Queen Margherita of Naples

I hope that my blog post title confused and/or intrigued you enough to commence reading. If so, welcome yet again. On this segment of Lena’s Life Abroad I will be taking you all on a journey back to the 1800s in Italy, where a woman legitimately named Queen Margherita (you cannot make this stuff up) supposedly decided that cheese, bread, and sauce all go well together and WHAM. There ya have it-a pizza.

I was fortunate img_3133enough to travel to this pizzeria where pizza freaking originated, called L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. And oh my goodness, if you or anyone you love or care about find themselves in Naples-SEND THEM HERE IMMEDIATELY. This pizza was unlike any other pizza I have ever eaten, and trust me I have eaten a lot of pizzas. For 4 euro for a pie bigger than your head, it was obviously my first stop when I got off the train. Please enjoy this photo series of me taking my first bites in a cute and girly way:

Being in Naples was everything that I pictured an Italian city to be like and more. This is probably partly because Italy does this horrible, horrible thing where they DO NOT HAVE DRYERS. I shit you not, I have to use a drying rack for my soaking wet clothes which usually takes between 1-2 days for them to be wearable again and leaves them uncomfortably stiff and detergent smelling. I know I sound extremely complain-y and privileged right now, but I do not understand why we have THREE PIZZA CUTTERS in my apartment and no dryer. The two are not necessarily correlated, but still, you get my point. The one benefit of this is that it left the streets of Naples riddled with clotheslines hanging from balconies, resulting in an incredible authentic aesthetic that radiates through the entire city. It was truly beautiful.img_3130

On top of that, we also had a full and complete view of….an ACTIVE VOLCANO. Ohhh, scary. Sitting outside in Naples, drinking wine, and watching the sun set with Mount Vesuvius in the back, which could choose to take us all out at any moment, was thrilling and calming all at the same time. I live life on the edge.img_3192img_3252

And to end, I must mention that everyone in Italy and pretty much all of Europe cannot go two sentences without asking Americans what they think of Donald Trump. This one man in Naples who barely spoke any English still managed to squeeze it out. FYI America is a huge laughing stock right now to the rest of the world because we let an unqualified reality television star win our PRESIDENTIAL election. Just a small insight for everyone who might not have known.

Anyways, go to Naples. The pizza is good and cheap, the volcano looks cool when it is not leaking out molten lava that has once taken out an entire city, and the people are nice (if you didn’t vote for Trump)!

There is also this medieval looking castle right in front of the ocean, horribly misplaced, yet majestic and pretty darn cool.

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amsterDAMN

Okay, okay, I know it has been a while, but do not fear avid readers, here I am: back and better than ever with yet another blog post title that makes you cringe. Since I now only have 2 weeks and 3 days left in Europe, I have really been trying to soak it all in and do as much as I can, leaving me to be a bit absent minded when it comes to writing a blog.

This past week I had an extremely special visitor (AKA my boyfriend) come and visit me. I then did the obviously logical thing and blew off class that entire week to galavant around Europe with him and give him a taste of how I have been living these past 3 months. This resulted in one of the best/funniest/craziest weeks of my entire abroad experience, and probably my life. We ate delicious food, and did as much as we could, resulting in walking 59.3 miles over the last 7 days, all the while taking in everything we could see around us.

One of the things we saw: img_2904Yes, this is in fact a grown woman sporting her small dog in a papoose made for children in Vatican City. The Pope would be ashamed. And yes, she did see me take this photograph. How could I not?

Furthermore, while out to dinner we stumbled upon some sort of strange American/Italian gathering in the party room of a restaurant, which consequently sported the only restroom in the joint. Cursed with a small bladder, I had to brave my way through the party.img_2898 After relieving myself I was horrified to hear the catchy beat which could be none other than the YMCA. Walking out, my eyes were met with 50 party people ranging in age from 45-80 all boogying in their seats flailing their arms to make the letters. In shock, trying to get back to my pasta with clam sauce, and unsure of how to react, I immediately was hypnotized by the classic. My arms began to form the Y, the M, the C, and even the A. As I danced, I scurried through the crowd, getting cheers as I wiggled out of the party room and back to the dining tables. It was a moment.

We also saw this dead bird, and Dixon took a picture.

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Besides these fun things, we saw the Trevi Fountain, Piazza del Popolo, The Pantheon, Castel Sant’Angelo, walked the Tiber River, watched the sunset, and took it all in.

And then it was off to none other than AMSTERDAM: home of the Van Gogh Museum and stroopwafels. The latter was very important because I had never had a stroopwafel before this, but was enlightened the moment one touched my mouth. It was a thin spiced waffle with a layer of caramel in the middle, served warm, a Netherlands go-to treat.

While in Amsterdam, we stayed at the best Airbnb (@Campsterdamn on Facebook), which provided us with free bikes with our rental, and was only a short ferry ride away from Centraal Station, the heart of the city. The air here was crisp and cold, which was refreshing compared to Rome’s mild weather. We walked through the Red Light District, biked around, went to the Van Gogh Museum, and lived the true Amsterdam lifestyle.

All in all, the week of a lifetime, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

P.S. the plane rides were beautiful and we got to the Swiss Alps:img_3093

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The Swiss Alps!

Rome-ing Around

Hello, it is me, back again with another horrible blog post title. But, it is true, I have been in Rome for about a week now with my days consisting mainly of exploring and wandering through the streets of the city. Because the more walking I do means the more pizza, pasta, and gelato I can eat: a win-win situation.

Anyways, Italy is truly a magical place. I can honestly say that I am in awe at every corner. Since it was my first week, I obviously had to get some of the touristy things out of the way. This included going to the infamous Trevi Fountain, the beloved scene made famous by both being extremely ancient as well as being a key part in The Lizzie McGuire Movie. While admiring the beauty of the spewing blue water, I found myself surrounded by mass waves of tourists all trampling one another trying to make their wish. img_8280This is when, all of a sudden, while sitting at the edge of the fountain daydreaming about what I was going to use my coin to wish for, I began being pelted with flying coins. Coins came at me from what felt like every direction, from up above of those patrons too lazy to make their way to the bottom, who chose to Hail Mary their wishes from any length they deemed necessary. And there I was, standing there, deciding on what to do next with the plethora of coins that had just bounced off of my body onto the ground. All of those wishes, ended, by simply not making their way into the fountain. That is when I became THE WISH FINISHER. It became my duty to pick up those fallen coins that did not make it, and plop them into the fountain myself. I was greeted by smiles and thumbs up for finishing the job. It was my version of being a superhero for a moment, but even that moment meant so much to those people.

The tourist list continued with a trip on my first day to St. Peter’s Basilica. As the sun went down, I happened to experience one of the most breath taking moments of my life as a the colors of a Roman sunset silhouetted the huge church as it lit up.img_2570

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And again when I went to the Colosseum, which was particularly intriguing because I found out that they had captured wild animals from all over the world, and then would recreate the environment in the stadium to replicate that of the captured animal, and then have the Gladiators fight then. It was more than just a blood bath, but a performance of sorts with much time and dedication going into the setup and props used.

To end, a few more fun and weird things that have happened in this first week to me here in Rome:

img_2536All over Italy are these water fountains, constantly running supplying anyone who wants it water from the ancient aqueducts. During a walking tour that I took, we were encouraged to have a taste, and I must say, that was some FRESH water. I am not sure if it was because I was extremely thirsty, or if it was actually good, but still enjoy this photograph of me awkwardly drinking from an angel’s mouth, which sounds worse than it was.

I have also eaten an extremely thick piece of lasagna:img_2640

And to finally end, everyone here thinks I am either Latina or Chinese. I know this because I have been greeted multiple times with “Hola,” as well as “Ni Hao.”

And finally, finally, I was “Hail-Mary-ed” at the supermarket by an old Italian woman for buying alcohol. Cheers to her, and cheers to Rome.

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London I Love Ya! (And Scotland Too)

London will always have a special place in my heart. Corny, but oh so true. As the city I have lived in for the past three months, it was extremely hard to say goodbye. So, to end my final rendezvous in the Big Smoke, I decided to do big things such as get warm bread and cheese from the oldest market in London and eat it on the Thames with the Tower Bridge in the background. I also did something new, and went to the top of Primrose Hill to get a view of the place that has given me so much, and that has truly changed my life forever. So, thank you London, you will be missed.img_2161

And, to finish up my last three months of United Kingdom living I had to take a trip to the mysterious land of kilts, AKA Scotland. I had always heard it was the place to go when studying abroad in London, but man did it impress. Getting off of the train I felt like I was transported to another world. All of the buildings looked like they were from the Middle Ages, with big stones jutting out left and right, and towers protruding out of the skyline. I hadn’t been there for 5 minutes, and was already feeling cultured.

Our first plan of business was to go see the Edinburgh Castle. It was there at the top of the Royal Mile looking majestic as the sun silhouetted the outline of its structure, when all of a sudden a noise was heard in the background. img_2274Listening more closely, I couldn’t quite make out. It was not until I walked back down that I saw him-a man playing BAGPIPES. He was huffing and puffing away as I watched with awe, when all of a sudden I looked to my right only to see LIVE OWLS. So there I was, in Scotland, with bagpipes playing in the background, petting soft owls: a weird experience indeed.img_2320

 

 

 

And then that next day, my friend and I decided to tackle the beast that is Arthur’s Seat. I have no idea who Arthur is, but he sure decide to make his seat up pretty dang high. After what my phone calculated as 80 floors worth of climbing, paired with 5 miles of walking, we made it to the top of what overlooked the entirety of the city. It was spectacular. IMG_2392.jpg

 

Overall, Edinburgh was a blast. We also went to a quirky museum called Camera Obscura, a museum based entirely on optical illusion. Yes, we chose to do this instead of touring the Edinburgh Castle. And yes, it was well worth it, don’t judge. The main reason being that we got to go through a mirror maze, and  I also got to make myself look extremely tiny next to my friend who is actually extremely tiny! How did we do it? The world will never know.img_2308

Also I watched the sunset from a museum viewing gallery, and saw the graveyard that inspired J.K. Rowling, pictured below!!!

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Oui Oui

I saw London, so obviously I had to hop on the train and see France. Get it? Ha. Ha. So off to Paris I went. The trip started out rocky as my seat mate for this 3 hour long train ride was a large and girthy man. We discreetly fought over the much desired arm rest while simultaneously sleeping on this 5 AM train. Many awkward moments later, I won the battle, or won as much as I could by using my arm on the arm rest to be this man’s makeshift arm rest; human bonding in the best form.

Anyways, I arrive in the city of love, and go to buy my metro pass. For those who don’t know, the metro is the most amazing public transportation system in the whole world. It is always on time, and has many vending machines filled with glorious European snacks. Anyways, I walk up to the information counter and ask the woman about buying a pass. Of course, like every person in Europe, she whispers a response that I can barely hear. I ask her to repeat what she said, to which I am again answered with what seems to be a mouth moving and no words coming out. AGAIN, I say “what,” and then lean in so close that I slam my entire face against the clear plexiglass dividing us. She breaks out into laughter, non discreetly, directly in my face, and points to the cash register with the price that I owe. I pay it, and am officially off to my hostel.

img_1718In Paris, I did a lot of cool things, and some not so cool, like crying of semi-drunken happiness entering Jardin de Luxembourg because it was warm out and beautiful and everyone looked so happy and the grass was green and it smelled like crepes and I had just eaten my body weight in cheese. img_1518But c’mon, wouldn’t you have cried too? No? Okay, don’t judge me.

 

 

I also walked the stairs of Sacré-Cœur where I almost got attacked by a pigeon while watching someone soothingly play harp, making me scream and run therefore completely ruining the moment for all watching (or making it better). Then, I bought a 6 Euro cappuccino in Montmarte, so please look at my picture of it because it was expensive. From then on, I explored the city, where every corner seemed to honestly be more breath taking than the last. Red leaves and green vines climbed up pink houses all silhouetted with an overcast fall Parisian sky. I could not get over how picturesque everything appeared to me, and at that moment I truly felt at peace.

A list of other cool Parisian things I did:

  • explored a spooky cemetery in Montmarte and played with a black cat in the cemetery (so October)
  • took a selfie with a bunch of pigeons, the dogs of Europe
  • walked down the Moulin Rouge street and saw an Eiffel Tower dildo and many neon fluorescent sex stores signs such as “Pussy” and “Porno Store”img_1596
  •  ate cheese
  • went to the Eiffel Tower
  • ate almond chocolate croissants
  • went to the spooky Catacombs
  • ate more cheese-this time in melted fondue form
  • Shakespeare and Company book store
  • ate more cheese with snails
  • puked from eating cheese and snails

 

And then, on the last day in Paris we had plans to go to the Louvre. With the line being hours long, it was a unanimous decision to not wait and waste our last day. As we strolled through the outdoor area, an unexpected surprise hit us smack in the face. Right there in front of us were about FIFTEEN DOGS. Yes, fifteen dogs. Of all different shapes and sizes and colors and breeds. Ugh, they were all so cute and I just wanted to pet all of them. Being here has made me a sap for some good animal loving. We met one particular dog, a small, black pug, and decided to name him Pete the Problematic Pug. Why, you ask? Well, he would never stay with the pack, and when it was time to go the dog-man in charge literally whistled and said something in French, to which another dog rushed over to Pete, grabbed his leash, and began TO WALK HIM HIMSELF. YES, some good, kind-hearted, dog on dog walking action witnessed right before my very eyes. I shed a tear. Paris was amazing, 10/10 would recommend a visit.

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Stockholm Syndrome

When a flight costs thirty pounds round trip, always say yes. Because then, you might just end up somewhere pretty cool, like Stockholm, Sweden. Any country whose cultural tradition is to take time out of your day to drink a coffee and eat a pastry is a country I’d like to visit; and that is exactly what I did here. It’s called “fika” to be exact, meaning that the coffee shop craze has taken over Stockholm, with dozens of coffee shops on each street, all booming and lined with rows and rows of different pastries. img_1042And during my sacred time of practicing Swedish tradition, I consumed the best pastry I had ever had in my entire life. When I asked what it was, the barista simply told me “apple and vanilla.” It sounded good enough to me, so I ordered it. With that first bite, I had just eaten a buttery croissant-like dough layered with cinnamon and sugar, and filled in the middle with vanilla pastry cream accompanied with slightly baked spiced apples.

Another key component to this Swedish soirée was our Air B&B rental: a gigantic 8 bedroom ski house complete with a sauna and a fireplace, with the walls lined with books like a library.img_0936 Oh, and the red rental car to go with it added a nice touch. Situated in a suburb thirty minutes outside of Stockholm, our house was surrounded by the epitome of fall.

We happened to stumble upon an annual Jazz Fest, and were directed to go to the oldest jazz club in Stockholm, where a live jazz band would be performing. At 9 o’clock, a band stepped on stage adorned with guitars, a keyboard, and of course the occasional fedora hat. With the first taps of the drums, they all started jamming out to oldies rock songs. Expecting jazz, I immediately switched gears and proceeded to jam the eff out with some older women and all of my friends, with dance moves including but not limited to: air guitar, fist bumping, and sometimes getting wayyyyyy down all the way to the floor. img_1021The night was completed with late night snacks, where I witnessed for the first time my friend consume a hot dog with no bun, which rolled onto the floor of the car, and was still gobbled up willingly.

Anyways, it was a hell of a night. Other cool things happened in Stockholm such as

  • having a taco night in our Swedish kitchen
  • seeing minions dance while gypsies played music and a sad clown watched
  • going to Galma Stan
  • finding secret walking paths with amazing views
  • getting spooky in a cemetery
  • oh, and seeing a one woman show by this woman:img_0971

It consisted of her “making a cake,” in which she took pancakes and threw icing and jam and sprinkles on top of them with her bare hands, splashing the audience with sweets and constantly screaming in Swedish, meaning I understood not a single word. She then went around for everyone in the audience to taste, which everyone then did, including one woman who took a fingerful and stuck it into her baby’s mouth. It ended with her slow dancing to a guest accordionist, and inviting everyone into an art gallery. But hey, anything in the sake of art, right?

 

 

And that was Stockholm, a heck of a good time!

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ICELAND

Before I get into detail, I would just like to say that if you wanted to take a trip, and could only pick one place, pick Iceland. That is how much I enjoyed every second of my journey to this strange land filled with volcanic rocks, humongous mountains, and hundreds of thousands of sheep. Yes, sheep. And this is a long one, but a good one, so bear with me.

Speaking of sheep, on the first full day we were there I saw these little puffs of wool all over, dotting the mountains and chomping away on the grass. I knew from the moment I saw them that I must pet one. I must. So, whilst driving (yes, we rented a car, yes, the best decision like ever), I saw a relatively close pasture filled with these clouds, I mean, sheep. I made my friend pull over immediately, as my newfound life goal was to get my hand literally on one of these sheep. I hopped out of the car and approached one, slowly. It ran away. I approached a group of two others even more cautiously. They darted. Then, I picked up a handful of grass and approached another. He seemed cool. He looked more chill than the others, more compatible with me. I held out the delicious leafy greens to him. He looked at me. I looked at him. He took a step closer. I stretched my hand further. He came closer. I stopped breathing for fear of scaring him away. He came closer, and closer, and then he opened his tiny sheep mouth, and took a chomp out of my grass. OH MY GOD, he ate it. I was ecstatic. Suddenly, as if a signal went off, every other sheep on the pasture began to run towards me. What was happening? I didn’t know. They ran faster and faster until every single sheep on the entire pasture gathered around me with the hope of also getting a bite of what I was giving. I was entirely  emotionally overwhelmed, and cried. And took a selfie too.

Here is the progression of the sheep coming towards me:

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The End Result

Also, a real life picture of what I looked like when this happened:

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But, continuing on, that first day we drove all around Grindavik, and walked the Bridge Between Continents where the Earth around us was black like volcanic rock with patches of green scattered all over. Then we moved on to a huge Geyser that was smoking so much you could barely see in front of you. The steam was so warm and smelled like rotten eggs, but contrasting with the red ground in front of me it looked beautiful.

Then onto the notorious Blue Lagoon, where we waded around in the bright blue waters until I felt like one big prune.

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us enjoying the atmosphere

Then, on to day two. Another equally exciting and adventurous day, beginning with a morning in Reykjavik. We were driving when all of a sudden down the street of the most populated town in Iceland we saw gigantic mountains with snowy peaks off in the distance. It was surreal. We had our morning coffee with a local cat, and then ate a delicious fresh brunch of green eggs and ham with fresh bread and butter.

And we were off again, this time to drive the Golden Circle ourselves.

img_0700Stop #1: Thingvellir National Park, where the fall colors illuminated everywhere you looked-yellow, orange, red; it was amazing I felt like I was on another world. Then we hiked to Oxarafoss, a small waterfall.

Then onto Stop #2: Geysir, the geyser that gave name to all others. It spurted every 8-10 minutes. We hiked up the mountain behind it to get a full on view of Iceland while the sun began to go down.

img_0674Then Stop #3: Gullfoss, one of the most massive waterfalls I have ever seen. Claiming to be bigger than Niagara, you could immediately feel the mist hitting you as you walked down to see it.

We also saw a huge volcanic crater from an erupted volcano, and other nature-y things throughout the drive. It was wild.

 

And then, to finish my Icelandic experience, while we were driving we saw something in the sky. It looked like a small green cloud. Then, as we drove it got larger and larger, until suddenly a huge green streak floated across the entire sky, twisting and moving as time went on. Yes, you guessed it, A NORTHERN LIGHT. It was a singular one, but still, I saw it, and it was breathtaking.

That, my friends, my followers, my avid readers, is my Icelandic experience. Any country that has more sheep than people is a country for me. To end, here are a few other pictures. I can only hope that you will see this wonderful, mystical country in person one day.img_0644img_0634img_0716img_0717img_0525img_0594img_0555