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.