Izmir and Istanbul

Well, the European part of my adventure is over – I can’t believe it! I’m in Boston now with my boyfriend’s family, and still thinking about our last week in Turkey. As previously mentioned, we found Izmir to be rather boring, and in retrospect I think I would’ve skipped it and spent more time wandering around Selcuk. There were a few interesting sights – namely, the clock tower and the seawall.

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They did have the remains of an agora, but it was fenced off and a bit hard to see. For something to do, we decided to take a day trip to Cesme on our second day there. Cesme was actually quite pretty – it’s a little town on the western edge of the coast. We ended up buying some souvenirs there because we found it was cheaper than in the city. Unfortunately, we went on the one day that the castle is closed (Monday), so had to content ourselves with walking by the water.

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We did catch a pretty sunset in Izmir.

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The final stop in our trip was Istanbul, a city that I’ve heard great things about and that didn’t disappoint. Istanbul is amazing – it’s so full of life and history. One thing I learned is that they have good bonds with Korea, which I was surprised by. They were putting on a Turkish-Korean cultural expo while we were there, so we saw both Korean breakdancing and Turkish folk dances. It was really interesting as a way to see more of the culture.

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Most of our visit in Istanbul consisted of sightseeing. Our first day we saw the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia, two incredible religious buildings.

Blue Mosque:

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Hagia Sofia:

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We also checked out the Grand Bazaar, which was enormous and a bit of a labyrinth. Luckily for me, the boy got bored of looking at the stalls and kept track of our whereabouts. The next day, we visited Topkapi Palace, which is also enormous but beautiful. It took us over three hours to walk through everything, but it was worth it.

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We also visited the Basilica Cistern, which is underground and used to be the water system for the city. It’s dark, slightly eerie and very cool.

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On our final day, we took a trip to the Asian side – just to say we had been – and had lunch, before traipsing back and climbing up Galata Tower. The views were amazing!

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Other stops on our visit were the Spice Bazaar and Suleymaniye mosque, both worth a visit. In conclusion, a city definitely worth visiting, and one I will remember for a long time. I do have to admit it’s nice being back in an English-speaking world, though a bit odd.

A final food picture to sum up my trip.

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Goodbye Europe, until next time…off to a different adventure!

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Brrrrrrrrrr-lin

When I tell the Europeans that I’m Canadian, their first response is: “Oh, so you must be used to this cold then. This must be nothing.”

My response? “Actually, I’m a Vancouverite…we’re wimps.” I have been freezing my butt off in Berlin for the last two days and simultaneously loving it and wondering if my toes are still there.

My last days in Geneva were balmy compared to Berlin. We wandered around the Old Town area, saw the Jet D’eau (the tallest water fountain in the world), checked out the crypts under the cathedral, looked at a lot of watches that we couldn’t afford…that sort of thing.

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One of the areas I quite liked was Carouges, an older, artsy neighbourhood of Geneva. We also went to go see the UN building, which had this enormous chair with a broken leg sitting right outside. I kind of wondered what would happen if a giant attempted to sit on it. Overall, it was a great and enormously international city.

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I’ve found Berlin to feel very different. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that Berlin feels that it’s brimming over the edge with memories. I actually have liked it a lot, despite the fact that there is snow everywhere and I can barely feel my fingers at the end of the day. On our first day, we went on a tour that touched upon most of Berlin’s biggest monuments and areas. It was actually really interesting, and I think I understood a lot more out of the city’s history than if I had simply wandered around on my own.

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We also discovered an amazing chocolate place that we’ve now been to twice – it used to be the chocolatier for the royal family. Today was full of Christmas market shopping. I am probably lucky that I only have one backpack, because if I didn’t have a space constraint I would’ve bought an extraordinary amount of stuff. Instead, I had to cry inside and walk away (and buy myself things that can fit in my stomach, instead…)

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We also went to go see the government building, which was pretty cool. You got to walk up this dome at the top, and I’m sure if it hadn’t been covered in snow it would’ve been a great view. Instead, I got to study the icicles pretty closely and guess at what half the city looked like. It was still worth it though.

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I’m pretty tired now, but one more week before I go home! Tomorrow is a bit more of Berlin, and then off to Copenhagen, where I’m hoping for a few degrees higher in temperature. (I’m funny, aren’t I?)

Italian Adventures

Wow, I can’t believe it’s Halloween today! It definitely doesn’t feel like it. I think it may be because we’ve been having pretty summer-like weather (up until last Friday), so I’ve been blissfully pretending it’s June, and now it’s very cold so I’m convinced it’s already December. I’m not quite sure where fall went. We’re going to have a potluck and small Halloween party tonight, though, so that’ll have to be my little slice of autumn.

It’s been a pretty eventful last week and a half. The weather was gorgeous last weekend, so we went to Viareggio, a beach about an hour away from Prato. I couldn’t get over the fact that I was sitting on a beach – in shorts! – in late October. It was blissful.

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The beach was really quiet, which was nice – I’m assuming because it’s low season for tourism. We made sandcastles and slept in the sun like five-year-olds.

Our field trip last week was to Lucca, which is in Tuscany. I really liked it actually – one of my favourite things was the city wall, which encircles the old part of the town. It’s this wide stone wall that you can walk or bike along, and on the sunny day that we had it was really nice to just take a stroll. I didn’t quite realize how much I missed trees and greenery until I saw the park and unconsciously breathed a huge sigh of relief at the sight of leaves.

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We explored the city for a while afterwards. To be honest, it looked like a lot of the other Tuscan Italian cities I’ve visited – lots of little windy streets. On a side note, we also found a candy stall, which made us extremely happy. They don’t seem to have candy in Italy, but I’m not complaining because they more than make up for it with other things. (I am also majorly freaking out because today is the last day for gelato. WHAT BLASPHEMY IS THIS.)

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We also went to see an opera performance in the evening, which was very cool. Puccini, a famous opera composer, is from Lucca, so it was a collection of some of his music. I’m always very impressed with opera singers. I feel like they would be very good at raising the alarm in an emergency.

The next day we went to Pisa, where we saw the leaning tower of Pisa (of course). It’s actually way more leany (I’m making that a word) than it looks in the pictures – you can’t quite capture the way it actually looks like it’s going to fall on you. Most of the pictures are on another girl’s camera though so I anxiously await my silly tourist pictures of trying to push the tower over. I also saw the cathedral, baptistry and cemetery, all of which were very interesting.

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It was a nightmare coming home from Pisa, though. First, the trains were delayed, so we waited for almost two hours at the train station. When the train finally came, there was a huge crowd of people bustling and jostling to get on, and when we finally got on and sat down we realized that one of my friends was missing her purse. We saw a man outside the train with it and ran off the train to go retrieve it, but he wouldn’t give it to us. Turns out he was the police and saw some girls steal it, so we missed our train and ended up having to go sit in the police station for a few hours to cool our heels and give a statement. It was extremely confusing at the time because only one of the police officers spoke English and we couldn’t understand why we were standing in the pouring rain waiting for him to give it back. They were very nice to us, though, and we eventually managed to get home (about eight hours after we left Pisa…) It was awful, but now I can say I’ve been in an Italian police station. Not something I want to repeat, though.

The weather’s changed for the colder (much colder), so I’m hoping it doesn’t rain for our field trip to Siena tomorrow. Crossing my fingers!

Prato 101

Well, I’m finally all nice and settled down in my new home in Prato, Italy!

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I’ve been here for about five days now. I spent my last day in Vienna exploring the Schonbrunn, which was pretty cool – the gardens were very extensive and I felt like I could have spent hours wandering through them (and getting slightly lost. After a while, trees and bushes all start to look the same…)

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I did have a slightly unsettling moment while there – I was still very sick, and so I had to take a lot of breaks to wheeze quietly to myself. There was a large hill to climb in order to get to the Gloriette, a small palace-type building with a view of Vienna, and so I paused about two-thirds of the way up to take a breather. I sat down on a bench with my sunglasses on to look at the view. It was very pretty, though I was rather ruining the quiet spot by coughing my lungs up, and so I tried to just take a moment and enjoy it. Next thing I know, I look at my watch and it’s been half an hour. Apparently I passed out…on a park bench. The height of class, I know.

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I also found some pretty cool building art. Maybe I can transplant them to San Francisco…

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Friday I left for Florence, and got to meet up with some of my field school group. I didn’t get too much of a chance to see Florence, though it’s only half an hour away from Prato so I will definitely go back. We did hike the Duomo though – 464 steps of claustrophobic stairs straight up. It never seemed to end, but the view at the top was totally worth it.

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Saturday I went to Prato, and I’ve been here ever since! It’s actually a much larger city than I originally thought, but we are living within the city centre, which means it’s more manageable in terms of navigation. (Though I’ve definitely gotten lost a few times). It has been such a relief, though, to get out of tourist-land. It feels much more like authentic Italy here.

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I’ve had some classes now, both for literature and for Italian, and we’re starting to get into the groove of things. The apartment I’m staying in is super cute and very European, and we’ve already been cooking up a storm. The food here is absolutely amazing – best gelato and salami I’ve ever had in my life. Tomorrow we go on our first field trip to Assisi, which has an awful early morning start but looks to be an exciting day. It’s just been really nice to have a home base to return to, and to not be living out of my backpack. So far so good – wish me luck in getting up at 5:30!

My new second-favourite city

(Vancouver being the first, because it rocks).

However, the position of my second-favourite city has now been filled by Vienna, which I firmly believe is a place of magic. Everywhere I look there is another incredible building or sculpture that looks like it belongs in a postcard. I’m not kidding. EVERYWHERE. It is magic, I tell you.

I’ve been pretty busy here – I spent yesterday morning at the Belvedere, where I was more mesmerized by the rooms of the palace than the art that it was housing. I’m pretty efficient when it comes to art – I look, I enjoy, I move on. I don’t exactly linger. Hey, I’m into literature, not art.

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I spent most of the rest of the day just wandering through the streets, completely mesmerized by everything. I love old buildings, and Vienna is just brimming over with them. I visited the Museums Quarter, the market that has a German name that I can’t remember, part of the Hofsburg, and Parliament, among a few.

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Today I went to the Natural History Museum, which was pretty cool – the building was amazing, and worth visiting even if just for that alone.

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(I’m actually fluent in Moose. We had a good conversation).

I went back to the Hofsburg and actually went inside this time – the State Hall with the library was breathtaking. I was practically drooling at the proximity of so many books. The imperial apartments were pretty cool too. Not as grandiose as some other palaces I’ve been in – I still think Versailles takes the cake for crazy I-had-too-much-money-and-time.

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My last stop was Stephensplace, to check out the cathedral. It was pretty impressive, though I don’t think it managed to beat the ones in Prague.

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I am so exhausted right now though – this cold is still here and not budging. It’s making it a bit rough because I’m out and about all day, so I’m not really giving myself much time to rest. On the other hand, though, tomorrow is my last day of serious sightseeing before I head down to Italy, so I’ll have to make it through one more day and I can relax a bit more.

Cathedrals, castles, and more cathedrals

Accomplishment of the day: navigating successfully between two countries and not getting lost, while battling a severe chest cold and lugging my life in a backpack. I would call that a win. (Well, not the chest cold, maybe). I’m sitting comfortably in my hostel in Vienna, completely exhausted because of my shortage of white blood cells.

I spent my third and final day in Prague entirely by myself. Does it sound lonely? Maybe, but in fact it was wonderful. I think I was probably too cranky from my cold to play nice with others, and this way I got to see exactly what I wanted to. So far, the only thing that I kind of dislike about flying solo is eating alone in restaurants. For some reason, I always feel like the waiters are judging me, and I never know if it’s rude to be constantly people-watching. Other than that, it’s been amazing just having my own space and doing things on my own time.

I think I saw a grand total of three and a half cathedrals, a basilica and a castle yesterday. (Half a cathedral because I missed the opening time for Our Lady Before Tyn and had to content myself with staring through the doors).

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This one was my favourite – Saint Nicholas, I believe. I happened upon it entirely by chance, but it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever seen (and trust me, I have seen a lot of cathedrals for someone who isn’t religious).

It was raining in the morning, but luckily for me that meant that Charles Bridge was way more tourist-free and I didn’t have to elbow my way through masses of people.

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Charles Bridge was cool because it had all of these statues along the side of it. They were super intense, as always.

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I also climbed the Astronomical Clock Tower and got a beautiful view of the city. It was breathtaking. (Literally, I kept on getting elbowed by other people and getting the wind knocked out of me).

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Overall, I really liked Prague. It was full of history and it was definitely a very beautiful city. One of my favourite things was the architecture – everything was just wonderfully preserved and you could see three different eras in one street. What more could you ask for?

“Packing” is “Panicking”, abbreviated.

Ah, packing. Possibly the worst part of travelling ever.

I’m a pretty awful packer. I put it off, I pack too much, I leave my clothes in the suitcase for forever because I don’t want to unpack … I love travelling, but I would pay a lot of money to be able to just wave a magic wand around my bedroom and magically place everything I need neatly into a bag. To make matters worse, whereas normally I at least have two huge suitcases to shove all of my things in, I’ve been trying to fit two and a half months worth of stuff into one backpack already half-filled with textbooks. It’s not a pretty picture.

I’m supposed to fit this and more on my back? Ha. Ha. Ha …

I’ve decided to go with a travelling backpack rather than a suitcase because it seems easier to avoid dragging wheels along the cobbly unpaved roads of Europe, but I have to admit it’s pretty entertaining when I put it on. I literally look like a turtle. A turtle with lots of straps and zippers. I’m what the cool turtles wish they could be.

I’ve definitely been avoiding putting the last things in and trying to hoist it back onto my back, though. (I fear that I will tip over). The big day is tomorrow! It’s crazy but true. I was telling a friend last night that I can’t believe I’m going again, as I feel like I just got home. It’s kind of hard in some ways, as I feel really nomadic, but I am so excited to be returning to Europe. Castles! Churches! Art I don’t understand! Languages I understand even less! It’s going to be awesome.

My last few days have been full of crazy essay-writing (that I’m avoiding doing right now), seeing people, and eating all the Asian food I won’t get in Italy.

Dim sum, I will miss you. Not enough to stop me from going, though.