The GoGlobal Blog

Month: April 2015

All good things must come to an end

All good things must come to an end

The past few weeks have been a blur of last-minute sightseeing, nights out with friends, and studying for final exams (yes, we actually study here).

In calcio news…Celeste rocked this season! We made it to the final four, but didn’t make it to the championship game. However, I’ll make the bold statement that we had the BEST game of the season against Rosa in the playoffs. We tied it up at the end, and went straight into a very intense shootoff. Each team went through all of its players, because the goalies were stopping every shot with ease. I was so nervous when it was my turn to kick, but I managed to make a decent shot! A few friends came up to me afterwards and told me they had a feeling that if anyone was going to shockingly win the game out of nowhere, it would have been me. I’m generally terrible at soccer, so that would have been hilarious. Rosa’s goalie ended up making the winning goal, disappointingly, but I had fun sitting in the stands to watch the playoff game without any pressure. I never knew how intense reffing could be until I saw Byron sprinting around out there on the field with his Macklemore haircut.

On Thursday, the JFRC had its end-of-the-year banquet. It’s also known as “JFRC Prom.” We all got dressed up and took pictures before hopping on the busses to a nice restaurant where we were immediately handed prosecco and various cocktails. The party busses were fun: We jammed to hits including the Remix to Ignition and “All Star” by Smash Mouth. Classic. Sander made one last profound and nonsensical toast at the banquet, superlatives were awarded, and academic achievements were recognized. The food and wine, as usual, were wonderful. My favorite dishes were the risotto with a hint of mushroom, and, of course, the tiramisu. The party busses dropped us off at Piazza Cavour after the banquet, letting us loose on the city. Rome was our playground. I had a delicious cocktail at Bar del Fico that tasted like Jolly Ranchers, and then headed with a big group of people to a club called Shari Vari, where we danced the night away. I fended off creepy Italian men with a sexy dance move that involves vigorous elbowing, and Melanie gave the insulting bartender a dose of his own harassment. I’ve learned that the later I’m out, the more feminist I become. There are worse personas to take on, I suppose. We had a tame night compared to some other JForcers – but I’ll leave them to tell their own crazy stories.

On Friday, my acting class had our performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I can’t lie – I was so proud of myself! I get really nervous when I have to speak in public, let alone act in front of my peers and administrators, but I went out there, remembered (most of) my lines, and had so much fun playing Puck. It was such an invigorating experience, and I think it shows just a sliver of the confidence I’ve gained this semester. SLA Mitch asked me at lunch yesterday if I’ve ever acted before, because apparently it seems like it!

There were a lot of lazy afternoons this month where I passed time just lying out in the courtyard with friends, hanging out and making flower crowns out of the daisies. Earlier in the month, JFRC had a karaoke night. I sang a couple times with friends and adequately embarrassed myself. Tonight, I plan on doing the same at our usual haunt for a good night of karaoke, Scholars’ Bar. One Sunday, I went to Porta Portese (a huge market in Trastevere) and spent the morning haggling for the best prices on knick-knacks, gifts, and clothes. Gab, Mel and I started filming for our Italian project there, and it got ridiculous. Another morning, I climbed to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica where I sat overlooking Vatican City, overcome by inspiration. “Wait” by M83 was stuck in my head as I journaled there and reflected on life. Another weekend, I took a day trip to Villa D’Este in Tivoli with a group of friends. We laughed a ton, climbed a mountain that was topped with a giant cross, and ran all the way back down. I also went to the top of the Vittorio Emmanuele monument one day, because that’s what you do on a normal afternoon in Rome. I visited the Knights of Malta keyhole and the mouth of truth, spent time eating gelato in front of the Pantheon, had the best pizza ever at Dar Poeta and discovered the pleasures of “pear pasta.” I chatted with friends over aperitivo at 8 millimetri in Trastevere. On Easter, I went to Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and watched Pope Francis roll around in his Pope-mobile and give a blessing from the balcony. I’ve had a busy month.

Capri, Rome 171
View from the top of St. Peter’s dome.


dar poeta
Buffala pizza from Dar Poeta

Last week, I went to a place called Bar Canova for aperitivo. It sits right on Piazza del Popolo, and it’s the place Federico Fellini (director of La Dolce Vita) frequented when he was in Rome. I also attended the Great Italian Opera, which left me absolutely stunned. I’ve never heard anything like it! Afterwards, Bri and I romped around the city. We found the spot where you can get the closest to St. Ignatius’ body and talked about how much he inspires us with his revelry-turned-sainthood. We had a heart-to-heart next to the cat sanctuary, then symbolically stuffed all of our problems into a wine bottle and threw them away. Not too long after that, I lost my iPhone – I think someone grabbed it out of my purse as I walked through a crowded pub to go to the bathroom. As much as it sucked to lose such a valuable item, I think this was in some ways a blessing. Since then, I’ve been able to really open my eyes to what’s around me. I’m not preoccupied with finding WiFi, looking at directions, or taking pictures. I experience Rome as it’s happening in the moment. For my friend Kenzie’s birthday, we visited a place where they serve liquor in chocolate glasses. Another time, I went to San Calisto with Bri, Regan, Ali, Melanie, and Gabrielle. Some of us bought a Peroni and walked around the streets of Trastevere sipping on beer – I’m going to miss that so much! We went to Fries, as American study abroad students do, and then went to Baccanale. And then we went to Vibe, a club under Villa Borghese. The music was too rave-y for me, but the dancing was fun as usual.

On the tenth of April, I took a day trip to Capri with Melanie and Gabrielle for Melanie’s birthday. We took a boat tour around the island and went into the Blue Grotto. Needless to say, it was incredible! The water was bluer than I knew was possible. To get into the grotto, we had to switch into a rowboat. We got a student discount because they thought we were in high school – perks of looking young, I guess. The rowboat guy had to swing us in with a rope, and we laid flat in the boat to avoid hitting our heads on the tiny entrance to the cave. He and the other rowboaters sang an ethereal Italian song as we rowed around in the darkness, the water faintly glowing blue from the reflection of the sun outside. Later, we sat on rocks on the beach and ate our sack lunches overlooking the water. As one must when in Capri, we indulged in some Limoncello and melted Kinder eggs. We then took a cable car up to the top of the island, grabbed some gelato, and wandered through tiny winding paths through white houses that looked like they belonged in Southern Greece. We finally found our way to a park with a spectacular view, parked ourselves on a bench, and relished in how thrilled and thankful we were to be there.

Capri, Rome 049
Rowing in the glowing Blue Grotto.

Last night, Melanie and I went out for celebratory “We’re done with finals” gelato at Frigidarium (or, as she calls it, FrigidariDAMN). We then went to a wine bar called Cul de Sac, where we posted up for nearly four hours, talking, drinking delicious wine, and discovering the joys of pate while watching people scurry about in the pouring rain. It was much deserved after having slaved away at studying the previous few nights. When we got back to JFRC, we joined a crew headed our for cocktails and nachos atFoodoo, where we had more deep discussions – including the very profound recapping of our favorite Disney Channel Original movies from childhood.

I’ve been waking up in a panic for the past few days, because I can’t believe my time at JFRC is coming to an end. I never thought the end would come, and here it is. There were times throughout this semester when I wanted nothing more than to hop on the first plane back to the United States. Homesickness made me hate Rome for a few weeks. There’s trash and dog crap everywhere, the bus can take over an hour to even show up, and seeing the same 250 people every single day can get on your nerves. The carbs were getting to my waistline and I never seemed to have the time or energy to go to the gym. My clothes didn’t fit and I felt like I didn’t fit in. Nutella started making me sick. I didn’t realize it then, but what I was experiencing was culture shock. But now that I’ve reached the end of the semester, I’m so grateful I didn’t go home. I’ve found a new home here. I’ve made friends who will last a lifetime, I’ve had the best gelato ever made, and I’ve seen all that I came to see in this corner of the world. I stumbled across confidence when I had just given up on finding it. The JFRC feels like a secret club because I can’t possibly explain the journey I’ve gone through physically, emotionally and spiritually. I opened myself up to God and came to better understand Catholicism. I hit some terribly low points here; but I also bought a symbolic “I-survived-Baccanale-this-time” tank top.  The culture shock meeting I went to last week put the fear of God into me: SLA Chandni was explaining to us how we can experience intense Romesickness and a painful adjustment period when we return home to the States. Other peoples’ lives have moved on while we were away, and sometimes I might feel lonely when I find myself in groups of people who don’t know what I’ve experienced here. They won’t know that Secret Bakery is bae, and they won’t know the joys of almost getting run over by a Vespa or Fiat every time you cross the street. Keeping in touch with my Rome amici will help immensely – we’ve already planned aperitivo nights, pick-up calcio games, and frequent JFRC reunions. I’m so thankful for the SLAs who have looked out for me this semester, for the professors who showed us the world in the context of Rome (shout-out to my homie Professor John Nicholson – you rock that beanie!), and for the friends who’ve been there for me through it all. You inspired me endlessly, shaped the best memories, and helped me fall madly in love with Rome. I can’t wait to see what our next Great Adventures will be.

Never ciao – just see you later! …Or “Arrividerch.”

10 Things I hate about Rome

10 Things I hate about Rome

I sit on the second floor of the library looking at the covers of books around me and find myself stumbling upon an English Italian dictionary when I really should be packing. Without any purpose, I flip to a random page in hopes of gaining knowledge of something in which I didn’t already know, but mostly to get my mind off of the fact that in three days I will be getting on a plane without a return ticket to Rome. I find my eyes meeting one word, perfect. “Perfect: having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.” First and only thing that pops in my head is the place around me, the place in which I’m soon to be leaving, Rome.

I find myself thinking back on the last 4 months, thinking of all the components that made up this experience. I think of the amount of trees I could have saved if Ryan Air didn’t make me print out my boarding pass each time I left for another country. I think of the calories I could have deducted if I didn’t go for that second gelato flavor multiple times a week. I think of the amount of shoes I could have worn for years if I hadn’t spent months walking numerous marathons along the cobblestone streets. I think about the amount of years I have added to my life because I spend my days laughing. Then, I think of how one day can change everything.

No place is perfect. Every city has a construction zone, a homeless population, trash in places other than a garbage can, bad weather, and tactics that you will never be able to understand. Every city also has its own specialty food item, generous individuals, a unique culture, and lingo that is unlike the rest. Places everywhere all have a foundation made up by the same principles. Although some have roads of concrete, while others place cobblestones under your feet, or some prefer carbs to healthy options all are fundamentally the same. Each place is different, but what makes the place I’ve come to call home so unique?

With the start of my last week already in full swing, I begin to attempt to justify that Rome cannot be perfect, and that although I have only raved about my experience studying abroad there is something I must truly hate about it. I think and think and think about the 100 days, about the board in the entrance of the John Felice Rome Center with everyone’s selfie on it from the first moment we walked on campus, about how my feet left footprints in 14 countries, about how when waking up in a week I will no longer be in Room 237 with Allison and how when getting on the airplane across the Atlantic I expected nothing.

I think back on the word “perfect” and look around me in hopes of coming up with something I hate. I’m brought to tears and nothing can stop it.


1. I hate that it’s a Roman tradition to have a Siesta.

 For now I’ve come accustom to never going out from 1 to 3pm everyday because I know every tabacchi, restaurant and store will be closed. I must accept that I can’t get a take away pizza down the hill from my favorite place, pick up pear juice from Simply or get my prescription from the pharmacy because it’s a time for everyone to take a break from the motions of everyday and relax because life deserves a break at times, just so you can keep going. It holds the intention of being a time when workers can take off in the middle of their workday to go home and enjoy time with their family, take a nap so they are fully ready to go out later that night before walking home at sunrise, and smoke a pack of cigarettes. It means that for the rest of my life when seeing 1pm on the clock I will think of the streets of Roman neighborhoods being empty and windows filled with families joined together in perfect harmony. No other place in the world does it, but Rome finds it necessary. It’s 120 minutes when everyone gets the chance to realize that work isn’t everything, that life isn’t about who’s more successful or makes the most money, that you must take time to reward yourself each day for your accomplishments, and that home is everything.


2. I hate that when sitting down for dinner you already know its going to take three hours.

Italians do not believe in eating quickly or eating little meals and find it necessary to include multiple courses for dinner, although they understand in taking calories that late in the day stay with you. Meals are not intended to be rushed, but instead are there to be savored. Due to this habit in Italy, it forces me to enjoy every bit of the food placed in front of me from the antipasti of bruschetta to the pasta dish followed by meat and potatoes to ending with a shot of lemonchello. It’s allowed me to experience the best food the world has to offer and taste each spice that comes my way. It’s given me Buffeta Pizza that literally has taken a pizza my heart, gelato crawls where I’ve experienced 18 flavors in one afternoon, and vino straight from the vines of Tuscany. Italy’s food has reminded me to not count my calories, but count my blessings. It’s not a time for rushing, but holds the intention of truly enjoying all aspects of life that others seem to forget. At the end of what can be a very eventful and busy day, it’s a time when I am reminded of how fortunate I truly am. Of how I have never ending amazing food placed in front of me when others around the world go hungry, about how it’s a time to get to know those sitting around the table with you because God brought them into your life for a reason, and about how in that moment everything is forgotten, except for what’s right in front of you so you must fully experience it. It’s a new habit that’s made my stomach, heart and mind nourished.


3. I hate that the words “Rome” and “Roam” sound the same.

For before even entering this city you know what you’re in for: a lot of walking and unknown destinations. The buses seem to only work when the drivers feel like it, so you’re forced to walk if you want to get anywhere. This without realizing it is the greatest blessing Roma has to offer. It not only allows you to embrace the carbs you are in taking because you walk a marathon daily, but enjoy life the way were all suppose to. It forces you to see every detail around you from the trees blossoming with wisteria, to the kids running in the school playgrounds, to the street performers playing the accordion, to the people riding four wheeled bikes in Villa Borghese. It allows you to feel the air around you, hear the joys of life through strangers, and see the world as it is from the cobble stone walkways. It reminds you that your destination is not a place, but a way of seeing things. It’s Rome’s special way of being. Rome gives you the beauty of roaming allowing you to accept that you are never lost, but simply going to the destination you didn’t know you were meant to be at. It encourages you to wander and see the adventure we all seek. It reminds you that life is one great adventure full of endless possibilities. It’s a constant example of one word having two meanings that constantly intertwine. It’s special to put it simply.


4. I hate that no matter where you are in the city you can always see the Vatican.

I’ve been given the opportunity to attend 6 Papal Audience Events, multiple masses in different churches around the city, and see people called to the religious rite daily. I’ve purchased rosaries in the bunches, said prayers in St. Peter’s Basilica, served God’s people through the Panini distributions on Fridays, been blessed by Papa Francesco and gotten lost in the beauty of the Sistine Chapel. I’ve completed the “To Do List” of all religious things in Rome, but found that while living here anywhere I go, I’ve been reminded to see God in all things; for if I turn to the right angle I can see the tip of the Vatican from any point in the city. Every day without trying, I’m reminded of how good my life has been due to God making it possible and how seeing the world is the greatest gift I’ve received. By living here I’ve been given a new appreciation of the religious component of my life and strengthened my relationship with Him and his people. I’ve seen the gifts God has given me in the center of the Catholic Church found within the walls of Vatican City and even through a little keyhole on top of Aventino Hill on the opposite end of the city. God has made me a part of this world that’s filled with beauty and I have full faith that wherever it takes me is where I’m meant to be. My current place of living has been the key of reminding me to stop my worries, praise the goodness of life and have faith in the world around me daily. It’s the Eternal City, reminding you that there’s more to life than what you’re living.


 5. I hate that Italian is the only language I hear.

There are three languages of love in this world, all of which I’ve learned at some point in my 20 years of living, but only one has been spoken while I’m dreaming. Italian, a language unlike any other because its hand motions are just as important as the words one is stating. Its sentences are faster than taxis; every vowel is emphasized no matter where it is placed and without trying it always sounds like you’re happy. I hate that I’ve learned Italian, for now I feel so connected to where I am that I can’t get myself to accept that I am leaving. Because of the knowledge I’ve gained by adapting to a world with a whole new vocabulary I’ve been given the opportunity to actually connect to the people and feel a part of the country. It’s not a place that even speaks broken English because it’s so absorbed in sticking with the Italian tradition that it brings you in as if you you’re one of them because you’re forced to try to speak it even if you came knowing nothing. By learning Italian I’ve learned the true Italian way and feel like I’m no longer a visitor, but one myself. It may not be my heritage, but has become a large part of who I am.


6. I hate my address being Via Massimi instead of one in the heart of the city.

By being placed on the top of the hill in Monte Mario looking down on the center of the city, I’ve seen Italy in a completely different way. Tourists see Rome, I see that and the neighborhood of Balduina with the locals smoking cigarettes at the bar at the corner of the street, with the workers at the grocery store Simply that ask if you have change for that 50 Euro every time you walk in, with the running path filled with Romans in parkas in the middle of spring. I see Rome from the neighborhood and that’s given me an even better reason to love it. I don’t live with tourists. I live with natives. I wait in the same Pizza e Kebab line they do, I go to the Tabacchi to get AS Roma tickets weeks before the games, I take the 913 or 990 down the hill into the city. I see Via Massimi and look for the green gates leading to the olive garden and orange trees, I make my way to the big brick building filled with all the friends I’ve come to call family and think of home knowing that at the end of every day that’s where life will lead me.

If it wasn’t for living on Via Massimi I wouldn’t have my own Roman Family for it’s forced me to come to know the 235 people living with me. Rome was the location of this experience, but the people who made memories with me were the reason why it gave my life so much meaning. It’s as if God brought together the top 200 individuals in this world and brought them into my life. I’ve yet to figure out why I got so lucky! Because of the members of the John Felice Rome Center community Via Massimi became more than address, it was home, but not just me, but everyone who had a key.


7. I hate that Rome is centered around Piazzas.

It shows that Rome’s more than a bunch of sites and is centered around people coming together regardless of their differences. It was the first thing while being here that made me feel like a Roman. I had my Peroni in hand, found myself sitting on the steps overlooking a neighborhood and simply observing, taking everything I can in. There’s Piazza di Santa Maria in Trastevere filled with young people every night of the week bar hopping, there’s Piazza Navona crowded with tourists, restaurants and struggling artists, there’s Piazza di Spagna with flowers and groups of people lounging overlooking Via del Corso filled with people and shopping bags, there’s Trevi where all those with wishes find themself at, and there’s Piazza Cavour with people leaning on the palm trees in front of the courthouse. When navigating around Rome one finds themself using Piazza’s as their benchmark, for they are all unique found in different neighborhoods all known for something completely different. Whatever neighborhood you go into, you find something that gives it meaning. You take 5 minutes of your day and automatically discover what it is that makes that area so unique. You are welcomed into Rome’s core of bringing people together and without realizing it get lost in the music of the street performers, variety of people, and ancient beauty. It welcomes you with open arms and shows you that there’s more to Rome than just the buildings.


8. I hate that ruins out number the amount of people.

For you can’t appreciate where you’re going, until you know where you’ve been. Rome reminds you that you must cherish the past because it made you into what you are today. It brings history into your life every time you turn the corner and gives you a whole new view of what the world used to be. It makes you neighbors with the Colosseum, Roman Forum, Julius Caesar and Augustus. It reminds you that so many people came before you that have effected where you are standing right in this moment and it reminds you of what effect you will have. It’s like signing up for a history lesson every time you want an espresso, and gives you a resting place at the homes of ancient cities and world leaders. It takes you back centuries and ruins everything you know, giving life a whole knew outlook and meaning. It’s Rome and without trying, if you look at the rubble you can’t help, but get a whole new outlook on where the world has been.

IMG_2317IMG_0225 IMG_2903IMG_4772

9. I hate that when looking at a map it’s close to so many other countries.

Greece. Hungary. Slovenia. Denmark. Sweden. Spain. Czech Republic. Germany. The Netherlands. Belgium. France. Austria. Serbia. Italy.

It’s because of Rome that I’ve been given the opportunity to see the goodness of each of these countries, to not see the world from a map, but with my own eyes, my own feet, my own being. I’ve seen all regions of the country I’ve come to call my own, enjoying Chianti Classico in Tuscany, Michaelangelo’s David in Florence, the views of the sea from Cinque Terre, the postcard perfect southern delight that is the Amalfi Coast, written my letter to Juliette in Verona, held up the leaning tower of Pisa, watched Mount Edna erupt in Sicily, enjoyed a gondola ride in Venice, saw glass being made on the island of Murano, explored the hometown of Leonardo di Vinci, saw the most colorful houses in the world off the island of Burano, walked through the 17 towns that made up Siena and ate what many would consider the best pizza in the world from Naples. I explored the country I’ve come to call home and realized just how special it is to have an address with my name on it in Italy. In between all of this I found myself spontaneously planning trips around Europe landing my feet in different countries with different groups of people almost every weekend. It wasn’t to see how many places I could go within a four-month period, but more that the travel bug bit me when arriving and I couldn’t find a cure to the disease. I fell in love with the life I was living, the cities I discovered, and people I was meeting. I left a piece of my heart all around Europe and changed the course I thought my life would be taking. I’ve left Rome for the Acropolis, thermal baths, Nyhavn, Swedish meatballs, the works of Gaudi, the John Lennon Wall for peace, canals of Amsterdam, World War II, Belgium waffles, the Eiffel Tower, classical music, and family. I traveled not to escape life, but for life not to escape me. Because of Rome, I was given more than a home, I was given the world having the opportunity of a lifetime to experience it fully.


10. But mostly, I hate the way I could never hate Rome, no matter how hard I tried because it made me into the person I’ve always wanted to be.

Gandhi once said “be the change you wish to see in the world”, but how can you change the world if you haven’t seen it? I came into this experience thinking it was my opportunity to change the world, but instead it changed me.

I came in search of finding the world’s greatest foods, hidden gems, and roads less traveled, but instead found myself, what made me happiest, and why it is life is worth living. I just went and saw everything around me, met as many different people as I could, followed maps to their edges and then kept going. I never had a plan, but somewhere in between the airplanes, endless nights out, pesto gnocchi, multiple introductions, becoming the “social butterfly” of JFRC, 4th glass of vino, winning the Calcio League Championship with team Rosa and Italian speaking 4 months happened. This adventure awaited me and I’m so fortunate that I found it. I owe everything to this city, to the people who experience these past four months with me, to the John Felice Rome Center, and to my family. I experienced the world to it’s fullest and lived a life far better than my dreams, I’m still in denial that this is ending but will forever cherish the laughs, lessons, experiences and unforgettable memories for as long as I live. Life was meant to be one great adventure, and this was mine.

It took one day in the Eternal City for it to have my heart for an eternity. Rome became my home and will always be with me for it gave me life a whole new meaning and made me into the person I’ve always wanted to be.

Ciao for now as I enjoy my last few days in the city

that’s given “Gabs Great Adventure” all its meaning,

Gabriella Lunich

Berlin & Prague

Berlin & Prague

Hello again!

Yesterday I made my valiant returned from a six day mini vacation (from my semester-long vacation) in Germany and the Czech Republic! I am absolutely beat (my FitBit tells me we walked the equivalent of two full marathons over the week!) but the trip was another great one for the books.

This trip was a little different from some of the others I’ve talked about in that I went with only one other person. It was a really nice change from a larger group setting because we found we had parallel interests and conversation to last easily six years. Also, it’s worth noting that he can read a paper map with enviable ease which, thankfully, offsets my own fairly incompetent navigational system.

I brought my limited Deutsch to the table on this trip. Did I impress anyone with harsh syllables or well placed umlauts? No. But did I have fun remembering a few things from high school German years? Definitely.

Anyway, without further ado, welcome to the photo documentation of everything I did ever in Berlin and Prague!



– walking tour of the city (where we saw the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the Berlin Wall, Konzerthaus Berlin, and many other places)

IMG_2900   IMG_2903

– Museum Bode on Museum Island


– German Parliament – Reichstag dome (which was heavier on security than some airports I’ve been in lately)

IMG_2911   IMG_2913 IMG_2914

-pub crawl of Alternative Berlin (where we very unsuccessfully played Around the World ping pong and got stuck in an elevator!)

IMG_2652 IMG_2916

-Tiergarten (where we collapsed in the sun with Haagen-Dazs)

-Berlin Victory Column (spiraling up 300+ stairs has become a weekly activity over here)

IMG_2995  IMG_2996

-East Side Gallery (where we joined the masses in a quick photo shoot)

IMG_2999  IMG_3003

-Memorial Church and its new, very photogenic, counterpart


-ate delicious burgers, towers of brunch, and, of course,wienerschnitzel

IMG_2907   IMG_2997 IMG_2998


We took a day trip to Prague via train. It was certainly not without roadblocks (nothing seems to be with me 😉 ) but we got there and got a little taste of the very visually appealing Czech Republic!

IMG_2921 IMG_2988 IMG_2989 IMG_2990 IMG_2994

Finally, we spent an afternoon at the memorial site of the concentration camp Sachsenhausen, outside of Berlin. This was a very special and harrowing experience.  The memorial site reinforced the importance of remembering the dark pieces of human history and it really reminded me of just how lucky I am to be free of persecution today. Our day specifically was very special, as we chose to visit on 22.04.15- on the 75th anniversary of the camps liberation. Survivors of Sachsenhausen had returned to the site for the anniversary and were dressed in their uniforms in order to pay homage to those who died in them. There were many events throughout the day to celebrate the liberation and to honor the dead.

Although it wasn’t a pleasant day, it was an important site to experience and one that I am thankful to have had the opportunity to understand.

Overall, I have decided that Berlin is a really great place and that it is very different from Munich, a city I once visited in 2012. Germany is a little behind the times in some aspects of normal life and it was very nice to slow down for awhile and go off the grid. Thanks Berlin and Prague for all the fun!!

Until the next adventure,


Reflections on Yunnan

Reflections on Yunnan



During a two-week break from Beijing and classwork I experienced the incredible diversity of China’s southwestern Yunnan province. I bonded with my fellow TBC students while there. We were brought together through an extraordinary and trying experience. During our orientation the week prior, TBC staff told us that our time in Yunnan would be challenging. I think this is an apt word, because traveling through Yunnan was no walk in the park. We spent 60 hours in transit, over the course of two weeks, by bus mainly. We visited and stayed in five different villages; we met the Yi people, the Hani, the Dai, the Tibetans, and the Naxi.

I wrote the previous paragraph the weekend after returning. I finish this now, after ample reflection, at the end of March. After returning there was a palpable sense of road-weariness, but this must not be seen to overshadow a truly magnificent opportunity. In our orientation we were told that we would be invited into their homes warmly, during the most important family holiday, and would be afforded generous hospitality everywhere we went. This was always the case in my experience. It was truly extraordinary how accommodating and friendly people were. I had many great pictures of the excursion. Unfortunately, I lost my camera while returning to Beijing. We left the Naxi village by bus, left Dali by train (camera left on train in Kunming), and then left Kunming by plane.

One memory that stands out in my mind is standing on the rooftop of my host father’s home, in the Hani village. The combination of his accent and my beginner’s Mandarin abilities made communication extremely difficult. My host father in the Hani village brought me and another TBC student in that homestay up to the roof of his home, and we looked out to the mountains all around us, and the valleys below. I can say readily that I have never seen such a spectacular view anywhere else in my life, and truly nothing else is comparable. (Except maybe the view of the stars on a rooftop on the Naxi village the week after). While we stood on the rooftop, marveling at mountains shrouded in mist and looking out to a river valley where the sun was setting, my host father pointed in various directions and said a number of things I did not understand at all. I asked a number of questions in an attempt to catch his meaning. The other student on the rooftop realized he was saying, 山 (shan)- mountain. After some more time we realized he was telling us the name of the mountains around us, and the name of the mountain that was home to that particular Hani village. I remember telling him that the view was beautiful, (很漂亮) and he smiled with pride.

Travel Trials, Tribulations, and Terrific Fun

Travel Trials, Tribulations, and Terrific Fun

After turning in a number of assignments I was finally able to start the beginning of the end. Classes have ended at UCC and while students gear up for final exams and papers, I have had time to travel some more both in Ireland and abroad. My spring break began with the arrival of my parents, and along with them 4 days of being well fed and more adventures. I was able to show them throughout Cork, one of the few major cities in Ireland they had yet to visit. I was so lucky to be able to introduce them to most of the friends I have made while abroad and show them the incredible place I have been able to call home these past few months. We also rented a car for two days and spent one of those days traveling through the Ring of Kerry. The most notable stop was in the town of Sneem, a city I was unable to stop at last time I visited Kerry. Sneem was actually the home to one of my Aunts when she student taught for a few months many years ago. My parents and I were able to stop and visit the family that housed her years ago. In true Irish fashion, even though the mother had met my parents once 20 years ago and had never met me, she ushered us all into her living room and made us tea and gave us bread—true Irish hospitality.


The next day, my parents and I headed to the city of Kinsale which was a beautiful town nestled right near the bay that was full of cute shops and delicious restaurants. We spent the afternoon exploring the town and then drove out to Old Head, which is right on the coast and is a very famous (and very expensive) golf course. It was off-season so we were practically the only ones there, but the view was spectacular, although I did fear someone would fall off of the cliffs. My parents had one more day in Cork, which was unfortunately Good Friday. This meant that most of the city was closed down, but we still were able to wander a bit and visit a beautiful park and they were able to taste some Ireland famous fish and chips and Jackie Lennox for a final Irish meal.


Once my parents left, I had a few days rest before my next adventure of spring break began, and let me just say it was a journey. Marypaz, Savannah, and I left early on Tuesday and arrived in London that afternoon. After navigating both the train and the tube we walked and arrived at our hostel—a pub. Now, the three of us were going low budget in London, so to stay two nights in London for only 20 pounds was a steal. So when we walked into a bar, was led behind the bar back, into an alleyway where they then had a big room full of bunk beds that fit 15 people we could only laugh. The hostel was just a giant room and in order to tell which bed was yours, you tied a piece of string that had a little piece of paper on it that had your name on it.

After dropping off our belongings, we took the tube to one of the most important places in London—platform 9 ¾. After waiting in line for 45 minutes (which was worth every second of it) we took our picture pushing our carts into the wall and off to Hogwarts. After leaving Kings Cross, we ventured to Camden, which was a super cool part of London. The town was incredible and all of the shops were very unique. We wandered around for a bit, did some window-shopping, and eventually had dinner. We called in for an early night since our next day would be packed with sightseeing. The next day began with a bus ride into the city where we saw Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the London Eye, the Globe Theater, the bridge the dementors destroyed in Harry Potter, the London Bridge, and Buckingham Palace. The day was filled with pictures and sites, and we ended the day in the area of Soho.


Soho was close to what you could consider the “Times Square” of London. We did some more window-shopping and exploring the city until we came to a time where we were completely lost and had to pull out a map. We were standing on the side of the street with our map when two people clearly in costume make up to make them seem old, came up to us and asked if we could direct them to some area in London. We were about to tell them to go away until we noticed two other girls in the similar make-up and a guy with a camera. We talked to them for a bit where the two guys danced for us and talked to us in their American accent impressions. After awhile, they called the two girls over who also talked to us and then they all began to sing. Once they were finished and talked some more to us, other bystanders came up to them and asked them for autographs. Instead, the guy who had the camera and had been filming the entire time asked us if we could re-shoot the map scene over a bit more to the side where less people would be in it. One of the guys in costume told us to just roll with it once we told them that we had no idea where they were talking about on the map. After we re-shot the scene they thanked us and handed me a card with their band name on it. As we walked away, Marypaz THEN decided to inform Savannah and I that apparently that was a famous band that was on X-Factor. Once we yelled at her for not having told us earlier and went back to where they had been, they had left. So while we didn’t get a picture with them, we may be famously featured in their next music video.

That night, we attempted to check in to our Ryanair flight to Spain on my phone while we had wifi at dinner. However, an error message kept popping up so we decided we would try again at the Internet café we remembered passing on our way to our hostel. As we walked by the Internet café on our walk back we noticed it was in a barbershop, we walked in and asked if we could use their computers and they led us through the barbershop, through a small living area where a football game was on, and to a room that had four computers in it. A man was sitting at one of the computers and when we walked in the man directing us motioned for him to get up and he offered us his computer. We tried once again to check into our flight and kept receiving error messages. After each of us trying we decided we would try again in the morning and if it didn’t work we would go to the desk at the airport and show them screenshots of us being unable to check in.

However, when we woke up in the morning we woke up to an email that our flight had been cancelled. We hurried off to the airport ready to yell at Ryanair but arrived to a giant line of people all waiting for flight changes due to cancelled flights. What had happened, was that air traffic controllers in France had gone on strike therefore no planes could fly over the entire country of France. In line, were people from all of the flights to Spain and North Africa. Marypaz, Savannah, and I buckled down for what turned out to be a 6-hour wait in the line. We had no wifi and entertained ourselves by playing charades and any other games we could think of. After 6 hours, we arrived to the front where we were then re-routed completely. The next direct flight to Ibiza was on Monday so in order to get there before, we would have to leave the next day in the afternoon to Milan and then the following day at 6 am to Ibiza. Thankfully, both Ryanair and their workers were so nice to us and put us up in a hotel for the night, gave us 15 pounds for dinner, and paid for the cab to the hotel.

The Line of Death


The next day we flew into the town of Bergamo, which is right outside Milan. We went into the city for some Italian pizza for dinner, which we ate at a restaurant on the top of the tallest hill of the city. After our long walk up the hill to the restaurant and our delicious meal, we went back to the airport at midnight where we then attempted to sleep on the airport floor for 3 hours before we had to wake up to check in for our 6am flight. Finally after days of travel, we arrived at 8:45am in the beautiful island of Ibiza, which is right off the coast of Spain, only a day and a half later than planned.


Marypaz, Savannah, and I met up with one of our other roommates Casey who had travel horror stories of her own as she was meeting us in Ibiza from Barcelona. Us four girls spent the next two days in complete relaxation. We spent all of our time exploring the city, drinking lots of sangria, eating, and getting some much missed sun. It wasn’t as warm as we had hoped, but we didn’t have any rain and were able to sit out in the sun for hours on end. The island of Ibiza is a HUGE party island, but since it was off-season we were able to stay in a nice hotel for a super cheap price and enjoy the city without it being packed with tourists. We ate tapas and paella, enjoyed 89 cent wine, looked out at the beach, and enjoyed each others fantastic company. Unfortunately, our two days in Spain ended much too soon, and after 12 hours of travel (flying from Ibiza to Barcelona, Barcelona to Dublin, then a 4 hour bus ride back to Cork) we were back home.



This week will be spent catching up with the friends. I can’t even imagine how difficult it will be to leave them when summer comes because I missed them all too much after not being with them for a week. I will write my final paper for school and be completely finished and ready for more travel come early May. Up next: my nerd self will once again come alive as Marypaz, Conor, and I will venture to Belfast so we can go on the Game of Thrones tour aka sights where they filmed Winterfell, the Twins, and a number of other countryside scenes. More later!

not done with London!

not done with London!

Hello lovely readers,

As promised, a whole post about London! My family has been in town for the past week and a half and we really packed it in. Taylor and I were able to show the rest of the Prokotts our favorite parts about living in this wonderful city, and along the way the bucket list I made when I got to London got some serious checks. This is just a handful of the things we did!


-see the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum

-Easter mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral

IMG_5614  IMG_5619

-eat an authentic Sunday roast

-Churchill War Rooms


-see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London

tower of london

-dinner at The Shard (my pictures all got deleted but here’s a picture of my mom in the swanky bathroom ^.^)


-eat at The Breakfast Club (with the secret speakeasy and its refrigerator entrance)


-see the Making of Harry Potter



-Borough Market


-Madame Tussaud’s wax museum

IMG_5933 IMG_5934

-Oxford University


-Warwick Castle



IMG_6081  IMG_6082

-afternoon tea


-Climb the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral


-eat everything in London (kidding but not really)

IMG_5796 IMG_5631 IMG_5660 food 2 IMG_6089 IMG_6138

Finally, I checked off a big one yesterday and went skydiving! It was an absolutely incredible experience to jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet!


It was so nice to see my family and have a little slice of home over on this side of the pond! Until next week, when I head off to Berlin and Prague!


Easter in Brussels

Easter in Brussels

Hey all! How are you all doing? Happy Easter for those who celebrating Easter this past weekend. My friend, Torie, and I went over to Brussels, Belgium for Easter weekend. We had a great time and here are some highlights!

Victory #1: Brussels was the first trip that we planned on our own without any school help and we picked the country and the city and the AirBnB. Torie and I are both planners so we felt personal victories when things went well. The first amazing thing was our AirBnB.

Brussels AirBNB

Have you ever met someone that was just so exceptionally interesting and totally put your fun facts to shame? Well that was our AirBNB host, Aude. Aude, has just recently had a career change and has her travels and most recent adventures to share. She knew the area that we were staying in and the touristy areas as well, providing maps and directions of all kinds. Incredibly helpful and great for us planners!

Victory #2: We had to have the infamous Belgian chocolate and while we were heading to the center of town, Grand Place, we ran into one of many Leonidas chocolate stores. Of course we went in and was immediately overwhelmed in all the best ways possible. I asked the expert behind the counter for some help and I have no regrets about that. Chocolate is always a good thing.

Brussels Leonidas Chocolate

Victory #3: Continuing on the famous food trend, we had to get the Belgian waffle. We initially got really excited and purchased a waffle from a waffle van for 2Euro. Little did we know that we made a tourist mistake! We could’ve gotten waffles that were bigger and even tastier for 1Euro. But regardless, I can understand why these waffles are raved about, they are delicious!

Brussels Waffle

Victory #4: Aude, had told us that Belgium unfortunately is not known for their superb food. Aside from beer, mussels, fries and waffles, of course. She encouraged us to try food from different countries as they were popular and all over the place. Torie and I decided that we wanted to try Vietnamese, since she had never had it before. We got super lost and wandered into a random area that definitely did not have Pho but Torie, the map whizz navigated us back to Pho Pho, the Vietnamese restaurant. I in turn, taught her how to use chopsticks!

Brussels Torie Using Chopsticks

Romans really like Roman food so we wanted to adventure out and we were excited that Brussels gave us the opportunity to try different foods. It’s the little things!

Victory #5: Everyone told us to go to Bruges, a city north of Brussels. We had some challenges with buying the tickets at the train station because Belgian machines really like you to use either a card or have 30Euro in coins, both of which we didn’t have. However, after some navigating we finally made it to Bruges. It is a fairytale, cobblestone, river, swans, and cute stores in tow. After some semi aimless wandering around, we finally made our way over to the local brewery for a tour. As beer enthusiast, you can only imagine how excited Torie and I were.

Brussels Brewery Rooftop The tour detailed the history of the beer and the family behind the beer, ending with a great view of the city on the rooftop of the building.

Victory #6: The last and final victory of many, was our trip to the Sunday flea and food market. I always love going to markets in various countries because goods are affordable and unique. You also get to taste a little bit of the local life. This market proved no different. There was everything from clothing, shoes to full roasted chickens, kitchen supplies, cosmetics, flowers, fruits and vegetables. You could get everything at this market and it was so wonderfully overwhelming.

Brussels Strawberries

Torie and I got so excited about the fresh produce that we decided to get a whole crate of strawberries for 5Euro. This is actually a steal compared to both American and Italian prices and they were delicious! Even though together we have both eaten about 50 strawberries and may actually turn into a strawberry, there is still no regrets with this purchase!

Brussels Flower Market

Needless to say it was a great trip and I hope one day I will be able to go back to this wonderful city.

I hope you all had a great weekend!

That’s all for now.


Romping around Rome, Assisi, and Barcelona

Romping around Rome, Assisi, and Barcelona

So much has happened in the past few weeks!

I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Rome and it was much more anticlimactic than you would imagine. The Irish pubs in the center of the city were all jam-packed, so a few friends and I just meandered around the city and returned home before midnight (no, dad, I didn’t fly off to Ireland for the day!).

That Friday, I had to attend a makeup class in the evening. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, so I spent it exploring Rome on my own. I first went to Piazza Navona, where dozens of artists had their paintings set up. My next stop was Campo de Fiori, a small piazza with flower shops and other vendors. I perused through some spices and some clothing items before stopping to eat a panino and people-watch from my perch on a fountain. Not quite ready to head back to the confines of campus, I traipsed back through Navona toward the Pantheon. On the way, I shopped in a small bookstore. Then I picked up some decent cheesecake gelato from a gelateria that advertises hundreds of flavors, and ate it on the steps in front of the Pantheon, in Piazza della Rotunda.

Artist in Piazza Navona


Later that night, I saw Insurgent with Marie, Roshni, and Katherine at a movie theater that was showing it in English. Before the movie, we had dinner at Da Bufetta and got gelato at Frigidarium right next door. Both were incredible! At Da Bufetta, I got a glimpse of how much dough the cooks had in the kitchen. It was enough to make at least two fully grown humans. Frigidarium was life-changing – gelato will never taste the same. The Frigidarium flavor tastes like my favorite cake batter flavor of froyo back at home. I combined it with a chocolate crème flavor, had it dipped in chocolate, and voila! The perfect gelato.

Pizza from Da Bufetta
Gelato from Frigidarium


That Saturday, I took a pilgrimage to Assisi with the school. We started with a morning prayer on the bus before all falling fast asleep. We saw the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi, a beautiful building with two levels and a crypt where the tomb of Francis is kept. Our guide explained to us what all the murals in the upper church represented. Many of them depicted the life of Saint Francis, with allusions to the life of Jesus Christ. Our guide made the comment once that with all the progress of modern life, when it seems like man can do everything himself, many people don’t feel a need for Heaven. I was overcome by a feeling of need for Heaven when he said that. The mere thought that man can do everything himself seems absolutely dismal to me — we clearly haven’t figured out to make the world a peaceful place for ourselves. Standing in the upper church beneath dozens of incredible murals, I realized just how much humanity is in need of Heaven.

We strolled around the streets of Assisi for a while, grabbed panini and gelato for lunch, and then went to the Basilica di Santa Chiara to see the cross relic that Francis was praying to when God told him to rebuild His church. We prayed once more in a side chapel. On the bus, I got to know some of the Deacons from JFRC, and they told me about their time spent studying in Assisi. We stopped at the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli at the bottom of the hill, which interestingly had a church inside a church, and said a final prayer. Our dinner that night, which lasted several hours, consisted of all kinds of locally grown and produced foods. Father Al and Father Bore hilariously teased each other from across the table. The table erupted in laughter every time Father Al would make an old-person joke about Father Bohr, to which Father Bohr would respond, “You will burn!” On our ride home, Father Al showed us a few of his dance moves as “Uptown Funk” blasted from the speakers.

Basilica di Santa Chiara


The next day, I woke up bright and early to volunteer for the Rome Marathon. It was inspiring to see people from all over the world converge in the eternal city to accomplish one of the greatest physical feats. Two of our own J-Forcers, Joey and SLA Chandi, also completed the marathon!

On Wednesday, calcio was cancelled due to a torrential downpour. Instead, I went to an aperitivo bar called Foodoo with Bri, Ali, Reagan, and Reagan’s sister who was visiting. We ordered delicious fruity drinks and had a refreshing girl’s night out.

The next weekend, I flew off to Barcelona with Bri and Roshni. Naturally, I played the song “Barcelona” by the Plasticines when we were landing.

We took a taxi to our hostel, Hola Hostel, to drop off our luggage. Roshni parted ways with Bri and me because she was going to visit a friend from home who is also studying abroad. Bri and I almost immediately decided to head for the beach. On our way, we passed the Arc de Triumph, which I think I may love more than Rome’s triumphal arches for its unique brickwork and patterns – the fact that it’s surrounded by palm trees only adds to its beauty. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Of course, neither of us had brought sunscreen. We bit the bullet and laid out our clothes as makeshift towels, and soon fell asleep in the sand (we’d had an early flight). As you can imagine, I was soon looking a little lobster-like.

Arc de Triomf


Bri and I had lunch at a beach-side restaurant. We split a salad topped with berries and nuts, some bread, and delicious cod fritters…and, of course, sangria. After over two hours of talking, enjoying the food, and wrapping our minds around where we were, Bri and I decided to head back to the hostel. We walked slowly along the beach. We kept walking slower. And slower, and slower. Until finally we found ourselves lying down fully clothed in the sand to take another nap. Bri woke up to a father telling his child, “You can do whatever you want here! Look at those girls!” We decided it was time to leave.

We went out with the hostel that night and met another student from Chicago who studies at John Cabbot in Rome. It’s such a small world! We also met a girl from Canada who had just graduated and moved to Barcelona for an internship, even though she’d never been there before. She’s definitely another one of the many courageous people this semester. As for the clubs – the nightlife in Barcelona is everything everyone says it is.

The next day, Roshni reunited with us. We trekked about a dozen blocks in the heat to find a churreria. My chocolate-filled churro was more than worth it.

Chocolate-filled churro



We had a nourishing lunch – steak and eggs, for me – and then went to the Cathedral for a free historical walking tour through the Gothic Quarter. We saw Picasso’s first donation to Barcelona, ancient Roman buildings, and Placa de Sant Felip Neri, where dozens of children were tragically killed by a bomb explosion in the Spanish Civil War. The plaza, however, also has happier history: it was the setting of a scene in a Woody Allen film! While we were there, an extremely talented a Capella group burst into song and dance. We visited the corner of Carrer d’Avinyo, where Picasso stood waiting for his father after school every day. There used to be a lot of brothels on the street, and Picasso got to know the ladies well since he was there so often. According to our tour guide, they inspired his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Cathedral in Barcelona



The tour ended at the port. Exhausted, we took another nap in the grass. A series of advertisements reading, “Coffee lovers this way,” each with an arrow, led us to Costa coffee. The coffee and cheesecake gave us the energy to trek onward to the magnificent Magic Fountains of Montjuic. The fountain lights turned off early due a technological problem, but I ran into Katie, a girl from my last semester’s marketing class! It was the most unexpected place to run into someone from home – she’s currently studying in England, but happened to be in Barcelona for her spring break.

Bri, Roshni and I entertained ourselves by finding hilarious English translations in a nearby clothing store. Then, we had empanadas, nachos, and fajitas from a vegetarian restaurant. Once again exhausted, we called it a night and headed back to the hostel (with an unplanned hour-long detour).

Vegetarian nachos


Sunday morning, we woke up early enough to have breakfast at the hostel and set out to discover Gaudi’s famous modernist architecture. It wasn’t hard to spot – his buildings, Casa Botllo and Casa Mila, are marked by soft curves and whimsical balconies. The most astonishing of Gaudi’s feats, however, is the Sagrada Familia (or as I like to call it, the Sangria Familia).

Casa Botlla


We bought tickets for 6:15 p.m., so we had time to kill before seeing it. We bought scarves, rocked the “Yacht mom” look, and trekked up to Park Guell, and saw all of Barcelona sprawled out below us. We could clearly make out what we called the “Larry the Cucumber” building.

Standing atop Park Guell
Standing atop Park Guell

The Sagrada Familia was partially under construction, but it’s the one building in the world that can’t be ruined by it. The outside is decorated with creatures of all sorts, and culminates in points that look like melting candles. In typical Gaudi style, no part of the building is untouched by an unusual flair. The inside of the church is even more breathtaking, which I didn’t think was possible. My jaw dropped when I walked in, and I couldn’t stop gawking at the ceiling. The pillars look like trees rising into a heavenly canopy, illuminated by light shining through the colorful stained glass windows. Thanks to my art in Rome class, I recognized the Four Living Creatures in the transept of the church. I got dizzy from spinning around looking up at the ceiling and the unbelievable architecture.

Sagrada Familia


For dinner, we had paella at a restaurant across from the hostel. Bri and I went out dancing for a few hours, and then all three of us caught a plane in the wee hours of the morning. Thanks to Holy Week traffic, it took less time to get from Barcelona to Rome than it did to get from the Rome airport to campus. Despite that minor annoyance, the weekend was a wonderful one!

Arrivederci, tutti!

Greece Lightnin’, Turkish Thunder: A Spring Break to Remember

Greece Lightnin’, Turkish Thunder: A Spring Break to Remember

At long last, here’s an account of my biggest adventure this semester – my spring break excursion to Greece and Turkey. I’ll try to keep it brief!

Led by the dean of academics (“Sander”) and SLA Mitch, I and 43 other students hopped on a plane to northern Greece. We spent the first two nights in a 5-star resort hotel called Cavo Olympo, nestled between the foot of mount Olympus and the Aegean Sea. Unfortunately, the fog was so thick that I never once actually saw Mount Olympus. Friday evening, we checked into the hotel, freshened up, and ordered milkshakes from the bar before going out for a delicious group dinner at a restaurant called Gastrodomio.

We were supposed to hike up Mount Olympus on Saturday, but unfortunately, incessant rain changed those plans. Instead, we visited Greek ruins and a museum that housed intricate mosaics, the oldest organ ever found, and fascinating sculptures of Greek gods and goddesses. Constantinos, our amiable tour guide who strongly resembled John Lovitz, kept us captivated with stories from Greek mythology. Afterward, we hiked up to a castle on top of a cliff. In the ruins of one of the castle’s chapels, I spotted human remains!

View from my castle

Then we had lunch – lamb and fries – in a Greek tavern on top of a mountain. The fog was so thick that we couldn’t see anything out of the window. We were actually enveloped in a cloud. In the afternoon, during our down time, we returned to the hotel and many of us enjoyed the steam room, the sauna and the pool. That night, we were set loose in the small town of Litohoro. Gabrielle, Melanie, Katherine and I headed straight to the first gyro place we could find. They were delicious as expected (and cheap!).

My first Greek gyro

We sat in the gyro-ria playing a Disney guessing game, waiting until an acceptable time to explore the nightlife. It turns out there really wasn’t much nightlife to explore. We ended up in a bar full of hip youths, and felt very old and out of place. It didn’t help that we made fools of ourselves in the language department. When the bartender asked in a thick accent if we were ready to order, I thought he had asked where were we from. I responded happily, “Chicago!” He just stared at me for a long, awkward moment before repeating himself. Melanie had a similarly embarrassing interaction while we were ordering, so we left shortly afterward and found a lounge where we fit in better and had large mugs of decadent hot chocolate.

On Sunday, we took a road trip to Thessaloniki, stopping at museums and the tomb of Phillip II along the way. The first night in Thessaloniki, we went to a cocktail bar to celebrate Maureen’s birthday and played a game called “What are the Odds?” which is basically a glorified version of Truth or Dare that only involves ridiculous dares. While we were romping around the city, the stray dogs would follow us around because they thought we were a pack. One of the highlights of Thessaloniki was climbing to the top of the White Tower, a famous landmark from ancient Greece that was once a mark of suffering and devastation but has become a symbol of hope. Later, we went to Blue Cup Coffee, which had a cozy atmosphere and yummy drink options. I got some sort of strawberry and vanilla coffee concoction.

The White Tower of Thessaloniki

The next day we set out for the town of Xanthi. In the morning, we saw the Jewish Historical Museum of Thessaloniki where we learned the tragic suffering that Greek Jews endured during the Holocaust, and also learned about the role of Greece in World War II. The sun finally came out later in the day, just in time for us to wander through the ruins where St. Paul was once imprisoned. We stopped along the coast in Kavala for a pre-dinner, where I ordered Taziki (as usual) and a small fish appetizer. We had our last group dinner in Greece that night. It was the most divine culinary experience. First, bread was brought to the table. My friends and I were eating some when Ioanna, who was our guide for the trip, came over to us and said, “Don’t eat the bread. There’s a lot of food coming.” I mentally scoffed and thought she had no idea how hungry I was. But as usual, Ioanna was right. For a solid hour and a half, food just didn’t stop coming. We were always rushing to finish one thing before the waiters brought out another. It was almost overwhelming but my taste buds have never been so happy. For the rest of my life I’ll be dreaming about that meal: the lamb, taziki, fries, salad and countless cheese-filled appetizers. Ioanna also gave us Greek names during dinner – you can call me Agaliki.

After we ate, most of us went out together for a final adventure in Greece. We witnessed Ioanna using her Goddess magic when she led us to a bar and later demanded that an employee escort us to the cool club down the street. At the club, Gabrielle and I had fun getting to know our bus driver, Costas. He didn’t speak great English, but we talked about his career. Most of the time, we stood at a table in awkward silence due to the language barrier and ridiculously loud music. When we were ready to leave, we had to find our way back to the hotel on our own. Melanie asked two young people sitting outside the club for directions, and they kindly offered to walk us. We learned that their names were Nick and Katerina. Katerina had the most beautiful curly Greek hair. Nick taught us a foul word in Greek. We made it back to the hotel safely.

The first thing on our agenda the next day was a wine tasting in the Greek countryside. Ioanna taught us how to properly taste and evaluate wine like true connoisseurs. We spent the rest of the day on the bus, headed for Turkey. When we arrived in Istanbul, we went straight the Orient Express for dinner. The food wasn’t anything special, but the atmosphere was really interesting – I felt like I could be in an Agatha Christie novel. The waiters wore conductor outfits and brought the drinks out on carts designed to look like trains. The next day, we visited the Blue Mosque and the Ayasofia. The Blue Mosque was beautifully decorated with geometric patterns and rich drapery, and we took off our shoes and wore hijabs while inside. While in the Ayasofia, we could faintly hear the call to prayer, which was an ethereal and moving experience. I learned from our Turkish tour guide, Koko, that the call to prayer is sung by in harmony by one person from each mosque in the city.

5 Blue Mosque (above) and Ayasofia (below)

Gabrielle, Melanie, Katherine and I had lunch in a restaurant with a beautiful view. I had Heinz ketchup for the first time in months – I nearly cried because I’ve missed it so much. Then we explored a palace that overlooked the Golden Horn, where I saw an ornate clock exhibit as well as ancient weaponry. That night, Mel and Gab and I walked down the main strip near Taksim square, and found a small café-like restaurant where we could hear live Turkish music. We tried Turkish delight, a sweet, gummy-like treat, and smoked melon-flavored hookah afterwards to fully soak up the culture.

The next day, we went to a church with beautiful mosaics and then took a cruise down the Golden Horn. While drinking Turkish tea, I listened to Ioanna talk about the peace walk she took from Athens to Istanbul. It was so inspiring – she told us she believed that if she kept a clean mind and spirit, no harm would come to her. She asked us about our dreams while we looked out across the water at Asia. When we came ashore, we went to the Spice Market and then had yet another delicious lunch at a place Ioanna recommended.

Cruise on the Golden Horn


In our down time, we drank more tea and played chess at a café near Taksim. I almost got run over by a tram (watch out for those if you ever visit Istanbul). We went out with Turkish students that night, a meeting arranged by Ioanna. We talked with them about the Turkish education system and what they think of Americans. They took us to a kebab place and then to a bar where we danced to 80s/90s Turkish hits. Then we went to another pub where they played a lot of classics – most memorably, they played “I will survive.” When we were walking home at nearly 2 a.m., Starbucks was still open. It was glorious. I was home.

The next day was filled with shopping at the Grand Bazaar. Bartering was stressful at times, but I bought gifts for people back home and adopted a terrible British accent while doing so. The sheer size of the Bazaar was incredible. It would have been easy to get lost among the thousands of stands selling scarves, spices, dishes, trinkets, and nearly everything else under the sun. We had our last dinner as a group that night at a restaurant called Feraye. I had the honor of sitting next to SLA Mitch and learning about his favorite places to travel. Everyone got up to dance (including Sander, Ioanna, Mitch, and Costas) before our dinner had even arrived. I enjoyed the appetizers the most, but for the main course, I ate a fish that still had a face. After dinner, a few of us went to a club called IQ. We went crazy when the DJ played “Fireball” (the JFRC calcio theme song) and danced the night away.

The next morning, I went to the Turkish baths with a group of girls from school. We stripped almost completely naked to be scrubbed down and washed by large, motherly Turkish women. It was indeed awkward at first, but I appreciated the way the body wasn’t treated as a taboo, sexual object to be ashamed of. It was a relaxing, eye-opening way to finish off spring break.

On the bus back to JFRC, Sander gave a long speech full of inspirational musings about the trip and the rest of our lives, such as, “I hope it gets inside you, you get a feeling, and it gets in your heart.” Another gem was, “You go left, you go right, you go straight ahead.” He had everyone on the bus either laughing or crying as he talked about how we had all become a family.

Me, Ioanna, and Gabrielle at the airport

Stay tuned for my post about Barcelona! Ciao belle!




I’m so excited to tell you all about my latest trip to Barcelona, Spain! This particular adventure has been my favorite trip to date in Europe, despite the many roadblocks faced along the way.

In Barcelona I got to use all the Spanish I know!! So basically, none. But by the end I was using ‘hola’, ‘gracias’, and ‘amigas’ like a champ! We had to mime our way through not one but two meals, but it was pretty satisfying to be able to communicate without English for once.

I also learned the words for ‘lost’, as I got my phone and wallet stolen on the first night. I think I took about 5 years off my parents lives (again) as I called them at 4am and asked them to cancel all my credit cards…

My friends and I decided to blame the incident on the fact that I was blonde-prejudiced while in Spain, since my blonde hair and Casper white skin don’t exactly blend. Speaking of white skin, throughout the entire city of Barcelona I could not for the life of me buy sunscreen. Everyone is apparently too dark and therefore above sun poisoning (I am not). I spent a good three days being absolutely lobster red, which didn’t help my standing out problem. However, that burn has quickly faded into a golden bronze so I can’t complain too much.

In Barcelona, we saw everything (probably) via a million different kinds of transportation. We saw the city from above in a cable car, which was very helpful to getting us oriented. We rented bikes one day and saw La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi architecture (many times from the McDonalds across the street- it had macaroons?!), the windy alleys of the Gothic Quarter, and, of course, the beach. This was so much fun and I want to do this everywhere I go from now on! We went on a bar crawl, after picking up a few more Loyola Ramblers, and saw the inside of one of the most famous bars in Barcelona- Espit Chupitos. This place sells only shots and has over 200 to chose from! Most of them were on fire, involved whip cream, or had elaborate science experiement build-ups. We also cabbed all over the city in order to make the most of our time- our hostel was located in the city center, so the beach was just out of reach by foot. Overwhelmingly though, we just walked. I think we went up and down the main strip, called La Rambla, 800 times.

Finally- food. My favorite part of any trip. I found a new obsession- paella. My friend Madison and I had paella every meal for two days upon our arrival. It’s the perfect combo of a light rice dish with the freshest seafood all topped off with a lemon. We couldn’t get enough. We also were on a sangria kick throughout the trip, because when in Spain! There is also an amazing market on La Rambla called  Mercado de La Boqueria with so much fresh food and fruit. We came out with four savory pastries and a huge pile of guacamole. I left Spain very well fed!

I’m just going to let the pictures do the rest of the talking. Barcelona, I miss you already!

IMG_5505 IMG_5524 IMG_5528 IMG_5529 IMG_5530 IMG_5533 IMG_5541 IMG_5549 IMG_5554 IMG_5556 IMG_5550 bar crawl group


Next week, my family is coming to town so get ready for a whole bunch of London!!