Tuesday, April 5, 2011


In a desperate attempt to avoid writing a reflection paper about the visit our Human Rights class took today to the International Committee of the Red Cross (which was incidentally pretty cool and very informative) and reading Le Petit Prince for French class, I suppose I'll detail some more of my European adventures.

Next stop: Rome, Italy.

What's up Vatican City!
I don't think traveling in Europe would be complete without a visit to the capital of the Roman Empire, the center of the Roman Catholic church, the Eternal City. So, back in January, several members of our program decided to book a tour of the Necropolis ("City of the Dead" under St. Peter's Basilica) and spend the weekend of March 3rd in the beautiful city of Rome.

I'd like to begin by saying that I'm pretty sure I gained five pounds in the four days of being in Rome. I mean, how can you not when surrounded by gelato, pizza, pasta, and vino?

Along with my three roommates (more of our group came the next day), I took an 8ish-hour train ride from Genève to Milano to Roma on Thursday afternoon. Nice trip, nice weather, well done. We got into Rome pretty late, had a bit of difficulty finding our hostel (which turned out to be a hotel), and then began our mission of finding some food. We ended up at a restaurant near our place where we had some marginal "Italian" food and some (obviously) delicious gelati. (I'm still confused about when to use gelato (singular) and gelati (plural), and I'm pretty anal about that sort of thing so if anyone has some insight, please let me know!) We had a great time that night, went to sleep late, and slept in I'm sure. The weather that Friday was shite, and unfortunately we had to drag our suitcases (and our asses) to the apartment we were staying in for the next two nights. We ended up getting off at the wrong metro stop (after confusing the metro with the train, which we were supposed to be taking), walking in the rain through the torrents of classless men trying to sell us cheap tours of the Vatican, going the wrong way, stopping for a pick-me-up pizza, getting lost again, and finally finding our apartment after calling the proprietor, an adorable Italian woman named Emanuela. But the fact that we could see St. Peter's Dome from our apartment's terrace absolutely made up for the frustration of getting there.

Me, Ellen, Anya
That afternoon, we settled in and then went to pick up our (honorary) roommate Adrianne from the train station since (unlike me and the complications with my quarter-to-semester credit hour financial aid discrepancies resulting from studying abroad) she has an internship here and was unable to get off work on Thursday. We went for another gelati run, got fancied up, went to a very classy Italian dinner complete with plates of pasta and live music, and had a pretty crazy night on the town in downtown (uptown?) Rome. Roman nightlife has to be some of the most fantastic in all of Europe. Which I think I am actually pretty qualified to judge these days...

Such gorgeous faces!
Saturday morning, we had to be up pretty early to get to the Vatican. After hanging out in St. Peter's Square for a bit, we waited in line to see the inside of St. Peter's Basilica; I think it goes without saying how incredible it was. Surrounded by works by Michelangelo, Bramante, Maderno and Bernini (among others), I was pretty much in awe. Absolutely massive, inside and out.

The Swiss Guard reppin' my country!
The Nave
The Nave Floor
St. Longinus
St. Peter's Baldaccino
The Altar of the Chair of Peter
The Pieta
I strongly, strongly suggest investing in the tour of the Necropolis for anyone who visits Rome. It is one of my favorite parts of Europe so far, and I don't anticipate it being overtaken by anything else anytime soon. As we walked through the ancient tombs, our tour guide provided us with the interesting history of the excavations of the area underneath the Basilica, as well as the much-debated history of the burial of St. Peter. The tour ended with a look at what is believed to be the remains of St. Peter, buried within the Trophy of Gaius. The history of it is way, way cool. We exited the excavation site into the Vatican Grottoes, where the tombs of former Popes are found. I really found it interesting to see the tomb of Pope John Paul II, where a large crowd was gathered to pray; there were two security guards exclusively at his grave.

After sending my family a postcard at the Vatican post office, I went with Adrianne to see the Colosseum, the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, and the ruins of the Roman Forum. Walking down the Via dei Fori Imperiali towards the Colosseum is one of the coolest things I have ever done. We got off the bus, and suddenly it was right there, a building (if you can call it that) I have seen a thousand times in textbooks, on TV, online, etc. Right there in front of us. Way awesome. After being conned into a 10-euro photo shoot with two Roman warriors (living out of a suitcase), we checked out the ruins of the Forum. They were pretty ruined, and it was getting dark/cold, so we snapped a few photos of the Vittorio Emanuele monument and got on a bus back to our cute Roman apartment.

Egyptian street performer in Rome?
Expensive photos 
Arch of Constantine
I look ridiculous
The only reason there are so many pictures of the outside is that we couldn't get inside...
Ruined things
Lots of famous things with lots of names that I forget
Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II
Sunday morning, Adrianne and I rolled out of bed and walked to St. Peter's Square where thousands (that's my educated guesstimate) of people were gathered to witness Pope Benedict XVI come out to his little window and speak lots and lots of languages. The sun was shining, and it was pretty fascinating (despite the multitude of issues I take up with the current Pope and the Catholic Church in general).

Apparently he's a pretty important guy
Waiting for the Pope
What's up Holiness 
Vicar of Jesus Christ
A very crowded St. Peter's Square
After that, we spent what little time we had left in Rome trying to find the Spanish Steps. We found them, wished we had more time to spend there and in the surrounding area, acquired some more gelati, and walked through the Piazza del Popolo where the last day of Carnevale (a time of celebration before the beginning of Lent) was going on. Crazy, crazy costumes.

Spanish Steps!
Piazza di Spagna
As we spent the rest of the day rushing/running/sweating in order to get to all our trains on time, I couldn't help but think about all the things I somehow managed to miss out on seeing in Rome: the Trevi Fountain, the Castel Sant'Angelo, the Pantheon, etc. I realized that although it's not really in my personality to do lots of planning, Rome is one of those places where there are so many things to see that it's pretty necessary. So don't make the same mistake I did: Go see everything. Don't stay out till outrageous hours having fun raging; go to bed early so you can get up and see it all.

When else will you be in Rome?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Please Mind the Gap

Alright so. I'm just going to continue down my list of February trips because I still have A LOT of work to do on this blog.

On the 17th of February, I easyJetted off to London, UK to visit my best friend in the world, Miss Ara Post. I flew into Gatwick where I was promptly questioned the hell out of by the immigration officer. No, sir, I am not coming into your country to bomb it, kill anyone, or steal any national secrets. But at least he stamped my passport, which has been rare in my experience so far. Next, I proceeded to exchange some Swiss Franc into pound sterling. Possibly the single most depressing experience of my life to date. The exchange rate these days is something like 1 British pound = 1.62 USD which means that one of my dollars can only purchase about 62 pence. Absolutely disgusting.

But anyway, I was in London, where I was confused yet happy about all the English language surrounding me. It had been over a month since I had walked around a public place and understood people talking, which is actually a much more disconcerting experience than one would think.

The next leg of my journey was a bit more difficult: getting to Brighton, England by train. I spent several CHF on the phone with Ara trying to figure out the best route, and eventually, after some train platform dancing to Daft Punk, I arrived at Falmer Station.

After not having seen my best friend in well over a month, it was the strangest experience to get off a train in ENGLAND and see her standing there. So crazy! After lots of best friend hugs, we climbed the hill to the Falmer campus of Brighton University, where she is studying until June.

We spent the rest of the night making dinner, catching up, and hanging out with her wonderful housemates. We went out that evening to celebrate the birthday of a girl named Leanne, an English girl who also studies at Brighton. There is nothing better than pub crawling via those (very English) red double-decker buses.

Obviously taken from the top level of a red bus
Somehow I forget what happened on Friday morning/afternoon. I do believe we slept in pretty late, maybe did some shopping (at Primark, what a great store), ate at the delicious Gourmet Burger Kitchen, and I had Lick frozen yogurt for the first time.

Strawberries, Oreos, and honeycomb...mmm

But wait. I think I take that all back. Pretty sure those things happened on Saturday, because on Friday we ventured to London city. We took the train to London and then hopped on the Tube, one of the most iconic London things of all time. After getting quite a bit lost, we found the building where Ara's sister works, acquired some tickets from her for our concert later that evening, and had some food at a sushi place in downtown London. Also we had more frozen yogurt.

You are welcome for this!
After some sustenance, we were ready to meet up with Madison, one of Ara's housemates, to see Maroon 5 and Sara Bareilles at the Brixton Academy in South London. Incredible show, although Sara's newest album had not yet come out in the UK at that point, so people felt the need to talk a lot during her performance. WTF. But she was amazing, and Maroon 5 obviously put on a great show. And during their encore, they sang Sunday Morning, which is perhaps my most favorite Maroon 5 song ever. Made my night, my weekend, my month.

I think we were pretty exhausted after that and went to bed soon after getting back to Brighton. The next day, then, is when all those things happened that I mentioned above. Downtown Brighton is adorable, with its indie shops and restaurants and eccentric people. Besides being in love with our waiter, we spent  the time in GBK people-watching out the window. Interesting, interesting.

Then that night we got really, really sick. We stayed sick all day Sunday which was horrible. My flight out of Gatwick was at 6 a.m. on Monday morning, so I ended up taking the bus then the train to the airport beginning at 2 a.m. I only managed to get everywhere thanks to Leanne and her friend Patrick, who (drunkenly) accompanied me all the way to the airport. I am so thankful for them; I would have been so lost and confused had they not helped me out! We parted with hugs at the airport, and I flew back to Genève to attempt to get better.

Things I learned in England:
1) Oatmeal is delicious with peanut butter and banana.
2) The way they talk is so much more adorable than American English.
3) The English love to make fun of American English.
4) It's just as difficult for them to do an American accent as it is for us to do an English accent.
5) We are spoiled living in Geneva because of how easy it is to get around the entire continent of Europe from there.
6) Caramel chocolate digestives are so, so good.
7) I love my best friend.