with extreme stories of fleeing from Armenia or Pro-Palestinian protests; I'll miss mulled wine at school; I'll miss walks in the park with Nicolas; I'll miss early train rides; I'll miss mountain lakes; I'll miss long, day hikes; I'll miss dates with Megan; I'll miss spontaneity; I'll miss sitting on the steps of the train station watching everyone bustle to work; I'll miss staying up too late; I'll miss Ethno; I'll miss family dinners with the loveliest of friends; I'll miss Geneva; I'll miss it all.

20 favorite lessons
Here are a few of my favorite lessons I learned from studying abroad, making mistakes, making friends, traveling, traveling alone, getting lost, enjoying good food, seeing amazing sights, meeting strangers, being out of my comfort zone, being in total silence, experiencing the Earth, making incredible human connections, and loving a lot.

1. be open to love
2. be grateful for every moment
3. stay up too late with your friends
4. hike to the top of the mountain
5. have friends who carry headlamps in their purses
6. appreciate diversity in all its forms
7. eat dark chocolate
8. don't ever turn down tea (Adnan)
9. don't be lazy
10. discipline yourself in the direction of what you want most, regardless of anything
11. wake up an hour earlier to live an hour longer
12. if there is a choice between the road and the river, walk along the river
13. this beautiful planet we live on is amazing, so we should do everything in our power to keep it that way
14. trust, trust, trust in the process
15. befriend those who you most naturally gravitate towards, those are your true friends
16. go with the flow, it will be okay
17. take the time to find the perfect gift for someone you love
18. make friends with the locals
19. keep a journal
20. be adaptable and let yourself live

12 favorite mistakes
1. Being lost.  Attempting to get to Lucerne, Megan and I arrived late at night to a train station having only one hour to get to our hostel before check-in closed, knowing the hostel was half an hour away, having no map, no directions, no phone data, no information desk open, and no clue how to identify someone who speaks English (we did end up making it, and it was the best weekend of my life), but so many of these experiences have taught me, it's good to be lost.  Put down your phone.  These kind of situations were so inevitable, and although they happened and often, studying abroad would never have been the same had we not worked together, laughed in awkward companionship entirely unsure of what is ahead of us, and learned how to navigate the organic way. Be in touch with the world around you.  This was designed by someone brilliant, someone who was inspired by human connection and streets and how to create a community.  Experience it the way it was meant to be experienced.

2. Not knowing what the culturally appropriate way is to ask for a check. We literally have snt hours at restaurants making awkward eye contact with waiters, because in Switzerland, it isn't culturally accepted to wave down a waiter.. I honestly still don't know how to get a check in Europe.

3. Being overtired. Stay up all night.  Pack in a half an hour.  Leave at 4am.  Repeat. But as Emmy once said, "it fosters a sense of comradery. It's like..we're all here..we're all having a hard time doing life today, but we're all in it together." Being overtired has led to some of my favorite memories.. naps in the park, cuddling on the train, emergency coffee that requires us to run to the train that leaves in 20 seconds, laughing hysterically and uncontrollably on public transport. We lived so much life in these short 4 months.

4. That one night that must not be named

5. Research is important.  There were quite a few times that we would hop off of a train or a plane and look in both directions and say, "uh oh".  The times we didn't look up the address to the hostel.  The times we didn't look up what we wanted to do.  The times we didn't look up where to eat.  The times we didn't look up where the train station was.  The times we didn't look up train schedules.  The times we didn't look up anything.  Some of them are my favorite memories, but when you don't have cell phone data and no information desks, sticky situations get stickier. We learned quickly, but the lesson was definitely learned the hard way.  Research is always important. 

6. Not planning a week long trip until the night before. We planned a 10 day trip around Spain in one night.  And ended it with a lost camera, a lost phone, a lost jacket, a flight missed, a plane ticket lost, a lot of dirty laundry, and one of the best trips of our lives.

Causes of lost items throughout study abroad:
1 phone: clubbing too hard
1 phone: skiing too hard
1 camera: beaching too hard
1 credit card: spending too hard
1 passport: it happens

Thanks for always going hard, friends.

7. Don't speak a word of the language. Navigating through cities in which you can't read any street signs or even try to order a coffee is more than a challenge. Czech was so foreign and I couldn't even pronounce a single phrase if I tried. It really gives you a sense of independence and a realization that the world is not so difficult.  If you want to do something, just do it.  You'll figure it out.  Work hard, prepare yourself, do all the right things.  Inevitably, things will get messed up and you'll get off on the wrong stop or do the wrong thing, but it will be fine. Life will keep going and you'll figure it out. Not speaking the language makes me quiet.  It allows me to observe and to become part of the culture.  It taught me that people are just people.  People will try to help you.  People will smile back when you smile to them.  People will give kindness when you give it to them. I love it for its barrier qualities, which caused us to struggle, to be an adult, to trust, but I also love it for what beautiful human commonalities it brings forth and all the lovely human connection.

A side lesson learned from international travel: Trust your instincts.  Always.  You know when to hold onto your purse extra tight.  You can feel when you should turn left.  You know when someone is following you.  You know when someone needs a hug.  You can feel when someone needs space.  You know when something is off.  I am grateful for friends who trust their instincts and who speak up when they know something is wrong or even more, when something is right. 

8. Walk five miles home at 3am in Barcelona. Still in disbelief that we got home. Emmy once told me about this sign she saw when she hiked into the grand canyon a couple summers ago that said, "Going down is optional, coming up is mandatory." As in, you better be prepared to hike your ass out of the grand canyon after you stroll into it. Same with coming home from the club. 

9. Skip class (once). The world didn't end. It was magical. Yes, learning is amazing, but don't be a slave to the system.  Do it because you want to, not because someone tells you to.

10.  Go off the path, even if its in the snow with tennis shoes.

11. Spend obscene amounts of time with your friends. I will never ever regret a single post-midnight conversation or a walk to the grocery store when I didn't need anything or staying on campus two extra hours just so I could ride the train home and hear abut Megan & Emmy's day. 

12. Have no idea.  It's okay to not know.  I especially learned the value of not knowing what I'm doing next.  Don't plan everything.  If we were looking for something too hard, we ended up spending our time staring at a map and talking about logistics.  I refuse to spend my life talking about logistics. Look at the street.  Go to that restaurant with bad reviews.  It's worth not spending 20 minutes on your phone.  But also, be instinctive, don't waste time.  Do things, be active, see what you want to see. But it's a mindset of getting ourselves out of the habit of thinking we're running out of time.  We're not.  Life is happening in every moment. We sacrifice so much for plans and for the future, but life is only happening in the present.

 Every moment is so beautiful and every smile of a friend is worthy of your undivided attention. You never know when it may be fleeting. I will miss these beautiful people who live in every single moment with me. I will miss Emmy's soft side where she pulls he hair up or smiles at her book that is so different from political ranting Emmy, Adnan holding his camera capturing beautiful moments only he can see, Annie sticking her nose into a map and asking where the nearest bathroom is, CJ asking, in the most genuine manner possible, why I feel the way I feel, the vision of Caroline standing in the kitchen with a large concoction made by herself taste testing her new food invention with a silly grin, Grant pulling me into a headlock , asking me why he has to follow a certain social norm, the change in Spencer's expression when he speaks about his siblings, and the way Megan speaks about and cares for every single living thing. There was so much love shared and so much life experienced together in these last few months. So many laughs and secrets and memories. We grew together in a way that only that could never be recreated. We were lost in friendship and in love every step we took on every street. I am so grateful. 

"We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Budapest, Hungary


This weekend Megan, Annie, Emmy and I took off for Budapest.  It has one of Europe's best Christmas Markets.  It's famous for Christmas time mysticism. We stayed at Maverick City Lodge Hostel, one of Europe's Famous Hostels.  I've officially stayed at 5 of Europe's Famous Hostels! Maverick's was super nice, with a bar that offered free drinks from 8 to 10, so that was cool.  Hungary was satirically titled the "Happiest Barrack" within the eastern bloc. It had the smoothest transition from the former Soviets. During the communist regime, it had elements of the free market and improved human rights recorded.  I've been thinking so much about communism lately, but it is so incredibly interesting seeing the culture differences between countries that are post-communism and not. You can feel it as soon as you start walking on the streets. People are quieter, more reserved, less friendly.  There is a less openness to public boisterousness or defiance of social norms.
Budapest differed from Prague in the sense that it was more open to this boisterous city feel that Americans are so used to.  Not as much as Italy the week before, but definitely more than Prague.

The one thing that stood out to me about Budapest was walking through the metro stations at nighttime.  It is a very poor country and at night, there were homeless people lining the walls of any metro station you walked through.  This was the worst I've ever seen it.  It was different than beggars being on the trams or gypsies on the streets, it was actual homelessness. Large communities of suffering people living amongst normalcy.  I also noticed a lot of partying--but more than that.. drunkenness.  I was in Barcelona on the weekend, and it still wasn't as bad as Budapest.  They're known for their party scene, but it was more than that.  It was when we were walking home in the different neighborhoods that Megan and I finally looked at each other and said, "..every single person is drunk." There was throw up all over the streets and people stumbling alone on back streets. I wondered if it had to do with the level of poverty. 1984 had it right.

Besides this, Budapest was beautiful.  During the daytime, people were friendly, everyone spoke English, and there was always the smell of fresh food.

Christmas Markets
In the square, it was all decorated with lights and trees.  There was Christmas music playing over the entire Christmas market from speakers along the sides.  There was a sense of unity amongst everyone in the market. Children were ice skating.  It was the most Christmasy place I have ever been in my life. We got mulled wine and walked around the market quite a few times.  All the shops were very authentic, with the people who crafted the arts working in the stands. And Budapest was cheap! There was one night, I had an appetizer, a full meal, and a pint of beer for about $6.00; I wouldn't even be able to get half a pint of beer for that in Geneva!

Thermal Baths
Budapest is famous for its Thermal Baths.  We went to one on Saturday night.  It was a huge building with multiple indoor and outdoor baths.  We went to an outdoor bath with lights and bubbles.  We ended up finding a whirl pool in the bath.. a literal whirl pool where you would get in the stream and it would take you flying in a circle.  It was like a speedy lazy river.  And we probably laughed straight for 25 minutes swimming around in a circle like children.
You can see the whirl pool in the picture below. It was much quieter when we were there, but there were lights in the pool and big white clouds strung up above us. It was extremely fun.

Shoe Memorial

For those who were forced to strip naked, line up, and then were shot on account of their religion, sexuality, or ethnicity.

Protested Memorial
This memorial was being protested by Hungarians, and especially the Jewish community.  It was a WWII "German Occupation" memorial which depicts Hungary as the innocent Angel Gabriel.  The message of the monument is that Hungarians could not resist Nazi Germany and, therefore should be resolved of blame of the terrors of WWII.
But the truth is that Germany did not occupy Hungary under the imperial eagle as depicted, it was under the Swastika and Hungarian authorities helped carry out the deportations.  Hungary deported over 437,000 Hungarian Jews to death camps.
How is history expected to not repeat itself when American textbooks refuse to acknowledge its own crime of the largest genocide in recorded history and when countries refuse to take responsibility for their authorities deporting hundreds of thousands of their own citizens.

The beautiful neogothic styled Parliament

Cat Cafe


Not the Chain Bridge
In Budapest, there is a famous Chain Bridge.  We went to the chain bridge, but later we found out, we actually were not on the chain bridge the entire time
We frolicked on the bridge for about an hour, and I have no idea why we stayed there.  We all had to pee, it was cold, we were on a super ordinary looking bridge.  But we climbed on the bridge while cars and trams drove by us.  We laughed really hard at everything.  The wind was loud so our conversations were muddled.  Megan & I were watching an interesting looking dog walk by, and I said, "it looks like a lion," and Megan goes, "really I think it looks like a tiger," then Emmy (who was in a conversation with Annie) chimed in, "It DOES look like a hyena." Silly conversations with the people I love that I will remember forever.
Our bridge. A super ordinary place with super extraordinary people.

Thanks for our last trip. I love you ladies with my whole heart.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Rome, Italia

Rome is incredible.  It is full of romance. The people are expressive, argumentative, and full of life.  They talk to one another as if they have known each other for years.  In the midwest, we smile and are friendly to everyone, but in Italy, you could see people walk up close to someone and ask for advice in an absurdly casual manner.  Even when an Italian is angry, they will yell at you as if you are arguing politics with a cousin at Thanksgiving dinner.
Rome has existed for more than 2 and a half thousand years. There are ancient ruins everywhere. So much of what we have today came from Rome. It is an incredible city.

I came to Rome on a school trip with my Art Appreciation class. We've been learning about the history of Rome and also how to analyze art and understand the differences in time eras whilst appreciating art.
Our professor is the quickest processor of information that I know.  She speaks in poetry and uses solely romance words.  While walking, she would quietly slip her arm into yours and come close to you and ask you about how you are or what you think about the art or explain why something is magnificent.  She was a mother and a guide.  I could spend all day just listening to her talk about anything that comes to her mind.  She cares about the world and knows the importance of experiencing a life that is beautiful.  I could never have asked for a better professor or human to experience Rome under the guidance of.
Our tour guide, Bruno was also an amazing person.  He also has a love language of touch.  He would constantly be saying, "isn't that amazing?" while looking into your eyes and placing a gentle hand on your back, genuinely wanting to know if you found it amazing.  He gave us every part of Rome that he could.  We tasted plants on the streets and felt everything.  We experienced Rome not with one sense, but all of them.  He was family and I wish I could steal him and pack him on all my trips.

The Vatican was beautiful.  We went through the Vatican Museums. It was incredible to see so many famous paintings in person, especially School of Athens.  It's so crazy, when you've seen a painting your whole life, then to see it in person.  I've never seen so much art that I loved all in one day. Raphael, Michelangelo, they were insane.  They were geniuses, but also slaves to their labor. I especially loved all of the harmonious renaissance art, but the elaborate, moving, inspiring, Godly baroque art was astonishing as well.  Renaissance art in Rome creates a sense of peace.  I could sit with it for hours experiencing its perfection. Perfect colors, perfect lines, perfect shapes. The perfection of light and shadows and angelic faces so full of this mesmerizing restrained emotion.

We were lucky.  We were in Rome on the off-season meaning we got to see everything with no lines, and with hardly any crowd. It was perfect.  We did so many things, it is impossible to write about it all, but the history we learned was incredible and Rome cannot be explained on a page.  One thing said by our tour guide that I especially loved was... Roma.. spelled backwards is.. Amor.

The stairwell that inspired the Guggenheim.

St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica was incomprehensibly immense.  I was able to go to the room that was designated for prayer and meditated on all the beauty.  It seems as if trying to absorb all this art in a couple hours could have been overwhelming, which it was definitely was, but it was also so amazing because there was no time to analyze or memorize.  Instead it was a fluid motion of allowing the art to pass through your emotions and your vulnerabilities.  Every person witnessing the art, praying inside the basilica, wandering through the long corridors are simply refraction of the beauty on the walls.  The walls spoke.  The floors echoed melodically.  People moved differently.  Took lighter steps.  Spoke softer, more gentle words.  We are all transformed by the beauty, without our consent.  It is inevitable that we are moved by beauty.
I could have stayed on my knees for hours meditating and ridding myself of my physical confinement and my surroundings; everything was wonderfully in accord with its surroundings

Megan, Paige & I went to an Opera Friday night. We saw La Traviata.  It was odd to watch an Opera without subtitles because all you had was the music and the visual, but it gave new perspective and appreciation.  It was beautifully amplified by the natural acoustics of the church.

The Colloseum was amazing.  I can't believe the history.  It also re-eforced my "no tv" policy.  The Roman government gave these people these horrific games to entertain the people, to keep them occupied. Do we want to live a life of staying occupied, or a life of freedom of thought and progression of human capabilities. It reminds me not to be distracted by what is meant to keep people down.
On the other side, the Colloseum is truly a magnificent piece of architecture.  I felt giddy just being in its presence. It is so big, and so old, and so amazing. On the inside, you could see the stage & how animals and gladiators would be kept under the stage before being propped up into the arena.  Also, fun fact, the word Arena actually comes from Latin which is the sand in which was used to soak up blood in the Colloseum. 

HEATHER BANKS was in Rome at the same time this weekend! We have been trying to figure out how to see each other while in Europe, and of course, after we thought we definitely wouldn't, we ended up in the same city on accident. We sat at a wine bar with Mama & Papa banks, Jake, Heather, and Megan & I. I still can't believe how lucky I got with my beloved freshman year roommate.  College would never have been the same without Heather.  She was everything I needed at exactly the time I needed it and every time I am with her, I'm reminded of how perfectly harmonious our friendship is. My favorite pillow talk partner.

Late night Abbey Theatre & Trevi Fountain
After meeting Heather, Megan & I (already a few classes of wine deep) went to an Irish Pub, called Abbey Theatre.  It was crowded and loud, like any good Irish Pub, so we found a two person table in a corner and laughed way too hard over a half pint of cider that lasted us at least 2 hours. I love every conversation I have with Megan.  I always feel on the same page with her, mostly just because of the way that she is.  She said once a teacher described her as a "gentle leader" which is so true.  She is kind and gentle, but is also strong-willed and knows exactly what she stands for.  I never stop learning from every conversation I have with her.  We spend our pillow talk talking about all the things we love and appreciate about other people and how not being able to lie has actually been a legitimate struggle in both of our lives.  She tells me how I should walk upon the earth as if I was walking through a church, with reverence.  She has a beautiful balance in her that is contagious.
At about 2 am, we began our 20-30 minute walk back to the hotel.  The streets of Rome were strangely empty. We scurried quickly down side streets, enjoying our perfect evening.  Then we passed the Trevi fountain, and stopped to enjoy its emptiness. There were couples of lovers sitting around the fountain whispering to one another, smiling softly, and enjoying the romanticism that is Rome in its entirety. We crashed the party and walked around the fountain analyzing its artistic characteristics. We crept closer and closer to the fountain wondering if we where exactly the line was of "no trespassing", but we didn't see one, or any police, so we crept up into a corner of the Trevi Fountain and climbed on the limestone around the marble.  The next day we saw police patrolling the area & realized we were definitely not suppose to have been there, but now it will forever be "our spot"

Christmas lights in Rome, with heart balloons (of course).
The Pantheon

So Bruno, our amazing tour guide, has a friend who built a restaurant on a super insanely ancient site.  No tourists go there, but Bruno brought us.  This wall is older than Christ.  Megan and I were so amazed by this wall.  I have never touched anything so old in my life.  We were talking about how we wanted to take it with us.  Megan told me to eat it... so I did.  So I ate a piece of a wall from BC.  I'm pretty happy about it.

Rome was amazing.  Full of pasta and loud Italians.  With a full experience of art and true friendship.