Wednesday, May 6, 2009

An eventful Homecoming

The 48 hours prior to flying back to the U.S. of A was incredibly intense as we tried to catch all of our planes, trains and automobiles. We made it back to Madrid late at night and had about 4 hours to repack and head out to the airport to fly home! I definitely didn't get any sleep that night and despite the exhaustion I felt, I only slept 2 hours on the plane! So needless to say, I was a little delirious when I landed in Provo. I can't explain the feeling of accomplishment and relief when I realized what all I had just seen and done! But more importantly, I was just so excited to be with my family again and finally meet my new niece, Maria! She is such a perfect little baby, I love getting to be her Aunt! I loved being with my sister and family and getting to share this special time in all of our lives.

Plus, my brother-in-law graduated from the BYU school of Business, with honors. What a huge accomplishment and congrats to him! Maria was a trooper through it all, and even adorned a pink graduation cap my mom made for her. So cuuuuuuttteee!

Looking through London

Last city: London A foggy day in London Town...Houses of Parliament. I loved these vintage taxis! ParliamentBIG BEN! Eye of London, biggest Ferris Wheel in Europe! Street performers are all over. That kid was just too cute!The one thing I really wanted to do in London was see a play! So...we saw one day! Our first one was Les Miserables, one of my FAVORITE plays. London didn't let me down, it was incredible! The actor who played Jean Valjean was fantastic. Sierra and I both left with jaws dropped. Second play of the day: Wicked which was a bit more lighthearted! I had never seen it before and only knew a few of the songs. In the end, I loved it! The costuming and staging was just fun and who doesn't love the song "loathing?"
This is in the Kensington Gardens, not too far from the palace. Thar gardens connect with Hyde park which is an awesome park.
Streets of London. Very ideal.

We had to see the changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. It's very different from the one in D.C. but it was still fun! Somehow I managed to grab this shot! We were actually standing amongst a very packed group of people. I stuck my arm above the crowd with camera in hand and hoped for a good shot, this is what came out! (after a few unsuccessful attempts of course...)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Perusing through Paris

Next city: Paris.

We had so much fun here!!

The Champs Elysees. As you walk down it half of it is tree-lined and just so beautiful. Being April in Paris, everything was in bloom and the trees were so incredibly green. I'm from Washington the greenest state in the U.S. and even I was amazed! The other half of the street is lined with shops and just busy with people. Along here (with the recommendation by a good friend, Em) we found Paul, one of the best bakery/pastry shops in town! We had to try the vanilla macaroons (another recommendation). Oh my goodness. so tasty.

The Arc de Triomphe. It really is SO BIG. From the top of the Eiffel Tower it totally stuck out. It's also a roundabout, one I would not want to attempt driving in. I really think once I got in the circle of cars I wouldn't be able to get out!

The Louvre. Despite the fact that my legs were about to fall off from all of the walking we had done, I loved getting lost in this museum. (yes, we actually got lost...) Out of all of the collections, the paintings were my favorite. I was so excited to see the Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David. And of course we had to see the Mona Lisa. It was pretty amazing to see how everyone just skimmed by other incredible art and headed straight for the Mona Lisa. I enjoyed seeing it, but I wasn't a fan of the pushing and shoving of the mob of people trying to get a closer look! Overall, I was so impressed by the variety of collections in the Louvre. Much like the Prado, it could take days to fully see it all. Once again, I'm just going to have to make a trip back!
Underneath the glass pyramid of the Louvre.

Château de Versailles. We took a tour through the palace which was cool. I feel like I need to go watch the move Marie Antoinette again. The Hall of Mirrors was impressive which, if I'm correct, still has most of the original glass? wow. The frescos alone were enough to keep your eyes busy.

perhaps the most impressive part of this property is the hundreds of acres of gardens. Running through a huge portion of it is the Grand Canal, full of row boats and swans. Some of the finely kept hedges created mazes and cool designs. The farther you got out the more it looked like the picture above with the trees creating a tunnel above our heads. Most of the tourists stuck to closer to the palace which was nice because back here it was so peaceful! Tucked back in the gardens is Marie Antoinette's little get away. There is just no question that Versailles is a must see when visiting Paris. Notre Dame!

Love the flying buttresses...

Just can't get enough pictures of this one.

Walking through the Champ de Mars back to the hotel.

In the Jardin de Luxembourg where it was a common site to see old men playing bocce ball pong?

Lacking an alliteration for Venice

Venice. I don’t even know where to start! It’s weird to think that there is not a single car, moped or bus on this island! Only the roar of boat engines. We took the water “bus” to St. Marks and without a map found our hotel! (Quite an accomplishment considering the labyrinth that Venice is) Our hotel was right alongside a canal (as pretty much everything is) and just a few minutes from St. Marks.

We had several days in Venice so we just took our time. We wandered all around the tiny little streets. We shopped about all of the stores full of masquerade masks, jewelry and glass art.

St. Mark's was...well... overrun by tourists! My favorite time to visit it was at night when most of the people were gone and the clusters of string quartets were still playing. During the day it is so busy and the pigeons are just out of control. Really. They don't shy away from humans, and if you have food in your hand, they'll come and land RIGHT ON YOU. After feeling the wings of one flutter across the side of my face one time, I was done with them. There are a few little cafes in the square that are notorious for being ridiculously don't sit down unless you're prepared to pay 5 euros for a 1/4 liter of water!

Chelsea was leaving us the next day so we had to get on a gondola before she left! As cliche as it might seem, it really is so fun. There is just nothing like it.

Our gondolier was a riot. I just picture him to be more of a Harley guy instead of delicately maneuvering a gondolier!

The gondolier took us out onto the Grand Canal. In the background is the Rialto Bridge, probably the most famous of them all.

Love the stripes.

It's just weird to think that this city is sinking 2 inches a decade! Not far from here Sierra, Chels and I were just chillin on a dock when a small delivery boat docked beside us. We didn't think much of it, until one of the guys started talking to us. He knew some English from living in the U.S. doing what? Boat driving of course! We became instant friends. It was probably one of the funniest conversations I've ever had with a stranger. We went from talking about the sewage in Venice, to Gnocchi (my all-time FAVORITE Italian dish) to how he became a boat driver. Basically, it's just like us and driving a car. It's just kind of innate within us. He said he's been "rowing since he was in the womb" His buddy came back and we said farewell! Those are the moments I love most. It's fun being a tourist, but getting to know more about the day-to-day life is what really fascinates me.
Sierra and I spent the next few days getting lost. We'd sit on the edges of a canal and serenade the gondolas floating by in our best opera voices. (all the while getting pictures taken of us by Chinese people?) We found our favorite bridge which was actually just close to our hotel. It was much less populated so we'd sit there for hours just watching gondola after gondola go by. Sometimes we'd even rate the looks, form and technique of the gondolier. I think we're close to experts on the subject by now. At times one would come down with a guy singing and playing the accordion! Venice is literally what you imagine it to be and more. Plus, I set out to do two things: find the best tasting Gnocchi and find my cannoli! Since day one I'd been on the hunt for this amazing Italian dessert. Well, on our last day there I FOUND my cannoli! And in conclusion, I ate some amazing Gnocchi but the best I've ever had was at La Vella in NYC. I guess I'll just have to make a trip back there again...

Flying through Florence

Once again, time was an issue, so we made the best of it in Florence. We took a guided tour which was our best decision here! It was so fascinating! I didn’t know what to expect from Florence, but learning the history really brought it alive.

The Arno River, floating all the way to Pisa

On my "Top 3 Cathedrals in Europe" list. Though rather modest on the inside, you wouldn't assume it from the exterior.
Oooooook. Gelato.

We took a quick train ride out to Pisa! It's true, the tower leans...

aaaand...don't judge, it's just something you have to do.

Running through Rome

I packed my life for the next 18 days into a small duffel and thus the journey began. Sierra was my traveling comrade through it all, along with Chelsea who unfortunately could only be with us through Italy! But I’d have to say we made quite the team as we took on traveling through Europe.

Our first stop was Rome and RUNNING we were. We had two days to see it all, TWO DAYS! We seriously didn’t waste a minute. It didn’t take us long to notice that distinct Italian accent, the insane drivers and well, let’s face it…good looking men!
The place we stayed was located just feet away from the Spanish Steps. I'm embarrassed to say that it took us more than a few hours to realize it, we just could not figure out WHAT was going on and WHY so many people were sitting on these steps? Honestly, they're only famous for being in some movie, so I really don't feel too bad.
Our first stop was the Vatican. With long lines everywhere we just picked one and wondered where it would take us. The picture above was the end result: St. Peter's Basilica. It. Is. MASSIVE. It's just hard to explain until you actually see it, but my neck hurt after looking up so much! We were lucky enough to be there right as a mass began. To hear the singing echo throughout the place was incredible.
We walked all along the river, hitting several piazzas on our way. One thing I can confirm is that Rome is really truly FULL of mopeds, and the drivers are fearless.
Perhaps this looks a little familiar. The Colosseum, built in around 70 a.d. Though a mere shell of what once was a structure covered in marble, it still remains so stately. Once inside I saw that maze where so many gladiators risked their lives. Just crazy. I'm glad to be born in this century!
Up above the Colosseum is Palatine Hill, which was once covered by palaces but is now just a hilltop full of gardens and fragments of ancient villas. The shot above is of the Roman Forums (also where we ran into my roommate from Spain, Lara and her mom! Really, out of the HUNDREDS of people who visit Rome each day, we happened to be in the same place at the same time)
Next: the Pantheon! This is an incredible structure that is STILL standing in it's entirety. It's rounded dome is an architectural wonder.
We couldn't leave Rome without seeing it by night! We (for the second time) walked by the Colosseum, Piazza Navona, and the Pantheon. There is a little piazza right in front of the Pantheon that is lined with little cafes. As we walked through we joined a crowd of bystanders watching a man (wearing tights...) serenading the diners! He was singing some of the classics of Bocelli, how fitting. He had a descent opera voice, but I think I'd give him more of an "A for effort..." The picture above was also one of our stops, the Trevi Fountain! Naturally we made a wish and threw a coin into the water. (That wish still hasn't come true...)

Perhaps I'm a little homesick for Spain

Alright. I've procrastinated long enough. I have quite a blogging task ahead of me to catch up! I supposed I'd like to start first with one last blog about Spain. (Disregard this blog if you are tired of hearing about Spain!!) Here it goes. I couldn't sleep one night a few weeks before I left Spain. I got on my laptop and just started typing. Anyways here's a bit from what came of that:

I've loved just feeling like a part of everyday life here. I loved just sitting at the dinner table chatting with Luisa (madre) about random (and sometimes insignificant) things such as mopping floors, or why we love our dogs. I loved joking around with Juama (hermano) as we talked about dating. (some hilarious conversations certainly came from this topic…) I loved walking down the streets of Alcalá watching the locals bringing home their groceries in their little karts- pan (or a baguette) always in hand. I think I saw at least ten people each day walking with just a bag full of bread. I loved riding the bus without having to hold my breath every time the driver screamed by a parked car with literally half an inch to spare, or riding in the back because it’s much more like a roller coaster ride when we make the hair pin turns (barely missing citizens). I loved the challenge of the language barrier. Every day brought new opportunities to communicate whether it be asking for a different color shirt in a clothing store, a sample of ice cream, or directions (and trying to understand the answer even more so.) I loved visiting the Monday market (where I could buy anything from lingerie to fruit) with hundreds of other locals and vendors screaming prices in my face. I loved just walking on my own, listening to others converse, finding a park bench to sit on and watch the elderly enjoy their retirement, the “punkies” feeling so cool as they lit up, the masses of locals both young and old playing an intense game of soccer or the millions of Spaniards walking their little dogs adorned in sweaters or some sort of fashion. I loved watching the little kids navigate their way through life carrying a backpack almost the size of their body, or walking alongside a sibling, both clothed in matching dresses, tights, and the essential bows in the hair. I loved getting into the music scene both old and new. I loved making friends with locals to practice my Spanish over tapas at a local café. I loved cooking in the kitchen with Luisa, learning the ways of a true Spanish housewife! I loved riding the train to Madrid with other Spaniards coming from all walks of life. I loved figuring out the metro system. I loved checking off item after item on my “Spain Bucket List” such as taking Salsa lessons at a local discoteca. All of this has shown me how independent I am. True I came with 23 other BYU students, and even though we all saw a lot of the same things, the experience was still unique and personal to each and every one of us. This experience taught me so much (I'll spare you all of that blah blah) but one thing I will say is that though I enjoy history (somewhat) I enjoy experiencing culture in real-time. There is nothing like being a part of it, being able to see it, hear it and even smell it first-hand. Though I only spent a few short months there, Spain will forever be a part of me.