Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to you! My day has been different from the norm (obviously), but really nice. My floor mates and I prepared a nice meal together and have been having a relaxing yet productive day. The weather has been beautiful here, sunny and high 60's. It is hard to be away from my family, but between the Easter card and candy sent and the Skype calls from my sisters during my favorite songs in church, I at least know they miss me too!

Us on Easter last year :)

Since coming back from Rome, I have been getting organized, crossing things off of my to do list, and sadly, have realized just how little time I have left here. Seeing that my next trip was not until May 2 (to Helsinki, Tallinn, and St. Petersburg), I saw a window of opportunity to travel with my floor mate and dear friend, Mercy. We had previously discussed our desire to see Brussels and Amsterdam, and one night, jumped at the chance to get the plan going. This was on Tuesday, and we leave 2 days from today. I know, crazy! The process of booking a place to stay so last minute has been a bit messy, but I am confident it will work out.

My sister and I are also adding more details to when she comes, and have decided to go to Paris together! We bought our tickets and everything, it is a done deal. I went there with my French class 4 years ago, and am so excited to see it again now that I have seen so much more of Europe. It will be interesting to see how much French I remember...  I think she will absolutely love it and I hope I am able to prove helpful in getting us around successfully.

This week, I have thought a lot about how much I miss school at home. I registered for classes and could not be more excited to begin my program and learn about things that I care about. I will never again take UND, its feeling of community, and all of its awesome events for granted. A special shout out to my amazing Thetas: I can't wait to reunite when I get back!

So, that's pretty much the update from this week. I have been pretty tied up with classes and doing an assignment (I know, it is hard to believe!), and of course, tirelessly planning trips. I can't wait for the next post when I can tell you about my awesome trip. See you soon!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

When in Rome

I just got home last night from Rome and let me tell you, wow. That city absolutely blew me away. It is not only full of history, but so beautiful, and the food and weather could not be better. This trip was the one that I by far took the most pictures. Prepare for a lot of them!

We left on Monday extremely early in the morning. We=Me, Colin, and Julia (2 canadian exchange students I met this semester who also go to Karlstad).

The journey there was pretty uneventful, but getting off the plane was like walking into a dream. See, with these low cost airlines, you walk down steep steps off of the plane to the ground, there is no hallway there for you to connect with the airport. In Oslo, this was pretty miserable. It was foggy, cold, and just plain gloomy. Getting off in Italy this way was fine by me, with the greeting of palm trees, sunshine, and warm air.

We found our hostel (eventually) and quickly found that we made the right decision by spending a little bit more to stay in a good location. We were in the Trastevere area, which had plenty of places to shop and eat. It was only a few blocks from the Tiber River, from which all major attractions are relatively close. We freaked out a bit when we saw the Vatican without going a step out of our way.

The first night there, we just meandered around and got a first glimpse of the city. We got a lot more than we bargained for, however, when we literally kept running into all of the most famous sights. 

Oh hey, Colosseum!

The first meal, of course, was some pizza with a nice italian wine. We quickly realized we would have a week of amazing food. Pizza will never be the same...

On Tuesday, we got up and went to explore the Vatican. We soon found that Rome is not a map-friendly city with its tiny alleys everywhere and lack of street signs. We ended up asking a priest on the street where it was.... We felt bad but hey, we got there! 

We were instantly bombarded by peddlers and people offering us to pay for "skipping the line" to get into St. Peter's Basilica, but we decided since it was free admission, it would be fine to wait. It was a beautiful day and the line went fast, so it was definitely the right decision. Plus, the square is beautiful and it was nice to have so many photo-ops.

Walking into the church, my breath was literally taken away. Every square inch was covered in paintings, sculptures, marble, or precious metals. It was exquisite. There was also several side chapels, some designated just for prayer only, which was really cool. I was happy to have heeded the advice of several travel blogs warning me to dress modestly. They were especially strict on covering the shoulders.

Next, we headed up to the dome, to the (very tiny) observatory deck at the top of the Basilica. 550+ steps later wearing a maxi skirt in a very claustrophobic, stinky, non-air conditioned stairway, I found the view to be totally worth it. 

We checked out the Pantheon, built in 70 impressive.

Then we made our way to the Trevi Fountain! I had a total Lizzie McGuire moment.

After some gelato (my kryptonite), we headed to the Spanish Steps for a little break.

We then refueled with, you guessed it, more pizza. No regrets :)

On Tuesday, we headed to Santa Marinella Beach, about a 40 minute train ride from Rome. It was SO beautiful. Palm trees and teal water, the whole nine yards. It was the perfect day to relax, get away from the tourist areas, and take in the Mediterranean Sea.

We then headed back to Rome, sunburnt, happy, and hungry. We showered and got all spiffied up. Our next food mission was pasta. Colin looked up "the best pasta in Rome" and found Madonna and Robert DiNero's favorite place, Antica Pesa, so we figured it was probably a safe bet. We had no idea what we were in for when we finally found it. Walking in, we were greeted by walls plastered with pictures of A-List celebrities who had eaten there. I am talking Will Smith, Anne Hathaway, J. Lo, Tom Hanks, Russel Crowe, and pretty much every famous person you could ever think of was on those walls. 

We asked our waiter if anyone famous was there, and he said no but that Matthew McConaughey had been there in the last week. Whoa. Needless to say, it was the best pasta of my life. And the wine list was literally twice the size of any textbook I have ever had. I am pretty sure our waiter got in trouble for not upselling us 3 more courses, but it was totally worth it.

On Thursday, we headed back towards the Colosseum area to get a closer look. We went inside and wow, it was incredible to see what it was like inside. Such an iconic monument of the past with such an interesting history. I took about a gazillion pictures from every angle, it is definitely something I never want to forget.

We then checked out the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, the ruins of the ancient city. While this area was the center, ruins of ancient society are dispersed all over Rome. They have done a great job of building the modern city around these and leaving them as a preserved memory of the past. It is a constant reminder of how old the city is, and it is incredible to think of how long they have been standing. I especially love the element of mystery to it. Obviously these structures served some level of importance to be built so well, but it is left to the imagination to what they actually were and used to look like when they were completely intact.

We then headed to the roof of the national museum to take in the incredible view. 

And the cathedral connected to it, which just so happened to be covered in chandeliers. Amazing.

That night we made dinner with the help of the local grocery store homemade pasta section...gnocchi with prosciutto, tomato sauce, and parmesan. It was a pretty amazing meal for 3 Euros each. We then took our cheap wine into the city (you are allowed to drink in public) to take in 2 of our favorite places at night: the Pantheon and Trevi Fountain. 

On Friday, we went to the market in the morning. Rome's oldest market to be exact, called Campo de' Fiori. We picked up some fruit and cheese and were in fresh food heaven. The colors were so cool.

We chilled in a few Piazzas (squares where people gather, usually containing a fountain or sculpture), and then got some food (I got a calzone, so good!). We then went to see Castle Sant'Angelo, which has passages leading to the Vatican, which was pretty neat to learn.

Then, back to the Pantheon for some last minute gelato. My favorite flavor is a 3-way tie between coffee, mango, and chocolate. You really can't go wrong.

We headed back to our hostel for the last time to pack up, and began the very, very long journey home. Since our flight was the first one in the morning, we had to camp out at the airport all night since the shuttles didn't run that early in the morning. It wasn't fun, but we were all so tired we were just happy to be able to sit for practically the first time all week. Going back to Oslo was a slap of reality, as the weather was (like usual) crappy. But, I made it back safely, and my floor mates are all jealous of my (soon to be) tan. 

Things that surprised me about Rome: Smaller than I thought, people were generally decent at English (even if they couldn't answer in English, they seemed to understand the question), it looked almost exactly as I pictured, SO MANY peddlers and beggars, a lot more tropical than I thought, people are always willing to help you if you are lost.

Tips: If you see an open door to a church, GO INSIDE. Every single one is absolutely incredible and you will not regret it. That being said, make sure to pack a sweater as many churches require you to cover your shoulders. Eat the food, it actually is the best in the world. Mmmm. Don't pay attention to the sellers on the streets. They will follow you if you show the slightest interest. Bargain with them if you want to buy something. They might refuse you since they deal with so many ignorant tourists, but it is worth a try. Wear sunblock and wear comfortable shoes, those cobblestones can really do some damage. Don't expect your map to always get you to where you need to go, don't be afraid to ask for help if you are unsure. Bring a water bottle, there is fresh spring water fountains everywhere to refill with all day. Be cautious, make sure you know where your wallet/purse is at all times, but don't be paranoid that everyone is trying to rob you. As long as you are aware and smart about it, you will be fine. Mid April weather is perfect, but any closer to summer, you may be uncomfortably hot (but that's just me).

Proof of the church tip: hard to believe these aren't famous

I could not be happier that I had the opportunity to visit this amazing city. I highly recommend that everyone go there sometime in their life as it truly is a must see. There is no other place like it.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Just a little update

This week flew by! On Monday, I had choir practice. On Tuesday, I began my new classes. I am actually pretty excited about the film course, but am still undecided on how I feel about my Intercultural Communications one. I hope it gets better is all I gotta say....

On Wednesday we made waffles. Because, yolo.

On Thursday, I picked the girls I nanny up from school and we decided it was a nice day to visit the park. They live about 3 blocks from Mariebergsskogen, a place where nature is preserved and you can even see some animals such as horses, goats, birds, rabbits, and fish (not wild ones of course). There is also a park by the beach and a small museum with a cafe. I love how they emphasize the importance of spending time outdoors here.

And then I unexpectedly came home to dinner on the table. Nice ;)

On Friday, we spent some time in the city, and it was so beautiful we couldn't resist taking a stroll. Sometimes I take for granted just how beautiful little old Karlstad is. I can't wait for warm weather and spending more time by the water.

Dysfunctional :)

Today I spent time with my contact family and helped make the best kanelbulle I have ever had (if I do say so myself). Afterwards, we had an amazing dinner of salmon with red wine and dill, potatoes with a creamy onion sauce, salad, and red/white wine to drink. They really do spoil us. I am so lucky to share in their company, they are such good people.

So yeah, that is pretty much it. A busy but mainly uneventful week. I have also been checking a lot of things off of my to do list because (drumroll please) I leave for ROME tomorrow! Looking at the forecast alone is making me so excited (sunny and 75 the whole week...yes please)! I promise the next blog post will be much more interesting...stay tuned xoxo

Monday, March 31, 2014

Real Talk

The beginning of this is a post written especially for those who are interested in studying abroad themselves. It is a realistic look into a very normal part of the emotional process of living so far from home. While it is an amazing experience I wish everyone could have the privilege of doing, it isn't always the glamorous, carefree, and easy life some paint it to be. It is hard being away from familiarity and not getting to share in the good and bad of the people you love most. It is hard being in a place where you don't always know where to go and people don't necessarily know your language. It is hard to realize that not everyone is like you.

But it is also the best part, because that is when you know that there is so much more to learn and appreciate that you never even considered possible, and had you stayed home you would have never even realized it.

This week has been completely different from any other weeks I have had here. Between stresses with school, being sick, dealing with a trip suddenly being cancelled (yep, Berlin and Prague died due to having not enough people sign up, my heart is actually broken), and having it snow again, I found myself missing home a lot and constantly comparing everything to what I considered to be "normal".

I can't even believe it has been almost 3 months since my sisters brought me to the airport. Wow.

There was even a couple of days where everything (and I mean everything) annoyed me. It's like the rose colored glasses had been removed and I was seeing things for what they are instead of marveling at every little detail. We had been warned of this phenomenon during our orientation when we were taught about the stages of culture adaptation. I am fairly certain I am at the "confronting deeper cultural/personal issues" one and it will only be up from here. But still, yikes. The struggle is real.

I am especially surprised at how bothered I feel over how much people think they know about the US. I say I am American and at first they are all like "Wow! Really? Oh that is so awesome, I have always wanted to go there! I can't believe I am meeting you, what are the chances? Can I have your autograph?" (Maybe a little dramatic, but just a little.) And then it always turns into something like "Oh so everyone eats McDonald's for every meal? And if you don't have health insurance, they just watch you die on the street? And, I know that if you are a woman in government who is a single parent, you are shunned by all other politicians." Uhhhh what?! Where do people even get this stuff? Absolutely ridiculous. Bye. I don't know why people care so much about what (they think) is going on in the US. So strange. 

Despite my inner struggles, it was an okay week. Pretty average, actually, with the exception of a final exam. I had choir on Monday, had class and studied on Tuesday, nannied on Wednesday, took my exam on Thursday, and attended a birthday party on Friday. Since my exam on Thursday, I feel so much more relaxed. Test anxiety does not care which hemisphere you are in, apparently. I am excited for my next (and final) courses to begin, Film Study and Intercultural Communication. 

On Saturday, we enjoyed the Carnaval Party (and probably had more fun making costumes than anything else :) )

On Sunday, a group of us went to the lake (Lake Vänern to be exact, which is the 3rd largest lake in Europe and also happens to be a 10 minutes drive from campus). It was

Laying on a rock, good times.

We even stayed for the sunset. It was such a relaxing way to end a stressful week. You got it right, that is a #sunsetselfie 

So, now after all of the negativity is off my chest, here comes the upswing of my experience. I can feel it. Helped along by the soon to come beautiful spring weather, of course. I will be traveling to Rome in just over a week and have other travel plans in the works of being confirmed. Nothing but good things ahead and I am excited for this stage to pass. That being said, a big shout out to the amazing folks at home, can't wait to see you in a very short 3 months. Much love!

PS I love my floormates and don't know what I would do without them. So lucky :)