Tuesday, June 28, 2011

"...and in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make."

Blog, family, and friends.. I have to apologize for the months of blog-silence from my corner of the world in Lugano. As gratifying as it was to come home after a long trip somewhere miles away from the Montarina, open up a blank Word document, and sink myself into the memories of the weekend that had just passed, "the moment" got in the way. The shiver of the winter lifted, the sun began to warm our afternoons, and the great outdoors began to beckon. Homework assignments and projects grew a little bit heftier, and our free time was spent less and less on a computer and more and more enjoying the company of each other. Put plain and simply, I pushed my computer aside for the last two months of my time in Europe and jotted my memories down in a good ole' college ruled notebook on the trains to and from the Lugano station.

Lugano. A treasure hidden from most of the world, nestled in the mountains of the Italian region of Switzerland. A charming small town with colorful buildings, expensive shopping, and a lake that glistens upon the whole city. In the spring, Lugano was lit up by flowers of every color, the strange trees we described as "Harry Potter looking" upon our arrival sprouted green leaves and guided our running path along the lake, and the city was bustling with well dressed locals and tourists. This is how I may have described Lugano if I had spent only a little bit of time there; maybe a week's vacation in April or if I had been passing through on a weekend's trip. But to me Lugano is so much more than a breathtakingly beautiful spot on the map. Lugano was my home for four months. I know the streets, I know the hills, I know the short cuts home to the Montarina. I could walk the mile to Università della Svizzera Italiana- our school- in my sleep and I have memorized my order for the perfect doner kabob on our walk home. I could tell you who occupied each room at the Montarina and I still imagine I hear trains coming and going at night.

Going abroad for a semester was, hands down, the best experience of my life. High schoolers and college kids, if I could only give you one piece of advice for your college years, STUDY ABROAD! I will forever be a Hokie and Blacksburg will always be a home to me, but in the words of Mark Twain that sit atop my blog, "Throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the tradewind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Never have I sailed away more. Since finding my way freshman year, Blacksburg has become my safe harbor. I have the world's best friends, great sorority sisters, a wonderful boyfriend, and a supportive, loving family only a phone call or a four hour car ride away. I needed to step out of my comfort zone and experience a different rhythm of life. I lived, I laughed, I cried, I was adventurous, I was terrified. I paraglided 3,000 feet over Interlaken, I drank beers at the 400 year old Hofbrauhaus in Munich, I paid my respects to the victims of the Holocaust in Dachau, I haggled at the markets in Florence. I drank Guinness with the Irish in Dublin, I saw Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London, I stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower at night, I wore a white and gold feathered mask at Carnivale in Venice. I danced until 5am in Berlin, I walked across the Charles Bridge in Prague, I danced a traditional Hungarian dance with local Hungarians in Budapest, I stood inside of the Colosseum. I drove along the Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy, I window shopped in Milan, I relaxed with great company on the beaches of Southern France, and I took a ferry across Greece. I made new friends and became closer to old ones. I explored. I dreamt. I discovered.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Croissants, Wine, and French Music.. Paris

The city of love, the city of light. In Paris there was romance around every corner you turned. It seemed like everyone there was in love (and probably even more so because we were there Valentine’s Day weekend).

We arrived in Paris on Thursday night and checked into Oops Hostel. After dropping our bags on our bunk beds of room 107, we put on a clean outfit and fresh face of make up and headed out into the Parisian night in search of some fine French dining. We found an adorable restaurant right down the street from Oops that was intimate, candlelit, and what we pictured to be classic Parisian. None of us could decipher the menu—saying my four years of French paid off would be a lie—and the waiter wasn’t much help, so I played it safe and ordered un hamburger. We each ordered an exotic mixed drink and split a few bottles of wine. After a long relaxing dinner, which after a whirlwind week was exactly what we all needed, the next stop HAD to be the Eiffel Tower by night! We quickly learned another city’s train system, had a few mix ups, but got off of at the last stop of the green line JUST before midnight. We stepped out of the train station and back into the night just in time to see the Eiffel Tower, already lit up in white lights, start to sparkle blue at the stroke of midnight. It was beautiful! The Eiffel Tower is such a landmark, everyone knows what the Eiffel Tower looks like, and to be standing in front of it was overwhelming. And to see it dancing in front of our eyes like it was greeting us as we stepped off of our platform was even more amazing. Being the overexcited and probably obnoxious Americans we are, naturally upon first sight of the Eiffel we started screaming and jumping up and down. And we were in Paris, so of course we were mocked by the Parisians passing by. We stayed at the Eiffel Tower until the last train home left. Then we went back to Oops, tucked ourselves into our sleep sacks, and slept tight.

On Friday morning we woke up early to catch the 11:00 walking tour that met in the city. It was a beautiful sunny day and we were ready to take on the Paris. We started at the Notre Dame, saw a beautiful and actually hilarious bridge called Pont Neuf (it had the faces of an old king’s drunk friends on it), walked past the Louvre, through gardens, heard stories behind the Acr de Triomphe, saw the Eiffel Tower by day from a distance, and passed Musee d’Orsay and the National Assembly. We walked around the Seine River, over different bridges, and got lots of history lessons on many places in Paris. The warm sun was such a welcomed break from the cold we’ve become used to. After the tour ended, MK and I laid in the open grassy lawns of esplanade des invalides (French for “really green fields”) in front of another majestic, Parisian building. Tired, a little delirious, and still so happy to be where we were. We went back to the gardens we had walked through earlier in the day and got crepes that all of our friends had been raving about. They were warm, chocolatey, and delicious… no carbs left behind on this Eurotrip, that’s for sure. We took a ferris wheel ride just at sunset and saw all the way to Montmare. Then just as the Parisians were doing, we pulled a lawn chair up to the fountain in the middle of the park and sat in the warm sun with our feet up. Closed our eyes, felt the sun warm our skin, and breathed fresh air. It was so relaxing. The Parisians seemed to really slow down and just enjoy their time together. Packing even more into our day, we went to the Louvre at six when it was free entry for students. We saw our girl Mona and hundreds upon hundreds of more paintings, sculptures, and impressive pieces of art. After an evening at the Louvre, we trained back to our hostel to catch our breath for a minute. We got a quick dinner at the one and only good old American Subway, took quick showers, and decided we wanted to go back to the Eiffel Tower. We missed the last elevator up, so we got another crepe across the street instead. We left the Eiffel Tower to meet up with our friends at a bar called Charlie Bird. Once we finally got there our friends had left so we stuck around for a little while to take in the scene but decided to catch the last train home instead of having to call a cab. A successful day in the most romantic city in the world.

On Saturday we weren’t blessed with the same weather as Friday but we got up and took another train back to the city. We didn’t get a chance to go into the Notre Dame the day before so that was our first stop. It was a beautiful church, with tall ceilings, colorful stained glass windows, and dark gothic chandeliers. We then just made our way around the city at a slower pace, stopping at different bridges to take in different views of the city. We stopped at a little pizza place for lunch and then we went on to find Musee D’Orsay. I loved Van Gough’s work, Monet’s work, and we saw lots of beautiful pieces from many different artists. We stayed there until it closed and then Michelle and I were off to find the Théâtre de la Main d'Or Paris where we had tickets to a show called “How to Become Parisian in an Hour”. It was in a narrow little back alley way—we were lucky we even found it—and the theatre was the most authentic taste of Paris we got while we were there. It was such an artsy place, with red and black walls and the theatre itself was small and intimate with red cushions on benches for our seats. The show was HILARIOUS—a highlight of Paris and a highlight of our ten-day trip overall. It was a one-man show (in English!) and he was a native Parisian. The whole show was basically mocking how snobby Parisians are and how annoying tourists come across to them. It was SO funny. He asked the audience if anyone was from America, and Michelle and I were the only ones to raise our hands. He asked where in America and I said “Washington DC”. He repeated this, making fun of my “accent” and picked on us for the rest of the night. The crowd at his show was from everywhere—Australia, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Spain, France.. it was quite the eclectic group. After the show there was still one thing on our list of things to do while in Paris, and that was actually go UP the Eiffel Tower. So, for our third night in a row, we got on a train back to the Eiffel Tower and this time made it there in time to go to the top. We made it to the top, and it was spectacular! The City of Light was sparkling below us and a map at the top told us we were just 6,175km from home in DC. We could see everything and everywhere. I couldn’t believe I was at the top of the Eiffel Tower—definitely a big check off of my Bucket List.

Paris was croissants, French music, baguettes, gardens, a few snobs, romance, art, wine, a beautiful sparkling Eiffel Tower, and a place full of romance…an atmosphere to fall in love.

I can’t believe it, but we’re off on our second ten-day trip on Friday. Leaving at 5am for Berlin, then going to Prague, and the last two days in Budapest. I’m so excited for this trip! Such bohemian, vivacious places. Just have to get through a marketing research final exam first (yes, we do sometimes have school here). Speaking of which, time to go study.

Until next time, lots of love—everyone in Blacksburg have fun on your crazy spring breaks this week. XOXO

Monday, February 28, 2011

In London and So in Love...

Because I have fallen so behind on my blogging—I have yet to write anything about London, Paris, Rome, and now Venice—I’m going to have to do a cliff notes version of these past four AMAZING cities. I won’t be able to paint you quite the picture, but at this point jotting down my memories from each place is better than not getting around to it at all.

Revisiting LONDON..

-Loved London from the moment we arrived
-Stayed at the Astor Museum Inn—was AWESOME, favorite hostel so far
-Area we were in had such a great atmosphere
-As if life didn’t get any better than being in London, we found out a Chipotle was located a walking distance away
-Got our sacred burrito bowls and explored the area we were in
-Classic London red telephone booths, cute old fashioned taxis, and a mix of different style buildings on every street
-Got tickets to see Wicked at the Apollo Victoria in the theatre district
-Wicked that night was AMAZING, got chills during “Defying Gravity”, the cast was incredible


-Woke up early and had breakfast at the Astor Museum
-Successfully navigated the tube to make it into the heart of the city
-Did an amazing walking tour with a very entertaining tour guide
-Walked through Hyde Park, saw Buckingham Palace, Clarence House where Prince Charles lives, Wellington Arch, The Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, 10 Downing Street…
-Learned, admired, and appreciated. It is a beautiful, sparkling, clean city… fell more and more in love with corner we turned
-Ate lunch in the city with our tour group. Fish and chips, of course!
-Played, saw, and explored in Trafalgar Square—a beautiful square in the city—with Michelle
-Stayed in the city until dark and walked by the river at night and saw Buckingham Palace lit up. Talked to one of the police guards outside of the Palace and learned more about the queen, the palace, the royal family
-Hopped on the tube towards “home” and then went out for drinks with the girls and our German roommate Nico at Shakespeare’s Head


-Spent most of the day at the Tower of London. The name “Tower of London” was misleading and I was picturing just one tall tower. It is a huge fortress and historic castle in central London. It was built in the 1000’s and served as a royal residence, a prison, and today houses the Crown Jewels. It is also a museum and after taking a walking tour with a guide we spent hours seeing the different wings and sections of it, including the Bloody Tower where two young princes disappeared and were never found. We saw areas of torture and execution—including where Anne Boleyn was beheaded. It was such a cool day!
-Saw London Bridge, which actually was really nothing impressive, it was just your average bridge, and Tower Bridge which was much more majestic and is what people probably imagine when they think of the London Bridge. If we hadn’t had asked someone, we would have thought the whole time that Tower Bridge was London Bridge.
-The British Museum, one of the largest museums in the world that had collections of almost every society and civilization from the beginning of human culture to the present, was located a block away from our hostel. After our day at the Tower of London we took advantage of this by spending some time there and seeing as many exhibits as we could. There was so much to see and so much information to take in. Saw exhibits on ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and ancient Rome.
-Had a relaxed, long dinner at an amazing Indian restaurant. The chicken curry and naan was to dieee for.
-Had a night out on the town with the Lugano crew. Went to two awesome clubs that were even hopping on a Wednesday night.
Outside the Tower of London

-Checked out of the Astor Museum Inn and since we were leaving for Paris a little later we couldn’t go too far from home. Went back to the British Museum and checked out as many exhibits as we could before it was time to leave London.
-Another day, another city… packed up our suitcases and were back to another train station. City of Love, here we come. I was ready to get swept up in its romance.

I absolutely fell in love with London and it topped the list of my favorite cities so far (my top three since I’ve been in Europe are probably London, Rome, and Munich). I want to live there one day. I loved the energy, the magic of the city lit up at night, the history lessons I learned, their British accents, and it helped that we had beautiful sunny weather. I can’t wait to go back one day and spend more time there.

For now, goodbye London, and bonjooour Paris…

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ireland: Give Me Guinness, Bachelor Parties, and Leprechaun Fields

It's been too long! Life at the Montarina has been busy, and life outside of Switzerland has been even busier. But I finally got a chance to sit, recollect my many memories, and write some of them down. I have Dublin, London, Paris, and now Rome to catch you up on, so let's first go back to Ireland..

After a train to Milan, a flight into Dublin, and finally a bus to our hostel, three forms of transportation later we had safely made it to the first leg of our ten-day journey. Since I’ve been in Europe, Ireland is the closest I’ve been to my roots. It’s where my mom’s grandparents were born and I felt like a McLoughlin as I went back to the place that is so important to my mom, my grandma, my grandpa, and all my relatives who came before. We arrived in the rain, which I thought was pretty appropriate for Ireland. After quickly freshening up at our hostel after a morning of trains, planes, and automobiles we were on our way to our first stop: The Guinness Factory. The factory was leased in 1759 by Mr. Arthur Guinness himself, but today instead of a working brewery it is a Guinness museum. It’s a seven floor building that’s shaped as a pint glass, and at the top was their “Gravity Bar” with all glass windows and a panoramic view of Dublin. We started out by getting a lesson at one of the bars on “How to Pour the Perfect Pint”. We learned a little bit about the history of Guinness, a little bit about the different types of beer they brew, and got a few samples. We then toured the rest of the museum, learned some more about the Guinness family and the Guinness brand, and ended at the Gravity Bar to claim our last pint included in the museum tour. After our Guinness experience we were hungry and ready to find a good place to eat. We found a “pub and beer hall” called The Bull and Castle which turned out to be a cute, clean, and nice restaurant. In keeping with the European style of dining, we had another long and relaxed dinner. Sat, talked, enjoyed the food and the company. And making the experience even nicer, it was one of the first places in Europe where we weren’t reduced to drinking tap water out of our waterbottles to save 4 Euro. They actually served you a pitcher of water for no cost! Oh, the things in America we take for granted. After dinner we made our way back to the Four Courts Hostel. We were tired from the beer, the warm food, and the full day of traveling. We decided to call it an early night and were tucked into our bunk beds and sleep sacks by probably ten o’clock. Easily the best (and longest!) night’s sleep since I’ve been here.

We woke up early the next morning to catch breakfast at our hostel and make the 11:00 free tour of Dublin. Our tour guide was an animated Dublin native who took us to the Dublin Castle, showed us places where they recently found Viking remains, City Hall, Christ Cathedral Church, and a park called St. Stephen’s Green. Midway through our tour we stopped at the famous (at least famous amongst college students) Temple Bar area. It’s a lively area with streets lined with pubs, pubs, and more pubs. We went into a pub called The Purty Kitchen for coffee and lunch. It had been raining all morning and our tour guide wisely told us that in Dublin, it never rains inside the pubs. We heeded his advice and ordered Irish Coffees. After truly embracing Irish culture by having our first drink only a little after noon, we still had a few places to see on our tour. On our way out of Temple Bar area, Michelle and I were mocked mid-conversation from across the street. A group of guys overheard our overexcited “oh my God” and immediately knew from that that we were American. We wound up talking to them, having a beer, and learning their story… they were a bachelor party from London and the bachelor himself was dressed from head to toe in a penguin suit. Relevant to being a bachelor, I don’t know how, but they were a ridiculous looking group in matching polos with the man of the hour prancing around as a bird. We eventually decided to go catch up with our tour and found our group at Trinity College. We finished the tour at St. Stephen’s Green and then Michelle and I ventured off and found a museum near the city hall and learned about the Vikings in ancient Ireland and saw other exhibits on ancient Egypt, Rome, and Greece.

After getting our fill of history lessons for the day, Michelle and I decided that when in Ireland, do as the Irish do. So we continued straight on back to the pub Gogarty’s where we met penguin suited bachelor and company. At 4PM the pub was in full swing filled with people and live music. Our new friends were still there and told us to order a drink and put it on their tab. Well that one drink turned into a few more, and five hours later when Michelle and I were still there we estimated we probably put an extra 80 Euro on their tab… oops (not all for us of course, of course our Lugano friends wound up at Gogarty’s too. When they arrived since we were so happy to see them we told them we would by everyone a drink… only to put it right on the bachelor party tab). After making some good friends and having lots of laughs and too much fun at Gogarty’s, we weren’t quite ready to end the night. So we did our own little pub crawl in Temple Bar area, found some fun places (I think at one point Michelle, Tyler, and I went into a gay bar for a minute), got some pizza, and ended our Saturday at this awesome little pub with a great band. We just sat and listened to them play their guitars, fiddles, and harmonicas for a while and then finally decided it was time to make our way back to Four Courts.

On Sunday we woke up early and took a bus we had booked to the Irish countryside in Galway.  It was another foggy day, but the Irish country still looked beautiful. We saw old stone Irish gravesites in the middle of field, still standing tall after hundreds of years. We saw remains of old castles and our tour guide, a little old man named Desmond who might have been a leprechaun, told us stories of who lives there and myths surrounding the truths. We saw fields where fairies and leprechauns were rumored to prance around, and fields with little lambs and goats. The highlight of the day was probably seeing the Cliffs of Moher overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. We spent two hours there walking around, seeing the cliffs from different viewpoints, and checked out the little museum they had with videos and pictures of the Cliffs year round. A lot of girls got claddagh rings there. After spending all day seeing the rolling hills of picturesque Ireland, we just got a little glimpse of their central city. It was so cute! I wish we had all the time in the world at all of these places, there are so many places to discover within each place. We walked around, saw some cute shops and nice areas, and got gelato before we got back on the bus for a three hour bus ride back to Dublin. It was Superbowl Sunday, and we got back to our hostel around 11 which was perfect since the ‘bowl started at midnight our time. We freshened up and then met up with some Canadian friends we met on our Galway tour to find a pub to watch the Superbowl. We ventured out of our familiar Temple Bar area and found a pub called The Bleeding Horse. There were Steeler fans from Pittsburgh watching the game there too. We had a few beers and made a few friends. Of course I was cheering for the Steelers—a fan because of Dillon—so it was a disappointing loss! I knew it wasn’t the happiest ending to the Walsh Superbowl Party in Charlotte. Also disappointing because the commercials were nowhere near the type of commercials they play in America. But Sunday Funday was a great way to end our short stay in Dublin. Ireland was a success. And in the morning, London…

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Valentine

Just had dinner at The Montarina's pizzeria with my 42 valentines. The 4 boys on our trip surprised the 38 of us girls with a bottle of wine at each table, a few red candles, and a piece of Toblerone chocolate on each of our plates. It was such a nice surprise! And at the end of dinner our professor Dr. Nakamoto who just arrived in Lugano yesterday gave us each a bar of Swiss chocolate. It was a sweet ending to a very tired day.. we're all still recovering from a whirlwind of an amazing ten days. Dublin, London, and Paris, I loved you all. Loved every one for a different reason.

Ahh, to summarize each city and to try to capture each memory is going to be difficult. There's so much I want to put into words, but it's so hard to recreate the trip in a few paragraphs. I want you to see what I saw, feel how I felt.

Tonight is a night to catch up on homework and sleep and in the morning is another long day of Italian and Marketing Research. But I want to write everything down as soon as I get the chance (and the brain capacity back).

Everyone, I LOVE YOU! Family, I miss you. DW, I miss you. Blacksburg, Alpha Phi girlfriends, I miss you. Wish I could have shared Dublin, London, and Paris with everyone.

Happy Valentine's Day! Eat lots of chocolate, drink a glass of red wine, and girls in Blacksburg hope it's a fun night at El Rod's--xoxo!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Less Stop, More Go

To Do List:

Italian Exam Numero Uno: Check
Consumer Behavior Final Project: Check

See you soon leprachauns, Kate Middleton, and the Eiffel Tower!

We leave tomorrow for Dublin at 7:30AM. Our flight leaves from Milan at 11:40, and we'll be in the capital of Ireland by noon. On our itinerary for Dublin is a Friday tour of the Guinness Factory, a Saturday organized tour of the city and a night out at the lively Temple Bar area, and a Sunday day trip to the countryside of Galway where we'll visit fishing villages, ancient tombs and castles, and the Cliffs of Moher.

In London we're going to do the Royal London Free Tour, see the Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and celebrate Tyler's birthday on Monday night. We're hoping to see Wicked on Tuesday night, which I am soo excited for, fingers crossed we can get tickets. We also want to do the "Grim Reaper Tour" at night which takes you to "haunted" areas of London, follows Jack the Ripper's trail, and tells stories of London's darker past. And Uncle John and Dad, of course I want to see Abbey Road!

In Paris we're going to do all of the classic tourist hot spots. The Eiffel Tower (our hostel is only ten minutes away!), the Louvre (students get in free Fridays after 5), Napoleon's Tomb, the Notre Dame, more art museums, and most likely take advantage of another tour.

I can't wait to get to Dublin tomorrow and take on all of these new cities that I have been looking forward to seeing for so long. Most of the time I can't believe that this is really my life. On our walk home from school today Michelle and I stopped at a lookout over Lake Lugano to just stand back and take it in.

So lucky to be here.

Thinking of everyone back at home this late afternoon. I'll be completely unplugged for these next ten days, no computer, no phone, no internet connection. Sometimes I like it that way the best. More enjoying each other's company. More living in the moment. More time for clear thoughts. So if I don't talk to you until next Monday, I hope everyone has a great weekend and week. Missing you at home, but thanking you for this opportunity.

Lots of love and Irish Luck,


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Taste of Florence, Italy

Another weekend, another city. Another Sunday spent trying to memorize the streets and sights of a new place that I am quick to fall in love with.

Ah, Florence. With your artwork on every corner, your narrow cobblestone streets, your beautiful churches and your historical charm. Florence is what you imagine when you picture Italy. Full of street art, gelato, leather jackets, and colorful houses that seem to float above the water. A group of about fifteen of us packed up our bags after our Friday Italian class with Magda and walked down to the Lugano train station to board a train to Milan, and then another train to our final destination “Firenze”. After a trip full of late trains, getting on and off a few wrong trains, and eventually getting on a “high speed” train that our Eurail didn’t cover and we had to pay an extra 18 Euro for, we arrived in the beautiful city of Florence. Full of energy and excitement we navigated our way to our hostel, clutching our backpacks close to us because of all the Italian pickpocketer stories we’ve been told (Dad you’ve trained me well). When we were checking in we met a young guy named James. He looked just like a Florence native, with a pea coat, scarf, and gelled hair, but like us he was just another American trying to look the part-he was actually from Connecticut. He has been living and working in Florence and told us about a bar crawl that would be going on downtown that night. We took note and went up to our rooms, got unpacked and ready for our first taste of an Italian night out. A term we have gotten to know well while in Europe is “aperitivo”, which is more or less like a happy hour and a chance to socialize and relax before dinner. We found an excellent aperitivo place called Kitsch close to our hostel and had a drink and a buffet dinner for only 8.50 Euro! Everyone tried a fun different drink, Michelle and I tried “Pink Marilyns” and felt like we were in Sex in the City, and made at least three trips back to the buffet for pasta with meat sauce that tasted like Hamburger Helper.. real authentic Italian. The boys let us order their drinks for them but after one sip of his pink drink Tyler decided he just couldn’t do it and ordered a big manly beer. James from Connecticut met us at Kitsch and after dinner we all went to a bar called Red Garter to continue our night. It was a Karaoke bar, and it didn’t take us more than 15 minutes to get up on stage.  Carla and I sang a beautiful rendition of “Where is The Love” by the Black Eyed Peas and stayed on stage for the next song which was “I Like Big Butts”. Keeping it classy, America. Michelle and I sang “Party in the USA” and substituted “U-S-A” for “Florence I-taly”. The crowd went wild. I think I finally found my calling and it’s to be a professional karaoke-er. What do you think Mom and Dad? We had so much fun, met lots of characters, got free champagne, and ran into about five girls from Tech who are studying abroad in Florence! Seeing faces from home in a city so far away made the world feel like a such a small place for the first time since I’ve been here. After Red Garter we continued to another bar not far down the street. On our way Michelle spotted a cute Italian boy, called dibs on him, and ran up to talk to him. In Italian, he asked her for her name. In Italian (about the one phrase we know) she responded my name is Michaela. In Italian he said his name was Georgio. After trying to communicate in broken Italian for a minute or two, she said in English that she was going to a bar. He responded in English that he was too. Then he said he was from New York. Michelle said she was from Virginia. Georgio was really George and Michaela was really Michelle. Once they both realized they were American the magic disappeared pretty quickly. We spent the rest of the night dancing, Michelle and I bartended, and making new best friends from different parts of the world.

We rose and shone bright and early on Saturday morning, we wanted to see it all during the short time we had in Florence. We saw the Duomo, which was a completely different style than the Duomo in Milan but equally impressive architecture. They started constructing it in the late 1200s and it is designed in a Gothic style. We went inside and it was massive. The artwork on the ceiling of the dome was so so beautiful. It’s hard to imagine someone painted every last detail… it’s easy to appreciate, but at the same time hard to imagine every last effort that went into the artist’s work. Seeing all of these incredible pieces of art makes me wish I was an art history major, or at least had taken some art history classes in college. After admiring the Duomo we continued on to The Ponte Vecchio, which is “Old Bridge” in English, but everyone calls it “Gold Bridge” for all of the jewelry stores in the area. What a beautiful area! We took in the busy scene of locals on bikes, tourists posing for pictures, gelato shops on every street, and the Arno River shimmering in the background. We walked around, had a pizza lunch, a few girls bought some bracelets and souvenirs, and treated ourselves to gelato. We checked out the famous leather, scarf, and jewelry markets. Along the river there were lots of padlocks locked to different railings. Later we read that it was connected to the idea that by locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river, the lovers become eternally bonded. So romantic!

We went to The Accademia which is the art gallery that is home to The David by Michaelangelo. The museum was very cool. Mom, I guess all it took was one trip to Europe to get me interested in art galleries. It was a relatively small museum and really enjoyed seeing all of the paintings, sculptures, and various musical instruments that belonged to the Medici family. The highlight of the museum though, as you may imagine, was absolutely The David. Michelle and I turned a corner and all of a sudden there it was in all of its glory. It truly is a masterpiece. Michaelangelo was only twenty-six years old when he began sculpting it!

After spending about two hours in The Accedemia, we explored a little more on our own, finding different plazas and piazzas, churches, statues, parks, and tributes to great artists and scientists such as DaVinci, Gallileo, and Machiavelli. Then it was back to the hostel for a quick and very necessary nap before another Firenzian night.

A few friends of ours from Virginia Tech are studying abroad this semester in Milan, and they were in Florence for the weekend and staying at our hostel. We met up with the girls and did another round of aperitivo at Kitsch- loved that place. We then all came back to our hostel and went to the bar downstairs. The twenty of us basically took over the basement bar. We had so much fun talking, laughing, dancing on the empty dance floor, and catching up with Milan girls. After staying at the Plus Bar till about one am, some people decided to go out to a club called Space. I somehow got separated from Michelle and the group of girls I was with, and the last I had heard I thought we were going to a bar called Twice. I found David and we were off in the rain to find Twice. We found Twice, and no one was there. We tried to find Space, but instead we just got very lost. We wandered around in the rain for a few hours, only getting farther from Space and farther from our hostel. We would walk into bars and I would get my camera out and zoom in on a picture of Michelle’s face and ask the bartender if they had seen “this girl”. No such luck. Around three am we finally waved down a taxi and got home safe, sound, and soaking wet. I guess there is only one way to look at nights like these, and that it is part of the experience. Things I Learned: life is more difficult without a cell phone, always keep a map of the city I’m in in my pocket, don’t split up from the group, and that even if I follow all of the rules, things like this can still happen. You just have to accept that things won’t always go according to plan and that’s part of the adventure and you have to choose to embrace. Michelle and the girls made it to Space, but got lost on the way home. They didn’t get home till around seven in the morning. Florence, you and your confusing streets.

I wish we had more time to get to know Florence better, only one full day was definitely not enough. There was so much more to take in! More sights to be seen, more stores to be window shopped, more artwork to be admired, and more gelato and nutella covered waffles to be enjoyed. But I loved the short time that we did have there. Our life in Europe is a whirlwind, and I love it.

Lugano is beginning to feel more and more like home. Room 13 of the Montarina feels like my room, dinners with the 43 of us at the Montarina’s pizzeria feel more and more like family dinners. And a beautiful home it is to have. Michelle and I wake up to palm trees outside of our window every morning and Lake Lugano sparkles at us on our walk to and home from class. Today was our last day of Consumer Behavior with Brinberg. I can’t believe how quickly that class went by! This also means that Brinny will be leaving us- abandoning us!- to go back to The States tomorrow morning. We’ll miss you so, Brinny! Today in his honor we all dressed up for class in classic Bringberg attire- a button down shirt with a pen in the pocket, jeans with a belt, white socks, and loafers. He was definitely surprised by the classroom of mini me’s waiting for him when it was his turn to teach after Italian. We’ll miss you until April Brin!

We still have a final project for Consumer Behavior that’s due on Friday, so there is work to be done this week. But it’s only a four day week and on Friday we leave for the first stop of our three-country trip: Dublin! We have a ten-day break and we’re going to Dublin, then London, then Paris! It’s going to be another amazing week in Europe. Feeling lucky to be here and ready to take on the world.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


We had a wonderful weekend in Munich! I didn’t know what to expect of Germany- honestly we have been going at such a fast pace since arriving in Europe that I didn’t have time to think about it very much- but I fell in love with the country.

After a eight hour train ride we arrived at our hostel, Wombat’s, which was right outside of Munich’s main plaza. Munich’s central plaza is called Marienplatz, named for the Virgin Mary. Wombat’s was a very fun, young place and Michelle and I ran up to our room to get ready for a night out starting at Wombat’s very own Wombar. Our hostel room consisted of three sets of bunk beds and we were the last ones to move in. We didn’t meet our roommates till later that night, but we bunked with three guys from Wales and another guy from somewhere else in Germany… they were very entertaining roommates for the weekend. MK and I began at Wombar and then ran next door to Jaeger’s, another hostel where about twenty of our friends from Virgina Tech were staying. We celebrated Carla’s birthday at midnight with the locals chanting German songs to her and making lots of toasts to Munich, good friends, and to our continuing excitement of being in Europe.

On Saturday we woke up and headed to Munich’s main plaza, Marienplatz, to take an organized tour of the city. Our group tour leader Stacey was awesome, she told us stories about every nook and cranny that we passed. I was immediately stunned by the beauty of Munich, but I was even more taken by its history. Almost all of Munich was destroyed in World War II, so most of the buildings that stand today are reconstructed. My favorite sights in the city were the New Town Hall with its famous glockenspiel, St. Peter’s Church (the oldest church in Munich), the Munich Church that “has the devil’s footprint” inside, the Hofbräuhaus, the Opera House, and the statue of a woman given to Munich from Verona (if you rub her breast it will lead you to your soulmate). We learned lots of cool things, such as there are 120 WW2 memorials ingrained in the city, and that during Oktoberfest Australia sets up a temporary embassy in Munich for Aussies who lose their passports. It was snowing and freezing all day, but the tour was definitely a highlight of the weekend. We stopped at a bakery on the way home to eat and warm up before our cold walk home.

Saturday night we all went to the Hofbräuhaus which for those of you who haven’t heard of it is a 400 year old beer hall. In the 18th century, Mozart lived a block away from the Hofbräuhaus and would often visit for a brewski. On a darker note, the Nazi Party used the Hofbräuhaus as a place to hold functions and meetings; Hitler often spoke there. It was crazy to be drinking a beer in a place with such a history! Another anectode about the Hofbräuhaus:

“When King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden invaded Bavaria during the Thirty Years’ War in 1632, he threatened to sack and burn the entire city of Munich. He agreed to leave the city in peace if the citizens surrendered some hostages, and 600,000 barrels of Hofbräuhaus beer.”

The Hofbräuahaus was such a cool experience and such a fun time! There was a band and everyone who working there, and also some guests, were dressed in classic German attire. They only served liters of beer there… nothing less! Beer in Germany was cheaper than water in Switzerland. We celebrated the rest of the night at the Hof.

On Sunday we woke up early and visited Dachau, the Nazi’s first concentration camp. It was an incredibly powerful day. We walked through the entrance that hundreds of thousands of Jews were marched through, and the thought in itself was chilling. I felt connected to my Jewish roots as I paid my respects to everyone who had been imprisoned in Dachau. It was sickening to imagine a camp like this was run for 12 years, and that it was during my grandparent’s generation. I learned so much more about the Holocaust, Hitler, and its victims. Even though it was a really hard day, I’m so happy we did that. The Holocaust is something that should be remembered by every generation, no matter how difficult of a subject it is so think about.

After Dachau we spent a few more hours in Munich before catching our train back to Lugano. We went out for lunch and explored what more we could of the city. We all said goodbye to Munich but hoped that it wouldn’t be the last time we’d be there!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fabulous Milano

The Duomo was amazing. It is a huge church, about a block long, that took six centuries to complete. As our tour guide told us, the Italians are more concerned with quality than efficiency, and this was definitely exemplified by the Duomo. We first saw it in the morning as the sun was rising behind it, and it looked like it was glistening. Inside is equally amazing, with high arched ceilings and the most intricate architecture I have ever seen. Each wall, corner, and nook told a different story. Each window illustrated a different scene from the Bible in stained glass. I could have spent all day in there.

We saw a castle, which was more like a fortress, that was built in the medieval times. Leonardo DaVinci lived in the castle for twenty years! It's where he lived in the time of his life when he painted The Last Supper. It was such a piece of history but it was hard to imagine it ever being a place where royalty actually lived out their day to day lives.

Have to run now, packing with Michelle for Munich! We're leaving tomorrow after class. Sweet dreams, dolce sogno!   

The Duomo in Milan

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

This Has Gotta Be The Good Life

Milan tomorrow, Munich on Friday, just booked a hostel in Florence for two weeks from now, and a flight to Dublin for another weekend.

Feeling like a lucky little girl in very big world right now.

OneRepublic's "Good Life" captures the way I'm feeling about the world around me, the emotions surrounding the experience I've had so far in Europe.

I love the way Lugano sparkles at night. I love the way the group I'm with appreciates the trials and tribulations we've encountered just as much as the times our plans go smoothly. I love the smell of the clean Swiss air and the aromas that drift from the coffee shops and bakeries in the mornings.

Sweet dreams.. no matter where you are, breathe it all in.

When you're happy like a fool 
Let it take you over 
When everything is out 
You gotta take it in 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Beautiful Interlaken

What an amazing weekend!

We hopped on a train after class on Friday and headed for Interlaken. It was about a four and a half hour train ride with two connecting stops. For a group of college girls who have never navigated a European train system before, we managed a very smooth trip! The ride itself was extremely beautiful. We traveled through mountains, past lakes, and lots of very cute towns. I still can't believe I'm actually HERE! The Alps are so majestic, I don't know if I'll ever get used to looking out my train window at such a spectacular sight. Switzerland is such a beautiful country.

We arrived at Balmer's and moved into our first European hostel room. It was a cute room with five sets of bunk beds. It was all of our Virginia Tech group staying in our hostel room except for a girl named Stephanie who was from Australia and has been traveling on her own throughout Europe since November. Brave girl! She was really cool and we hung out with her all weekend. Since it was late we grabbed a quick dinner at a restaurant next door to Balmer's and made it just on time to happy hour! We danced the night away Euro-style and met people from all over the world!

Saturday was an adventurous day. We started out by running into our two new friends from Australia and exploring the little town of Interlaken with them. The architecture in Interlaken is very different than here in Lugano. Interlaken is in the German part of Switzerland, and the buildings there reminded Michelle and me of gingerbread houses and Hansel and Gretel. The buildings looked like fancy log cabins. The town was beautiful with the warm sun out and the Alps peeking out in the background.

Later we went PARAGLIDING which was incredible! We drove wayy up a mountain, my stomach filled with butterflies the entire ride. When we got to the top the view was stunning, I literally felt like I was on top of the world. Then we got set up in our paragliding gear and ran off the side of a mountain with a "pilot", or one of the instructors. I felt like I was flying! We were right next to an incredible, crystal clear lake and on the other side was Interlaken. It was an amazing way to take it all in. It was such an adrenaline rush when we landed Michelle and I just pranced around in the landing field, loving life.

That night we went night sledding in the Alps with all the 30 of us who went to Interlaken. We took a bus up to another quaint little mountain town and then a train even farther up into the Alps. In the night the Alps looked like they touched the stars. Once we got to the top, we jumped on our sleds and headed back down. It was a faster ride than I think any of us were expecting! It was a narrow path and we were weaving around corners, hoping we wouldn't miss a turn and tumble off the side of the mountain. Luckily, we survived the way down. We ended up at a restaurant and had a genuine Swiss fondue dinner.

I can't believe how much we've done in the short week and half we've been here. I feel like I'm already becoming a more understanding and open-minded person. I have fallen in love with traveling and know that I want to continue seeing and learning for the rest of my life. Thank you Mom and Dad for giving me the opportunity to do this trip. Let's come back here together one day!

On Wednesday we're going to Milan! Definitely beats your average field trip. Another city of high fashioned, beautiful people.

Ciao for now!!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Conquered San Salvatore and to Interlaken We Go!

Yesterday we had the hiiiike of a lifetime. Almost all 43 of us ventured out of the Montarina in our sneakers and athletic sneakers expecting a long and challenging hike, but none of us had thought it would be AS long or AS challenging as it actually was. It was really steep from the beginning, but the higher we climbed the steeper it got. Once we had literally rock scrambled up the mountain, Brinberg had realized we had gone up the wrong- the expert climber- route. We had to backtrack down the rock scramble, back a few miles, back to a fork in the road where we then took the easier (but still not easy) path the rest of the way up. After another many miles up the mountain, we made it to the top of San Salvatore. It was BEAUTIFUL. We overlooked the spectacular Lake Lugano and charming little towns in Italy and Switzerland. We continued walking down the mountain and through an amazing little town called Morcote. The houses were set upon the lake and worth at least two million each. It was a fantasy land. To add to the charm at the end of the day swans swam up to us from Lake Lugano. It was a wonderful day. Brinberg even treated each table at dinner to a bottle of wine because we were such great sports about all the walking :)

Michelle and I are packing up our hiking backpacks and getting ready to leave for Interlaken! About twenty of us are going together. We're staying at Balmer's, a hostel that was highly recommended by all of our past Swiss travelers. We're so excited to get there tonight and tomorrow we're going paragliding (which I'm terrified for but have to do, so I hope I don't chicken out) and night sledding down the Alps. We have a fondue dinner and beer included in our night sledding package. Really looking forward to the weekend! Updates when I get home. Happy weekend Blacksburg and NOVA, and family and friends everywhere else. Xoxo

Walking through Morcote at sunset

Nighttime on Lake Lugano for Caroline's birthday

TITO'S PLACE- best club everrrrr! Hello local bald guy

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bongiorno, bongiorno

The sun is finally out!

We left for school bright and early this morning and for the first time had a clear view of Lake Lugano and the spectacular snowcapped mountains surrounding it. Nothing screams "American tourists" louder than a group of twenty girls walking to school together stopping every five minutes to snap pictures.

Today it's Caroline's birthday so after class we went out to eat at the Spaghetti Shop in celebration. 20 Francs for a plate of spaghetti and a water. I learned my lesson and will be carrying a water bottle with me at all times and pack my lunches from now on.. only going out on special occasions like birthdays :) Tonight we're going to celebrate the first birthday on the trip starting with wine at the train tracks.. so European. Andd Brinberg being the wonderful man he is cancelled class tomorrow and replaced it for a hike up San Salvatore in Lugano. It's going to be a beaaautiful hike. So excited about it!

Yesterday we had our first Italian lesson from Julien. We learned phrases such as "you can't touch this" to say to the Italian men we will meet, and simpler phrases to read menus and ask where the bathroom is. Our Italian class starts in about two weeks, but we just learned some of the essentials that will help us out until then.

We went on a run and walked around the lake. I can't wait to rent paddle boats in the spring and explore.  I wish you could all see in person how beautiful Lake Lugano is! After our work out we spontaneously decided to go out and get a drink before dinner, just because we can :) We went to a place called Irish Pub. It was a cute little place (overpriced of course, but cute) and the walk took us to a new part of Lugano. We invited Dr. Brinberg with us on the way out but he politely declined.

For now I'm going to enjoy the beautiful day until the birthday festivities begin! Happy birthday Caroline, and miss you all at home!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Peter Pan and Castles

Switzerland is magical.

Yesterday we had the day to ourselves to explore Lugano. We quickly learned where to find the cheapest lunch- Migro's Grocery Store has excellent and inexpensive pizza ($4.80 Francs a slice, a steal!) and stocked up on groceries. The weather was still rainy and misty, but the fog cleared up enough to get our first view of Lake Lugano. I can't wait to see it in blue skies, it is easily the most beautiful lake I've ever seen. It is surrounded by mountains with houses of different shapes, sizes, and colors perched on top. We spent the rest of the afternoon in the Montarina planning our trips for the upcoming weekends and ten-day breaks.

A big group of us went out to dinner at Manora, a restaurant across the train tracks and down the hill from the Montarina. I had a delicious bowl of pasta and ordered my first (legal) drink with dinner. We got to know a lot of the group better and I really enjoyed the evening with friends, good food, attempts to speak Italian, and lots of laughter.

After dinner we finally discovered the infamous Peter Pan, a bar close to the Montarina. We took over the place. There were free drinks, dancing, and mingling with the locals for the first time. It was such a fun night, Lugano '10 and other past years I can see why you guys love the place so much!

Today we went to Bellinzona, Switzerland with a group of about 20 girls. It was such an enchanting little town! There are three big castles from the 1400s that still stand atop the hills of Bellinzona. We walked to the very top of two of the castles, quite the work out might I add, and were charmed by the history, the architecture, and the views of Bellinzona. We had lunch at an adorable pizzeria and walked around the town. I saw my first European church! It was beautiful inside and outside. We caught the train back to Lugano, only about a twenty minute ride, and we all felt pretty proud of ourselves for figuring out the train system so quickly! Today really felt like a fairy tale.. I am embracing each moment of this trip, I feel so lucky to be here.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Lugano, We Have Arrived

After quite an adventurous journey we have all made it safe and soundly to our new home in Lugano- the beautiful Hotel Montarina- and I am so happy to be here. I am already so in love with this charming little town.

Yesterday's travel plans didn't go as seamlessly as we had anticipated; just as my bags were about to be checked, Dulles Airport was temporarily shut down due to a "suspicious package". After a stressful few hours and a very delayed flight, I was thrilled just to set foot onto our plane. As Kelsey Vitori said best, putting it in perspective for me, "welcome to travels!"

We arrived in misty weather, but Lugano was picturesque nonetheless. Beautiful architecture, palm trees line the sidewalks, narrow streets, and colorful buildings tucked away within the mountains. We made our way up to the Montarina with all of our luggage, and did I feel like a lucky girl. The Montarina is a quaint, light pink building surrounded completely by palm trees. Michelle and I got our room- room number lucky 13- and brought our things up to our new home. A room with antique furniture, two narrow single beds, and even our own bathroom awaited us. We're in love with our view! Our only wish is for more space for our clothing, but that's not much of a complaint.

We ate lunch together in one of the Montarina's dining areas. The best lasagna I've ever had! Dr. Brinberg then took us on a walk around town. Much of the town was still decorated with white Christmas lights. Each time we'd walk past an especially pretty display, we would all stop and take pictures... I think it's safe to say the locals could quickly pick us out as tourists. We saw many pizzerias and spaghetti shops, each one unique, markets selling delicious looking fruit, and many upscale fashion stores. We walked to our university for the next four months, Università della Svizzera italiana. We then continued our own tours of the town and had another big family dinner at the Montarina. Michelle and I finished making our new room our home and now I lay in bed feeling overwhelmed, thankful, and excited about what's ahead of me in this adventure.

Baggage claim at the Zurich airport

Charming window in our bedroom

Our plain and simple room, pre move-in

The Montarina on a foggy day

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Last Sleep in America

I am full of excitement and nervous butterflies. My two fifty-pound bags are packed to their fullest, my hiking backpack is stuffed with tools to prepare for my adventures as much as possible, and my to-do list has been checked off from 100+ to-do's to a just few left. Europe, I am ready to meet you. Our plane departs from Dulles at 5:50PM tomorrow, and just a short six hours after that we will touch down in Zurich. And after another three hours we will arrive in our highly anticipated new home sweet home, Lugano.

I couldn't have asked for a more supportive family in preparing me for my trip. Thank you for everything Mom and Dad. 

Virginia Tech, I'll miss you this semester! I love you guys and will be thinking of you all the time from across the pond.

Goodnight for the last time from America. Sweet dreams of the Hotel Montarina, Lake Lugano, cobblestone streets, and palm trees covered in snow...