Paris…

The trip I had been waiting for was finally here.

My roommate Ashley and I flew out on Thursday evening and landed in Paris a bit before 10. We had to find our hostel which turned out to be not be as difficult as we first thought. We made our way over to the bus stop which dropped us off at a metro stop and got on the metro to Gare du Nord train station which was right near our hostel. Our hostel was so nice, thanks to a recommendation from a friend. Gabby was there waiting for us when we got there and I was so happy to see her. The first thing she said to me was “have you always been this short?” What a great friend I have. My friend Madison had already checked in to the hostel and was up in the room waiting for our arrival. The room was small, but cozy and we had our own bathroom so there was nothing to complain about. I couldn’t wait to catch up with Gabby, but we were all so exhausted.

Friday

We woke up mid morning and set up a game plan for the day. We headed over to Notre Dame and were able to get inside and take a look around without a problem. I had heard that sometimes the line is very long, but to my pleasant surprise it wasn’t. The church is amazing both on the inside and the outside and it photographs very well. After our visit, we decided to walk around to the back of the church and on the way we stopped to get some crepes. I had one with Nutella on the inside, while the others got the classic butter and sugar. We found a bridge with ‘love locks’ on it and we were a bit confused because we all had read that the love lock bridge was removed a few months before, but there are a bunch of these bridges all around Paris. We crossed the Seine and headed up the other side of the river towards the museums and the Eiffel Tower. Madison wanted to go into the Musee d’ Orsay and so did the rest of us, but we were too excited to see the Eiffel Tower so she went into the museum and the three of us headed over there (and I’m very glad we did). I’ve only ever seen the tower in pictures and movies so seeing it in person is such a surreal thing. It looks exactly the same and was a bit bigger than I imagined. It had been cloudy all day but as we got to the tower the sky cleared and there was nothing but blue skies above us. A photoshoot commenced and I took some pretty good pictures. Gabby and I would switch off every so often as her photography skills are better than mine.There was a group of Asian tourists that all of the sudden surrounded us and and wanted to take a picture with us. So right now there is a funny picture of the three of us with some tourists floating around on someones Faceboook. After we took enough touristy pictures, we headed back over to the museum to catch up with Madison. Admission to the museum is free for students which is really nice considering almost none of the museums in Rome have deals for students. The museum was really cool and was full of famous artwork. Gabby was in heaven! After we headed over to the Louvre which has free admission on Fridays after 5:30, but we would have gotten in free anyway with our passports and student visas. I saw the Mona Lisa in person and can now say that I went to one of the world’s most visited tourist sites in the world. I like museums and art, but we had seen so much that afternoon that my head was spinning. We decided to leave and grab some dinner. All of the restaurants around the Louvre are pretty expensive which is expected because they are meant to catch the hungry tourists. After settling on a restaurant, we were seated and devoured our meals. I suggested that we go over and see the Eiffel Tower all lit up, but we were all pretty tired and cold so we decided to head back to the hostel (which was another good decision).

That’s when our weekend was unexpectedly changed….. We got back to our hostel around 10:20 and the TV in the lobby was showing pictures of police vehicles and chaotic scenes. Since it was in French we didn’t fully understand what was going on, but a few of the guests in the hostel were translating things for everyone. Soon our phones were going crazy with people trying to get in contact with us to make sure we were safe. Madison brought her computer down from the room and started to look at news sites and get more information. Info started to trickle in and we began to realize the severity of the situation.It was all so overwhelming and we had no idea what to do with ourselves or what to do to help the situation. The hostel was put on a semi- lock down and they only let people with key cards in. I have to give them a lot of credit because they handled a dangerous situation very well. Time passed very quickly and before we knew it, it was 3am and we were all in shock from the evening’s events. After I finished getting in contact with my friends and family I headed to bed, not knowing what Saturday would bring.

Saturday

Since we had no idea what to expect, we slept in and then tried to piece together what happened the night before. We discovered that we were only a mile and a half from the shooting at the Bataclan concert hall and the reason why we kept hearing sirens all night was because out hostel was very close to a hospital. Unsure of what to do, we left the hostel to find the Chipotle and get some fresh air. The streets were pretty bare and we were all a bit one edge, but we didn’t want to stay in the hostel all day. After wandering around for a bit we headed over to the Arc de Triomphe. It was really cool to see it in person.After snapping a few photos, we continued walking and were able to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower from afar. There were many tourists out enjoying the day which put some of my anxiety at bay. The Champs Elysee was also on the list of places we wanted to see and it wasn’t too far from where we were. We had heard that there was a Starbucks over that way so naturally we found it and sat down for a bit before we headed back to our hostel. Before we went back to our hostel we made a stop at The Sacre-Coeur Basilica. It is such a beautiful church both on the inside and out. As soon as we walked in, all of the emotions from the past 24 hours hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t help but cry, and Gabby joined me (true friends). After the cry fest, we grabbed some dinner and headed back to the hostel for some much needed rest.

Sunday

Ashley woke up at 3am to head to the airport for her flight. I was sad to see her go, but I knew I would be back with her on Monday. Gabby, Madison, and I woke up and headed to a really nice bakery right down the road from our hostel. Each of us got a pastry and then walked over to a park to sit and chow down. It was such a beautiful day and the temperature was perfect. Since Madison had to head to the airport around 2, we decided to walk around the Montemartre neighborhood. There were a bunch of cute stores that we walked in and out of and just enjoyed looking around. Madison then headed to the airport and Gabby and I decided to hop on the metro and go to a park on the outskirts of the city. There were so many people enjoying the sunshine and the beauty of the park. It had some modern statuary on display and to our surprise there was a canal running right through the middle of the park! Many people were out on boats and Gabby and I picked a spot of the edge of the canal and sat down and reflected on the weekend. The sun soon set and we headed back into the city and got dinner at a restaurant that a friend recommended. We both ordered steak and fries which is supposedly a French favorite. It was really good and it was nice not having a bowl of pasta for once. Knowing that one of the attacks had happened in a restaurant Gabby and I were a little on edge. After all the walking, we headed back to the hostel, but knowing I had to be up at 3 to get the the airport, I didn’t get much sleep.

Monday

Up and at em at 3am!! I walked over to where the airport bus stop was and got on and to the airport without a problem. I made it in plenty of time for my flight and made it back to Rome safely… But my day was just beginning. As I have previously mentioned, to get back to my apartment from the airport I have to get on the train and then the tram. It was about 9:00 by the time I got on the tram and rush hour was in full effect. I was exhausted and had my huge backpack with me. I pushed my way on the tram and hung on for the ride. At one of the stops, two men pushed on and then got off at the same stop. I thought that there was no possible way they were going to fit and I was preoccupied with moving myself and my backpack out the way to make room for them. And that’s when it happened… An older Italian man caught my attention and asked me, in Italian, if I had my phone. I looked down at my bag and it was open and my phone was nowhere to be found. The two men that had pushed their way on to the tram had stolen my phone right out of my bag. I don’t think I have ever been that angry in my entire life. I was two stops away from getting off and this HAD to happen. I lost all of the pictures I had taken on my phone that weekend, but lucky for me I carried my camera around with me and Gabby had a bunch of pictures too, so not all hope was lost. Being without a phone was difficult, but it was kind of nice not being attached to something constantly. It was just so crazy to know that someone stolen something that meant so much to me. Now I’m not saying that I was attached to my phone, but a phone is such a personal thing. I paid for it by myself, it had a case on it, many pictures, and messages between my friends and I. The men probably sold my phone for a nice bit of cash and it is now in the hands of someone in Europe I’m sure…

NEST STOP: LONDON & EDINBURGH

XOXO

Maryrome

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Corleone, Cannoli & Mt Etna

I feel so bad for not posting in about a month. My life has been crazy and this is the first time in weeks that I’ve had to time to just sit down and semi-relax.

A few weeks ago I traveled to Taormina, Sicily to visit my friend Emily. I landed in Sicily on Thursday evening and had to take a one hour bus ride to Taormina from Catania. Sicily is soooo different from the mainland. I found the people to be much nicer and in general everything moved much slower and no one was in a rush to get anywhere. Emily met me at the airport and then we hopped on the bus. After searching around for my hostel, we finally found it. It was a really cute place and it was super cheap too!

On Friday morning I woke up and sat out on the terrace that was connected to the hostel. It had great views of Taormina, the ocean, and Mt.Etna. Taormina is breathtaking. It sits on pretty much a cliff face so the views can’t be beat. Around 1:00, I went down into town to meet Emily for lunch after her class. I met her friend Leslie who was studying at Babilonia with her and it turns out she knows someone at Marywood. Small world! After lunch, we walked around and she showed me all of her favorite places. A few weeks earlier I showed her around Rome, so it was nice to be a “tourist”. Taormina is very small, but it is very quaint and I felt right at home. We stopped at the public gardens and then met up with Leslie for granitas. I got a chocolate and strawberry one and it was so good. Emily’s host mom, Emanuela, invited me over for dinner. It was so nice to have a home cooked meal and be forced to speak only Italian. She made spaghetti and sliced up some nice bread for us. I thought that this experience would allow me to speak more Italian on a daily basis, but I am around other American students all day and when people find out I speak English there is no turning back. She asked me a bunch of questions about my study abroad experience and about life in general. After dinner we hung out in the living room and watched Italy’s version of Deal or No Deal. Instead of models, the had a person from every region of Italy holding a box. I like this version much more. It was so cool to be in an Italian household and see how they live. If I could do one thing about this experience over again, it would be to live with a host family.

Mt. Etna!!!

Saturday was the day!! The day Emily and I were to scale Mt. Etna. Well… not exactly scale it, but you know what I mean. We hopped in a van and headed 90 minutes north to the park where we could access the mountain. Emily’s professors were our mountain guides and they only spoke to us in Italian and once again I was thrilled. We hiked up a “hill”, which was more of a very steep incline. We had a great view of everything below us, but unfortunately it was very overcast that day so we didn’t have a great view of the rest of the island and the ocean liked I had hoped. We were able to look into craters and learn about the its previous volcanic eruptions. I kept saying “what? are we on the moon?” IT honestly felt like we were and I’ve never experienced anything like it in my life. We headed back down the mountain and as we were walking downhill I slipped on some rocks (not my most flattering moment). We had lunch and then took a 15 minute drive to one of the lava grottos. I had no idea what to expect and when we got there I was very surprised. It was an underground cave that was made by a lava flow thousands of years ago. Hiking helmets and flashlights were provided and after we suited up, we headed into the cave. Each of us had to lower ourselves into the opening. All but three of the members in the group were over the age of 40 and I thought they would struggle a bit, but the other ladies powered through! The ceiling was very low, so I understood why we needed the goofy looking helmets. A year ago if you told me I was going to be walking through a lava grotto and climbing Mt. Etna, I wouldn’t have believed you. After the long day, we went to get dinner. The city of Catania and the surrounding area is known for a dish called Pasta alla Norma. It is topped with baked ricotta cheese, which is only available in Sicily. It is in the running for the best pasta dish I’ve had so far in Italy. And that’s saying something because I eat some form of pasta almost every other day. Emily then took me to a place called C&G which is a pastry/gelato/cake shop. We split a chocolate truffle bomb and as usual it was delicious.

On Sunday morning I checked out of the hostel and Emily wanted to take me up to a church called Madonna della Rocca. The climb up was a bit difficult. Very steep steps and a higher altitude doesn’t mix well, but it was so worth it. The view was spectacular and I got some great pictures of Mt. Etna from afar.The church was small, but perfect to sit down in and reflect on things. Being up there made me realize how amazing my semester has been and how lucky I am to be able to experience some of it with my best friend.

XOXO

Maryrome

NEXT STOP: Paris!!