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Finding Joy In the Journey

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I believe that we are born to wander. To wonder if we like the person that we are. To be curious about the world and people around us. To find ourselves when we feel like we’re lost and ready to give up. For me, I think that I have developed a sense of wanderlust to try and understand this crazy world that we live in. Life is definitely an adventure with many mountains to climb. When we lose our focus, it is easy to find yourself lost in a dark forest.

A couple of years ago, I was very lost. For so long, I was silently in pain. I felt like I was screaming out to the world, yet, no one could hear me. I felt feelings of loneliness, even when surrounded by loved ones. Inflicted pain on myself in hopes that the pain in the rest of my body would subside. I know I was not alone during this time, but it was like a drug. Some say it is a way of grasping for attention and love. I thought it was because I was lonely. In reality, I was looking for someone or something to save me! The truth is, I got distracted and took my focus off of the path I was supposed to be on. Of course, I woke up when I realized I was going downhill instead of upwards. It was a harsh awakening with even more pain and frustration than the first time. Despite the difficulty, I finally reached out for help and I made it through the mud and pain… and I’m okay now.

I don’t think I ever found exactly what I was looking for, but I did discover a lot about myself and others along the way. I realized that a lot of my pain unnecessary and self inflicted. I realized that I was loved and supported. I realized that people can either hold you back or lift you up. I realized that my path is different from the person’s next to me. We are all living our lives in hopes to reach the top of this mountain. Some find their way to the top right away, others get held back or detoured. We are all meant to take different roads and journeys, but we put ourselves through so much more trouble when we start to stray from our path to follow someone else’s. We are called to love and support those around us, but instead we fall into the trap of following them. Switching our goals to be like the person next to us, instead of the person we’re supposed to be.

Life is such a crazy adventure. There are always going to be good and bad times. There will be times when you start to wander again, and that is okay, but you have to remember what your ultimate goal is. One of my mom’s favorite quotes that she always reminds me of is to, “find joy in the journey.” Although I have experienced some hardship, I like to believe that I have overcome and also learned from my mistakes. I like to think that all the little things that have brought me to where I am today, they all have a purpose. The people I’ve met, the mistakes I have made, the choices I continue to make, they are all stepping-stones to my future. I’ve learned that some adventures need to be taken step by step. While others may require a little help from others. Ultimately, I learned that this is my life. If I don’t like the way it is turning out, I am the only one who can change it. I am stronger than what the world tries to tell me and convince of. I believe that I can and will make it to the top of this mountain.

I just want to encourage you to make it to the top of your mountain. Do not be afraid to wander. To wonder if you are loving enough or if you are the person you want to see in the world. To be curious about the needs of others, not just yourself. To find and open yourself up to new possibilities, even if it is a little scary. Life is about risk and throwing yourself out there. If you fall, and scrape your knee, you’re normal. We all fall, mess up, forget, and fall short. The world will always find something to criticize you about, but you don’t always have to listen. You have a choice and can determine how you want your life to go. Do you want to continue being lost in darkness through the forest? or do you want to find joy and sunshine through your journey? The choice is up to you.

 

 

An American Living in a Parisian World

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Today I found myself reminiscing about my time in Paris. Life in Europe was so easy and carefree. I would usually begin my day by sitting in a quaint cafe with fresh baked croissants and a cappuccino. As the day went on, I would explore a museum, stores, cathedrals and everything in between. Each night would end with a walk or cruise down the Seine river or admiring the Eiffel Tower until wee hours of the night. Being in Paris felt like a dream come true. The city, the lifestyle, the food, the fashion, etc., it all felt so natural to me. Granted, I have always had a fascination and love for the french culture. Which is why I wanted to really take the time to share with you all the things that I learned and admired throughout the city in the first couple of days I was there.

February 7, 2017:  My first day in Paris was definitely a rough start. I spent the morning travelling from Italy to France, navigating through each airport, witnessed my Uber driver getting pulled over by the police… seconds before I got into the car, not to mention, I speak absolutely no french and still have no idea what happened.  After the  Uber driver fiasco,  I decided to get a taxi instead. I arrived safely at Le Montclair Montmartre Hostel around 3pm. This hostel was really big. With the room, it also included a kitchen, dining room, game room, and luggage storage and 6 flights of stairs to get to our room…. when I say stairs, I mean a very tiny, and winding staircase and no alternative elevator.

Since Paris is such a big city, it is split up into many different districts. Montmartre was very far away from the Eiffel tower and Champs Elysee, etc., but it is a place that I would definitely recommend going to.  Montmartre is a very easy city to walk around in but also very easy to get lost in. Since I didn’t get to the hostel until later in the afternoon, I stayed close by and explored the neighborhood, found a bakery with delicious baguettes and brioche, a tiny little cupcake place with baked goods and coffee, and I even met a new friend, Haley.

February 8, 2017: If any of you have seen the movie Amelie, you may know that Montmartre is where the movie was filmed. In the movie, Amelie works at a cafe called “Cafe des deux Moulins.” It is a very cute cafe on the street corner with bright red awnings and yellow lettering. Although it may be a little touristy now, the food is pretty good and they will even serve you the same meal that Amelie serves her customers in the movie.

My next stop was visiting the beautiful church, Sacre Couer. It is a beautiful white cathedral on a hill. Which means depending on which direction you come from, you have to climb the many many steps up. It is definitely worth it though. The views of the city are absolutely incredible. My favorite part about Sacre Couer was climbing up to the top of the Dome. You then find yourself looking at the city from an aerial, 360 view of Paris. If you look hard enough, you can even see the Eiffel Tower!

Finally, after a long day of  walking throughout the city, buying crepes at small stands, and looking at souvenir shops, I was starving. The ironic thing was, I found a little Italian/French restaurant with the best Italian food I had eaten the whole trip! They served this amazing chicken, noodles and bouillabaisse sauce as well as a pasta with arugula. It was delicious and the waitress was very friendly and welcoming.

Paris was a trip of a lifetime. Although I have only covered two days out of my entire trip, I am hoping to finish going through all of my pictures and will try my best start blogging on a regular basis again. Hope you enjoyed this post and will stay tune for the rest of my stories!

An American in Florence

Today marks 35 days of traveling throughout Italy! I can’t believe how fast time flies. I know I have been very behind with all of my updates on my everyday travels, but I’m hoping to give you the intimate details of my first few days in Florence through this post.

January 7: I woke up early to walk down the icy roads of Assisi. A taxi driver picked us up and drove us to the train station. We arrived in the Florence train station, Santa Maria Novella/S.M.N. around 2pm. Instead of taking a taxi, we walked over 2 miles with our huge luggage and groceries just to get to my apartment. We definitely underestimated how far the apartment really was. As I walked through the city, I could not help but be amazed and stare at everything. In Rome, most buildings were not much taller than 3 stories tall. In Florence, the minimum height of the buildings looks like 3-4 stories tall. We pass by stores selling leather, scarves, souvenirs, etc.

At around 2:30/3pm, we finally arrive at my apartment. I was immediately greeted by my 2 housemates (introduced to you in my previous post). The boys left for their place and my roommates and I spent a couple hours talking and unpacking out bags. Later that evening, we decided to met at the Duomo with a couple other students who arrived early or wanted to explore. Our humanities teacher, Senya, as well as her two kids, took us on a small dinner and tour of the city. Since she speaks almost fluent italian and has visited Italy numerous many times, she was able to show us some of her favorite places in the city. From the Duomo, we took a 5-10 minute walk to a gelateria called “Perché No!…” It is by far, in my opinion, the best Gelato I’ve tasted… in Florence. The owner and employees are very friendly and they constantly have new flavors. Very affordable prices for us starving students. Plus, it is fairly close to my apartment and school!

As much as I love Gelato, it is not filling at all. My roommates and I are hungry still. Our teacher insisted on taking us to her favorite sandwich shop called “Pino’s.” The meat and cheese are freshly cut as soon as you order. They have a wide variety of specialty sandwiches, pastas, and pizza. They are very affordable. Around €4 for a sandwich! The owner loves Senya and her kids. He really loves meeting students and introducing us to delicious Italian food. It is especially wonderful because it is only 4 blocks away from my apartment!

After dinner, we all take a quick trip to a local grocery store, Conad City. It may look very small, but it is actually quite big. I have many stories of getting lost or losing people in this store. It is basically like Walmart, but for Italians. It is very low quality, but you can find some treasures in that store. My roommates and I discovered something called “Frosties.” Frosties are very similar to Frosted Flakes, but somehow, they taste so much better here! I think we go through a couple boxes of this cereal a week!

 

January 8: Today is the first day of the program! I quickly get up and get ready for the day. All students attempt to find the school and meet by 9:45am for a walking tour of the city. The city of Florence is much different than any of the other cities I’ve seen so far. The city feels so huge and beyond confusing. Every street looks the same as the one next to it. All the streets have funky names and pronunciation too. I guess that’s why we went on a walking tour, right? Well, you would think so, but, because I had no sense of where I was, the city felt even bigger and more complicated than it truly is. We started the 2 hour tour at the school. Since our group is so big, half of the students went with one teacher and guide, while the others were directed to go with the other teacher and guide. Despite the fact that it was about 30 degrees in Fahrenheit, the tour was great! We got to learn so much about the city and the history behind many of the landmarks. Our guide took us to every major landmark and significant spot in the city. She somehow even brought us to the bridge (Ponte Vechio) where you can watch the water flow and get great pictures! Our tour guide was so sweet and knowledgeable. She was a great lady to have as a guide.

We finished our tour at 2pm instead of 1:30, leaving all of us students 45 minutes to find food, order, eat, and walk back to the school! Luckily, my roommates, myself, and a couple other girls quickly found a tiny restaraunt with pizza, pasta, soup, and some warm tea to help us defrost.img_7895

After lunch, we rushed back to school for the official orientation. Between you and I,  I was definitely falling asleep every couple of minutes. It was very basic, common sense topics. “Do not let strangers into your apartment.” Or “If it is illegal in the States, then it is probably illegal here too.” Nothing fancy. They explained how the toilets work… and that the bidet is not a second toilet. The most important fact was probably about taking out the trash. Here in Italy, they separate all of their trash from organic ingredients, common waste, plastic, etc. On a lot of street corners, you can find these big silver tins with handles. The stock up above the ground. When you take out the trash, you press a pedal to open the trash and drop your bags in then leave. The city is very clean and the trash is emptied 2-3 times a day so it is very rare for the trash cans to ever smell. It is quite interesting to me. IMG_7389.JPG

Because I have been here for a couple weeks, I was wide awake and ready to see the city… even at 9pm. My friends Michael and Scott joined me as I attempted to find the Ponte Vecchio for the “Firenze Lights.” Tonight was the last night to see the lights and colorful images being projected onto the bridge. There was music playing too. Absolutely beautiful! It was a very relaxed setting where people could walk up and view the lights or they could sit on the wall surrounding walls or benches and watch for the show for hours.  The lights went on from 7pm-12am! You can imagine how much time I spent there.. as well as how many hundreds of pictures I took. Below is a small glimpse of the show.

Florence/Firenze is such a cool city with so much to do. I already feel overwhelmed with all of the activities. I am beyond excited to be here though. I couldn’t have asked for a better and more memorable trip!

 

Studying Abroad in Firenze, Italy

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So it has been one crazy day after another. The program has been great! I have met so many fantastic people throughout this trip. There are 50-60 students in the program. I am continually meeting new people everyday.

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This picture was taken in Sienna on one of our day trips last week. This should be a complete picture of all the students in the program with me.

A lot of people have been asking my mom and I about the program itself. “Would you live there?” Or “How are you liking it?” I’ll be honest,  I was so nervous and anxious about this trip. I have never been away from my family or even home for more than 2-3 weeks at a time. The thought of being away for 2 months seemed absolutely crazy! Although, now that I am here, I am so happy and loving every minute of the program. I can definitely picture myself living here, in Florence or as the locals call it, Firenze.

My main course this semester is humanities. I have class Monday-Thursday from 9am-10am. My teacher, Senya, is the best. She is very knowledgeable in her field as well as in art and the Italian language. She brought 2 of her kids with her and they join us with all of our tours and adventures around the city. Being in her class is so fun! We talk about things that have happened to us, anything we find interesting about the city or art itself, we learn some basic Italian phrases, etc. Our time in class rarely ever feels like a chore or actual school. The classroom setting is so relaxed. The only time you ever feel the pressure of being in a school setting is when you present. All students are required to pick a topic and present on it. My topic was patronage within the city of Florence during the Renaissance period. I talked a lot about the Medici family whose coat of arms/family crest is found all over the city of Florence.

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This image is basically the school. Granted, there are a few other aspects to it, but this is where we spend most of our time.

After my class each morning, I usually walk back to my apartment and change into normal clothes that are not sweats. All of us, students meet at a designated location around 11am Monday-Thursdays.  On most days, we have a tour which usually lasts around 1-2 hours and then we are free to eat lunch or continue exploring an area on our own. Since we are such a huge group, we are often split into 2-3 different tours. It is very common to get lost and sometimes left behind because we are slower than the rest of the group. I always find it very funny how the people react when they see 60+ people walking the streets, and attempting to cross the streets without upsetting busses and taxi drivers.

I think one of my favorite things about being here is experincing the “college experience.” I have an apartment. I have 2 housemates. I share a bathroom and a bedroom with McKenzie. My other housemate, Patricia has a private room and bathroom as well. We get along very well though. Unlike other people, we have never really had any issues or disagreements. They are fantastic and so sweet. Even though we may go our different ways during the day, we all try our best to look out for each other and help each other through each day. I really couldn’t have asked for better housemates.

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In this picture, I am on the very left. My roommate McKenzie is in the middle. We are the same age, but she actually lives in San Diego. My other housemate, Patricia is on the very right. She is our Momma Bird… literally. She has a 6 year old daughter and is always watching out and protecting McKenzie and I.

In comparison to our friends in the program, our apartment/town house is really big! We technically have 3 floors to ourselves. The first floor is where we walk in, take off our coats, etc. The second floor is our living room, laundry room, and our fully supplied kitchen! Finally, the third floor consists of the bedrooms and bathrooms. I cannot stress how much I love my apartment! I think the most challenging thing about our apartment is locking and unlocking our door. We have 2 keys and 3 locks from the inside. The first day here was very confusing. We found ourselves feeezing in the cold while we would fiddle with our keys. We definitely stood out a lot! Our apartment is probably not in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood, but it is still very safe to walk alone at night… if need be. I live about 5 minutes from school, from a grocery store, Conad City,  and a pharmacy, as well as a 5-7 minute walk away from 3 of my friends’ apartments, etc. My apartment is located on one of the Main streets so it is very common to be woken up by sirens in the middle of the night, random people yelling on the street, or even the street cleaners who come by atleast once a day! Despite the craziness, I really have no complaints. I really love living in a city.

My apartment is amazing!! My roommates are AWESOME! Being able to study abroad has been such an incredible opportunity. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. Look out for my next post later this week to see more about my everyday adventures in Florence!

Taking a Break in Assisi

Assisi is absolutely beautiful! I was actually invited to join a couple friends there. The home was so cozy and warm. There were INCREDIBLE views of the entire city. It was a place that most people can only dream of.

Although my friend’s grandparents were not there, they arranged transportation for us. We were welcomed at the train station by a family friend. They taught us proper etiquete in the grocery store such as putting gloves on before you touch any produce, weighing the produce by its number and printing the label out, etc. They even gave us a tour of the home and how the city generally operates.

After a couple days of recovery, another friend, Rodger and his girlfriend, picked us up and gave us a walking tour of the downtown area of Assisi. He runs a shop in a neighboring city, so during his free time he wanted to drive us around town. He speaks both english and italian so it was nice to learn about the city from a local. He walked us through some of the oldest churches in the city including Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi. The church also had incredibke art, amazing views of the city, and even the tombstone of St. Francis. It is a very clean and quaint town. Almost everyone speaks italian. The weather may be freezing at times, but it is always appropriate to have gelato.

The highlight of Assisi was waking up one morning to Luke running around the house yelling “IT’S SNOWING OUTSIDE!!!” Coming from Southern California, snow rarely appears on the mountains. It is definitely a rare but very wonderful experience. It was so crazy to watch the snow fall. I would run outside to take pictures but couldn’t last more than 5 minutes before completely freezing!

Being able to live in the countryside was definitely interesting. Without having a car, it is extremely difficult to travel and visit the entire city. We were about 30 minutes away from the train station by car so it was challenging to walk everywhere. As beautiful and amazing as it was, I learned that I am definitely a city girl. In Assisi everything would close from 1pm-4pm for a break. Opening again at 4pm and closing by 8pm. The countryside of Italy is beautiful, but it has its challenges. Everything opens extremely early and closes very early too. It was very peaceful and calming. Extremely cold. It was a perfect place to relax and work on homework, but now I’m in the beautiful city of Florence. The city never sleeps.. literally! But more on that later.

Day 3: New Years Eve

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After spending over 24 hours in bed the day before, I woke up and left around 6:30am to see the Colosseum/Colosseo at sunrise. It was beautiful! The street lights were still on and the sun was just beginning to shine. The air was crisp and clear. It was freezing though! I enjoyed seeing the city so early in the morning. I feel as if it made our time here, in rome, even more special. The ginormous crowds were no where to be seen. We were also first in line to see the Colosseum! The gates did not open until 8:30am, but we made sure we were in line by 7:45am!

The Colosseum itself is breathtaking. Pictures cannot capture the Colosseum and all its beauty. When you begin to walk through, you cannot help but stand in awe and wonder. As you walk along the columns or up the stairs, you may catch yourself visualizing what it was like so long ago. There is a cross standing in a “perfect” spot. It has a perfect view of the entire arena! It is said to be the spot where Caesar would sit or stand during any event.

When you are inside the Colosseum, you can find two little gift shops filled with souvenirs! Like always, I had to stop and buy a few little trinkets. My favorite part about these shops is when you walk outside.  On the second floor, if you turn to your right, there are breathtaking views of the city.

By the time we got out of the Colosseum, we were starving. Luckily, we found a tiny little restaurant called “Bar Circo Massimo.” The food was very good here. We enjoyed it so much so that we even came back for dinner! For lunch, we each ordered a sandwich, water and/or coffee, and some desert! I really enjoyed their Tiramisu. One of the nicest things about Italy is that you do not tip. We stayed for over an hour. We were never rushed or forced to leave after we finished our meal. We were able to sit, plan out the rest of our day, and pay whenever we were ready to go.

After our late breakfast, we walked over to Circo Massimo. This is where the Romans would have chariot races. The track was so long that it can take over 20 minutes to walk from one side of the field to another! Many years ago, this area was enclosed, unfortunately, it is mostly ruins now. There are broken pilars everywhere. Underground tunnels too. Even a small tower that overlooks the track.

We also went to Palatine Hill/Palatino. This place used to be a gigantic castle. You can see where homes were built. Some areas have empty pools and bathtubs. Since this castle is on a hill, you have access to great views of the city. On one side, you have a view of Circo Massimo. On the other side, you have a direct view of the Roman Forum as well as the rest of the city, like St. Peter’s dome!

It’s around 2 or 3pm and we are already exhausted! We continue to walk and explore as much as possible. We passed by the Roman Forum, negotiated and sometimes even dodged crazy vendors, as well as admiring the beautiful view from an unknown building.

Around 4pm, we decided to go back to our hostel to change and get ready for the new years eve celebration. Little did we know, New Years Eve celebrations usually do not start until 10pm. We had 4 hours to kill! So we went to a bar to sit and relax… until they kicked us out.. then we layed on walls for a couple hours… finally we decided to get some food. We went back to the place we had lunch at and ordered pasta, wine, and even a little more desert. When it finally hit 10pm, we headed over to Circo Massimo for the concert and live performances. It was amazing! There were Acrobats, drummers attatched themselves to harnesses and were lifted into the air by crane, a classical music band playing cellos, violins, etc. Fireworks went off all around us, including at the Colosseum. It was spectacular! One of my favorite parts was counting down to the new year. The whole place was filled with people from all over the world. Everyone counted down in their own language too.

After 24 hours of walking, laughing, bickering, and exploring, I was exhausted! Took me about one whole day to recover. Despite the craziness, I’m glad I got to experience this. We may bicker at times, but we will always have this time to laugh and reminisce about in the future. Happy New Year everyone!! I hope your New Years is filled with many adventures and new experiences!

Day 1: Roma Debut

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After 15 hours in a plane and a short layover in Moscow, we finally made it to Italy! We were picked up and dropped off at Alessandro Palace hostel. The hostel is a very short walk away from train stations, busses, restaurants, and even a grocery store. I also share a room with 5 other people. 2 of the 6 I came with, one is from Mexico city, the other 2 girls were from Australia. We stayed up until 2 or 3am talking and playing games.

When we woke up, we were recommended to get breakfast at Caffè Fondi. It’s a quaint little place on the corner of V. Milazzo and V. Magenta. The food was delicious and prices were reasonable. I ordered a turkey, lettuce, tomato, and mozzarella sandwich with a cup of coffee and bottled water for  € 5,50.

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After breakfast, we decided to walk around the city. It is so beautiful! The architecture is absolutely amazing too! The pictures below show the way they market to tourists. Tons of little stores filled with souvenirs. We also found a tiny street market filled with clothes, electronic accessories, fruits, veggies, etc.

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One of my favorites things about the city is all the miniature cars and motorcycles/Vespas that everyone drives. The streets are filled with rows of vehicles parallel parked.

As we continued to walk around the city, we came to a few fountains. One of them being Neptune’s Fountain which is located in Piazza Della Republica. Since it is in the center of a round about, we had to walk around the entire fountain to reach the crosswalk….. as well as dodging cars and motorcyclists.

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Our final destination was actually right across from the Neptune’ Fountain. It is called “Bascilla: S. Maria Dealing Angeli S Dei Martira” which was originally a bathhouse, then a cemetary, then a storage place for wine and oil, and now a beautiful museum. It is interesting because the Pope is the one in charge of the entire place.

We finished the day by trying some Italian pizza. It is absolutely amazing! Thin crust pizza with lots of toppings. We got cheese pizza as well as one similar to Margherita pizza. Lots of mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and basil.

Day 1 in Italy was a success! I am slowly adjusting to the time difference. I am currently 9 hours ahead of the U.S. and  it was very strange realizing it’s actually 8:30am here when it’s 11:30pm at home! Definitely takes some adjusting to. Overall, it was a fantastic first day. Looking forward to the rest of the trip and Colloseum tomorrow. (P.S. cover photo for this post was taken by Luke Cardona)