Ciao Roma

It’s finally here. Inevitably I knew this day would come, but I had no idea how quickly it would sneak up on me. Sitting on the Aer Lingus plane, I am now on my way home to the US.

Three and a half months have never gone by so quickly. It feels like just yesterday I arrived in Rome, and yet, I am already returning home. Studying in Italy approximately 4,000 miles from any trace of familiarity at Boston College or my hometown of Fairfield, Connecticut, I have now completely immersed myself in a new culture and environment. Conveniently, choosing to study in central Europe I had the luxury and ease of travel at my disposal. In only 120 days, I have been to 13 different countries, 2 continents, and 31 cities, many of which I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to visit. Between Spain, Paris, Prague, Budapest, Germany, and Switzerland, I have encountered situations involving language barriers, met new people, and tried many different native cuisines and cultural activities. Classroom settings taught me the history of all these places, but now I have been able to actually experience and piece together these parts of my education in person. It is as if I have walked across the pages of my old textbooks. I have learned how to interact with many different types of people, from basic communication exchanges like shopping at a local market, to asking for directions. Leaving Rome at the end of my semester, I can successfully and effortlessly navigate through the cobblestone streets of Rome, and truly consider it now a part of myself. As make my way back to the States, I am returning as a more independent individual with a much more historical, cultural and comprehensive view of the world.

I thought traveling to Italy was surreal when I left the US to come here in August, but leaving is even more so. I will never forget all the beautiful places I’ve seen, the amazing people I’ve met, and all of my incredible, one-in-a-lifetime experiences. I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity study in Italy, and blessed with having such an unforgettable semester abroad. Rome has truly become a second home, and it will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Tia amo Roma; and until next time.

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A final look across the TIber River towards the Vatican.

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

Ciao Roma.

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Mass at the Vatican

Seeing as it was officially my last Sunday in Rome, I knew I had to attend mass at the Vatican one last time.

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With an 8am wake up call, a few of my friends and I made our way to Vatican City bright and early Sunday morning. Mass was scheduled for 10:30am, but we wanted to see the top of Saint Peter’s Basilica before.

We walked along the Tiber River, and into Vatican City. We bought tickets to climb to the top of Saint Peter’s Basilica. It was not an easy climb. In fact, it was 320 up to the top of Saint Peter’s Basilica. The staircase wraps around in circles, seemingly like it would never come to an end. Many people opt to take the elevator to the top, buts as college students; of course we try to save every cent we can. And hey, who says that this wouldn’t be considered good exercise?

Light. We saw light, but it was not the end of the stairs. Instead we walked outside to another entrance to yet another staircase. This one was short, and led to the inside of Saint Peter’s Basilica. We were overlooking the 9AM mass taking place. The letters that outline the top of the basilica now seemed much larger. They were about six feet in height, and from below, they seemed about half the size. The entire church, although in reality is huge, is designed as a trick to the eye to seem smaller than it actually is. Also all of the letters and artwork appear to be painted at a distance, but up close you can see that really the whole church is covered in detailed mosaics.

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Looking down at the 9am mass.

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A closer look at the mosaics.

 

After overlooking the mass and admiring the extraordinary detail of the inside of the Vatican, we continued our journey and found the next entrance to a tighter staircase. The walls were slanted at an angle, and you had to grip the sides in order to climb. We reached a small entryway, with more constricted revolving steps. A rope was placed in the center to grip as you climbed since these stairs were steeper and the pathway thinner. Light was again at this tunnel, and this time, it wasn’t a false hope.

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There it was. The beautiful city of Rome, in its entirety, in front of my very eyes. The twelve apostles on top of the Vatican stare overlooking the city, and I can see the 140 Saint Statues on the colonnades surround Saint Peter’s Square. The Tiber River weaves throughout the city, and in the distance I could even see the top of the Spanish Steps. It’s truly remarkable to see the city from this height. I feel I have come such a long way these past few months. Coming from not having the slightest idea of how to navigate the city, to being able to now look down and confidently call the eternal city of Rome a second home.

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“There are too many things I haven’t done yet. Too many sunsets I haven’t seen.” -Sara Bareilles

 

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We made our way down just in time for the 10:30am mass. It was extremely crowded. People were hunting for seats, and they even had to bring extra folding chairs because all of the pews had filled up.

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It was a beautiful mass. Most of it, and by this I mean all except two sentences, was in Italian. But although there was a language barrier, just sitting inside at the most famous cathedral in the world was more than enough to make me take part of the holy experience. The altar was made of black and white marble, an ancient bronze thrown placed above it, and atop that the gilt and succo Gloria. The Gloria is the orange and yellow stained glass that symbolizes angels looking in as the sunlight shines through.

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When it was time for communion, the Swiss Guards were standing next to the priest, making sure that whomever were receiving the Eucharist did so correctly.

After the mass had finished, it was nearly noon. At twelve o’clock, Pop Frances comes out from his balcony on the right side of the colonnade (facing the Vatican) and says a prayer to everyone standing in Saint Peter’s Square. Again, this prayer was in Italian, but despite the language barrier it was still amazing. To see all these people who have came, gathered together, and cheered for our new Pope who was announced only earlier this year was incredible. He sincerely has captured the hearts and restored faith in many. This was the perfect ending to a great morning well spent at the Vatican.

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Pope Frances saying the prayer.

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Pope Frances on the big screen while giving the prayer.

Room 104 Spreads Christmas Cheer

After visiting the Christmas Markets of Paris, London, and even those in Piazza Navona in Rome, you could say that my roommates and I were getting anxious for the upcoming holidays. To further get into the Christmas Spirit, Room 104 decided that we would host a Christmas dinner with all of our friends the last Saturday of our semester.

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Between my seven roommates and I, we had two meat dishes, salad, pasta, mashed potatoes, green-beans, and two dessert dishes. I was assigned a dessert, so I baked brownies and sprinkled powdered sugar on top of them. Everyone invited also brought dishes such as bruschetta as an appetizer or cookies for dessert, as well as some form of a drink. We had Apple-beer, Rum and cokes, and of course the classic Italian go-to, wine.

In our beautifully decorated suite full of homemade snowflakes and linking streamers, we had a delicious buffet style dinner. Although we had plenty of food, it may not come as a shock that we finished every last bit of it (and yes, we were guilty of finishing all of the wine as well). Since we all were leaving to go back the US on different dates the upcoming week, this was one last hoorah with all of our friends we had made. We listened to some of our favorite songs, shared laughs, danced, and went out to our favorite bar together. It was a great last night with my Roman family. 

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The beautiful ladies of room 104.

Villa Borghese

Wandering the streets, the Roman cobblestones may sometimes seem as if they cover the entire city. But tucked away passed Via del Corso and the Spanish Steps, reveals one of Rome’s beautiful natural areas, Villa Borghese.

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Villa Borghese is one of the most loved and lively parks of Rome, and is located directly up the staircase of Piazza del Popolo. Unfortunately its location is nowhere remotely close to our apartment, so my roommates and I had not made the trip to see it earlier in the year. But with the clock quickly ticketing away to our departure home to the US, we knew it was time to make the trip to see it.

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As cheesy and touristy as it may sound, my roommates and I decided that we would see Villa Borghese by Segway. A Segway tour was something that we had on our bucket list since we had arrived in Rome. We rented them at the park for a half hour, trying to cover as much ground of the park as we could in such a short amount of time.

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The park was absolutely beautiful. Although in New England mid-December brings cold, snowy days as winter begins, mid-December in Rome is merely the start of fall. Seeing Villa Borghese at this time of the year was perfect. The trees’ leaves were just beginning to fade from vibrant greens to autumn colors of various orange and yellow shades.

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We with clear blue skies; we had the perfect day to explore Villa Borghese. After we finished driving around on the segways, we made our way to the edge of Piazza Napoleone I, over looking Piazza del Popolo, also know as “People’s Square”. I had never seen the square from so high up. Suddenly, the Egyptian obelisk in the center seemed so small, and past it I could stare straight down Via del Corso, one of the main shopping streets of Rome. In the distance, the dome of the Vatican peaked over the horizon. To my left, top of the Spanish Steps was visible as well as Il Vittoriano. With every new view, place, and discovery, this city never ceases to amaze me.

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Piazza del Popolo

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The top of the Spanish Steps (towards the right side of the photo)

The Glass Half Full in Paris, Half in London

There is the cliché expression; you can look at the glass empty or the glass half full. Some might think that a 4:15PM flight was in the middle of the day, resulting in cutting the morning in the first country short, and not leaving enough time to explore the second after.

To me, a 4:15PM flight to London today meant that my friends and I had the entire morning to still explore Paris. In a way, it was the best of both worlds. Fortuitously we had already done the majority of our Paris sightseeing yesterday, but we still had a few essentials to see: the Cathédrale de Notre Dame and of course, the infamous museum containing the Mona Lisa, the Louvre. With that in mind, we left our hostel bright and early at 8am to make the most of our half full day in Paris, and also our half full day in London!

First we took the Metro to the Notre Dame stop. I only had obtained knowledge of this church from what I had seen in one of my many favorite Disney movies when I was younger, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Now, it is one thing to see a cartoon of a beautiful landmark, but it is another to see the real-life church walk out of the movie and stand before your eyes.

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Notre Dame was beautiful. The exterior consisted of two tall towers on either side of the building, with a two balconies spreading across. There were small sculptures of people carved all into the balcony railings, looking in every different direction. It had a unique gothic, but welcoming style. It was constructed in 1163 and was one of the first gothic style churches built in Paris.  In all honesty, from the outside it was much smaller than I had been expecting it to be, until I went inside.

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The interior of the church was enormous. I walked inside, and the entire building was much deeper than the outside made it seem to be. Staring down the church, there were rows of pews and the altar was actually placed in the center of the cathedral. Colorful stained-glass windows were distant in the very back of the church, and a few in the middle on either side of the altar where the two towers stemmed from on the outside. I walked around the circumference of the church, admiring its different praying areas and festive Christmas decorations in the back. There was even a panel dedicated to the “Appearances of the Risen Christ”, including depictions of when Jesus had risen and visited Mary, Peter and John, Galilee, the rest of the disciples, and more.

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It took me a while to find my friends since we had all split ways when we entered and the inside was so huge. Eventually we found each other though, and after taking one last goofy tourist photo in front of Notre Dame, we headed to our last stop in Paris before the Charles de Gaulle Airport, the Lourve.

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In honor of the Disney movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The Lourve was a place I had heard much about. Some people who have visited have that they could have spent a week exploring the museum, and still not have fully explored the whole place. I figured that was just an exaggeration, a figure of speech, and just a way of people saying that the museum had a lot to offer. Arriving at the infamous glass triangular-prism reinforced that thought, until we entered and I learned that no one was exaggerating because I could have spent over a week exploring this magnificent museum.

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The Lourve.

(Note to all future travellers: The Lourve has free entry for students, so if you go bring your passport with your study abroad visa. You won’t be disappointed.)

I was overwhelmed when we got a map of the museum. There were so many floors, so many exhibits, so much to do, and not nearly enough time.

First thing was first, we wanted to make sure we had enough time to meet Mona, so we headed to her exhibit first. The crowd surrounding the wall she was on was huge. It was a fight to get to the front. I’m not going to say I was disappointed when I saw the painting, but the Mona Lisa is the only object on a huge wall, and it was so small. I had heard this from others who had visited before, but I did not believe it until I saw her in person. Nonetheless, it was still incredible awesome to see a piece of artwork by the great Leonardo da Vinci, whom which I had learned so much about in grade school. I took a few selfies with her, and then it was on to other wings of the Lourve.

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Meet my new friend Mona!

Every hallway besides the main lobby and stairwells were filled from wall to wall with hypnotizing works of arts. Paintings, sculptures, artifacts; you name it, and you could find that type of artifact there. My favorite was in the same wing where Mona resides, the Denon wing, there was a long hallway filled with more portrait paintings. There were artists that sat on the side of the hallway, and would recreate these masterpieces right in front of your eyes. Not that they could every be replicated, but it was a nice reminder that these paintings originally started out as blank canvases, and someone had the incredible talent, capabilities, and even imagination to create such works of art.

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Additionally, I really enjoyed the visiting Egyptian Antiques Exhibit. We were greeted with a giant wall filled with hieroglyphics entering this section of the museum, and continued to find mummies, masks, burial custom statues, and sarcophagi around every corner. I really liked the case where all the sarcophagi where standing up in a line. It showed different styles, patterns, and designs of the sacred Egyptian burial ritual.

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With our morning flying by, we realized that our time left in Paris was quickly declining. We exited the Lourve wishing we had more time to explore all of the plentiful exhibits, but also left knowing that this was just another excuse to have to come back to Paris. But of course, I made sure to get my clique tourist picture touching the top of the museum before leaving. It was a must.

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We took the train to Charles de Gaulle and before we knew it, we had landed in London! It was a short flight, and at this point, I was anxiously waiting to see one of my best friends and roommate from Boston College, Eva. I parted from my friends who I came with, and took the London underground transportation system, the Tube, to meet up with her.

I took the Tube to Victoria Station, where I saw her eagerly looking around and awaiting my arrival. I snuck through the crowd enough to get out of her peripheral vision, and then approached her from the back. I came up from behind, grabbed her giving her a big hug, and our overdue reunion began! We were so happy to finally see each other since we hadn’t seen one another since we parted ways in May at the end of the school year, and we ecstatic to be together again!

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Reunited with Eva!

Eva took me to her apartment where I dropped off my things, and we went to dinner. She took me to one of her favorite restaurants nearby, Charlie’s, where we caught up over dinner. She recommended the fish and chips to me, and said they were the BEST she had ever had. London is known for having phenomenal fish and chips, and in combination with her recommendation I had no choice but to order the dish. Don’t worry though, her recommendation did not disappoint! A few beers, two full stomachs, and many laughs later, we headed back to Eva’s apartment where we got ready for our nights English festivities.

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My English fish and chips experience.

A Thanksgiving to Truly Be Thankful For

Every year on the fourth Thursday of November, I wake up in my house in Fairfield, Connecticut. My family then drives to my grandparents’ house in Middletown, where we meet our extended family. My grandfather usually sneaks my cousins and I slices of his homemade raisin break before its time for us to eat, we try to convince my grandmother to let us sample a slice of her pumpkin pie as an “appetizer”, and I always feed my dog Ricky when no one is looking.  Each Thanksgiving we all gather round the dining room table, say what we are thankful for, my little sister gives a ridiculous, impromptu speech, and we enjoy our meal followed by what seems like endless hours of football games.

This year, I did not have the privilege of eating my grandfather’s homemade bread, laughing at (yes at, not with) my sister’s nonsensical rambling, or watch any football. Without these usual traditions it may seem like this Thanksgiving I may have not had as much as a reason to give thanks. On the contraire, I had more to be thankful for than ever before. I was fortunate enough to be spending my Thanksgiving 2013 exploring Paris, France.

I am thankful I was able to see the Palace of Versailles.

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The Palace of Versailles is a beautiful estate located about 10 miles to the Southwest of the city of Paris, and housed the French government, including royalty. The area started as King Louis XIII’s hunting lodge, and then his son Louis IVX executed its transformation into a much larger complex, and in 1682 moved the Court and Government of France to Versailles. After the French Revolution in 1789, the Palace ceased to be a royal residence, and began a new function as the Museum of the History of France. We we’re lucky enough to witness all of the French History in Person!

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The exterior of the Palace had lavish gold accents on the outside, including a giant gate blocking the entranceway. The inside of the palace was covered with beautiful colored marble, lavish designs, and countless embellishments. The rooms we visited included the War Room, antechambers, the coordination room, the Peace Room, the dining room, the King’s bedroom, and many more.

My favorite room we saw was the Hall of Mirrors. It was beautiful, and definitely one of the most lavish room interiors I have ever seen. There are 17 mirrors corresponding to the 17 windows overlooking the gardens. These mirrors create a reflection of the windows, which produces the illusion that the room is twice the size that it really is. There are also extravagant gold accents and chandeliers handing from the ceiling.  The King held a lot of balls and receptions in this room. The Hall of Mirrors is a truly unique type of royal beauty that exists in the world.

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After finishing our audio-guided tour of the Palace of Versailles’ interior, we began to meander through the Gardens Alleè Royale, which we had seen through the windows in the Hall of Mirrors. Between the arrangement of fountains, trees, plants, and pathways my eye was always drawn somewhere as I walked across the royal domain. My friends and I even took some time to play in the leaves and have some fun in the Royal Gardens!

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After exploring the Royal Gardens, we came across Marie-Antoinette’s Estate, or as they call it in France, Domaine de Marie-Antoinette. In al honesty I thought that her estate was going to be much more extravagant, but in reality, it was very small and quaint. Marie Antoinette came here as an escape from the palace, and this offered us a view into her more private life. We saw many of the rooms including the Drawing Room (Salon de Conpagnie), Bedroom (Chambre à coucher), Billiard Room (Salle de Billiard) and the kitchen.

With little to no time to spare, my friends and I quickly grabbed lunch to-go as we headed back on the train into the center of Paris.

I am thankful I was able to see the Eiffel Tower.

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Evidently the first thing that comes to one’s mind when thinking of Paris is the Eiffel Tower. We had seen it at a distance when we first arrived, but all of us were eager to see it up close and in person.

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When we got off at the metro stop, and there it was. It was enormous. This industrial-like 324 meter high structure was simply captivating, and I couldn’t look away. It was unbelievable to finally see this mystical monument I had seen in countless romantic movies and images in person. We walked in front of the tower where we took many photos. After all, how many times would we ever be standing in front of one of the most amorous symbols in the world?

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Sending my love to my family from the Eiffel Tower.

I am thankful I was able to see the Arch de Triumph.

After possibly a few too many photos were taken, we made our way to the Arch de Triumph. The Arch de Triumph is in the middle of the Place Charles de Gaulle, and is in the center of a major intersection. Interestingly enough, this monument brought some of the learning we did in my Roman Monuments class to life because it is modeled after the Arch of Titus, which is in Rome. The Arch de Triumph though is much larger than the Arch of Titus, standing nearly 50 meters in height in comparison to approximately 15.

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I am thankful I was able to eat macaroons. Image

We turned down Avenue des Champs-Élysèes, a famous and high-end street in Paris, where we made a stop at the renowned pastry shop, Ladurée. Here they make homemade pastries, and their signature specialty, the macaroon. There were so many flavors. Macaroons seemed to fill nearly the entire counter, were decorating Christmas Trees in the shop’s windows, and smelled absolutely scrumptious. I ordered a seasonal special Christmas Cookie Macaroon, called the Chocolat Lait Passion Coco, which was made with milk chocolate, passion fruit, and coconut. I never knew a cookie could be so light and sweet. Image

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While enjoying our sweet treats, we began to wander further down Avenue des Champs-Élysèes. At this point it was getting dark, and the streetlights were now turned on. The decorated the sidewalks in between the trees, as the circular lights changed colors between blue, white, and a reddish-orange (which I assume is to mimic France’s colors).

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I am thankful for the opportunity to visit the Christmas Markets in Paris.

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Eventually we found ourselves at Paris’ Christmas Markets. The Christmas Markets were incredible. As we walked down the street we could hear Christmas carols playing through speakers, smell all of the delicious hot wines and ciders, and see the extravagant Christmas lights, food, and decorations. Booths were lit up in different colors, each selling an excessive amount of Christmas specialties. There were booths selling custom gingerbread cookies, every type of chocolate imaginable, jewelry, ornaments, and so much more. We passed ice-rinks, a snow globe with a real person in a Santa suit inside waving as air blew what appeared to be the pieces of snow in the globe around, and sleigh where people could pose for pictures. All of the decorations, music, and spirited food truly got me into the Christmas Spirit.

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As the intoxicating smell of all the foods in the markets slowly stirred our appetites, my friends and I decided that it was time to finally eat our Thanksgiving dinner.

I am thankful that while I was away from home on this holiday, I was able to share thanks for everything I have with my abroad friends who all truly understand how thankful we all are for our amazing semester.

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My Thanksgiving dinner.

We went down a side street and found a quaint, little restaurant called Café Mode. It had a large variety on their menu, but unfortunately there was no turkey so I ordered a close substitute, roasted chicken. When our waitress brought us our food, we all went around the table and said what we were thankful for. We all similarly gave thanks for our semesters in Europe, but how could we not after all that we had already done and all the places we had seen in our few months?

After our delicious meal, we headed back through the Christmas Markets and into the center of Paris, picking up hot wine and French Crepes on the way. I ordered a Nutella crepe, and it was absolutely incredible. The lady who made it filled it with as much Nutella as she could possible fit, and topped it off by sprinkling powdered sugar and adding whipped cream. It was by far the best crepe I had ate in all of Europe. This sweet treat satisfied my chocolate craving (but too be fair, I always have a chocolate craving and no girl can ever have too much chocolate).

If we hadn’t been full already from our Thanksgiving dinner, it was safe to say that my friends and I were now all officially stuffed. We purchased a bottle of wine, and then headed towards the Eiffel Tower one more time.

I am thankful I was able to watch the Eiffel Tower Light Show. Image

Each night 20,000 light bulbs illuminate the dark Paris skies. The Eiffel Tower lights up for five minutes every hour on the hour. My friends and I had briefly seen the top of the Eiffel Tower above the city when we first arrived, but were ecstatic to see the actual show.

We took our bottle of wine, found a nice spot on the edge of the Seine River, and awaited the show. It was beautiful. The bulbs flashed in different shades of yellow and white, dancing across the sky. My eyes were glued to this terrific monument, and I couldn’t find myself able to look away. The five minutes went by way too quickly.

My friends and I finished out bottle of wine, danced along the river, and chatted just having a plain old good time. Before we knew it, an hour had passed and we were fortunate enough to see the light show up-close and in-person one more time. We then headed home after our long day of sightseeing around Paris, but I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to have spent it.

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A great Thanksgiving!

Paris and London, Here I Come

Every year the end of November brings a weekend full of thanks, where family and friends travel to gather together for a feast. Its that time of the year where we, Americans, celebrate Thanksgiving.
I’ll admit, it is a little weird. This year, being abroad for the holiday means I don’t get to enjoy my grandparents’ famous oven-roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. As sad as I am to miss out on the traditional Pehota Thanksgiving, I consider myself very fortunate to be spending my Thanksgiving weekend traveling to Paris and London! John Cabot University’s student body is comprised of about half study abroad students, so they try to accommodate and make us feel more at home by giving us Thanksgiving off. (Funny enough, we had a make up day for this Thursday back in September. Nonetheless we don’t have classes tomorrow, so no complaints from me!)My friends and I decided earlier in the semester to travel to Paris. It actually came about when we were checking airfares for another trip, and randomly found a €17 flight to Paris. Travel bargains don’t get much cheaper than that! So we booked a one way ticket to Paris, excited as we could be about our great airfare deal.One of my best friends, Eva, from Boston College, is studying in London for the semester. We had tried a few times to meet up in another country, but unfortunately our schedules hadn’t coincided. I knew we couldn’t possibly not see each other if we were both in Europe, so I contacted her after booking our flight to Paris and asked if she would mind having a visitor for the remainder of the weekend, and as expected, she eagerly agreed. I’m heading to London on Friday, and I absolutely cannot wait to see her!After finishing a day of class, I packed one backpack for the weekend. Stuffed to the max, it was ready for our 6:20pm flight.

At this point, I’d like to say my friends and I are expert travelers. This is our last trip of the semester, and of course we finally know how to efficiently pack our belongings in one bag for five days. As experienced travelers, we were also able to book a car that picks us up at our door and drops us directly at Rome Ciampino Airport for the less than price of the regular shuttle, and it saves us a large amount of time. The key is to take a van with a few friends and split it between everyone. The vans in the car service can fit more people, and their fixed rate is only slightly higher. I think It’s safe to say that we’ve mastered the art of transportation in Rome.

We got to Rome Ciampino Airport, boarded our Ryanair flight, and landed at the Paris Beauvias Airport. We then took a bus into center city to our hostel, Saint Christopher’s.

Since we got to our hostel around 11:30PM, we called it an early night since we planned to get an early start in the morning.

Paris and London in the next five days means a lot of classic sight seeing is in my future, and many laughs with good friends. I can’t wait for the Thanksgiving weekend of a lifetime to begin tomorrow!

 

St. Christopher’s Inn Gare du Nord: 5 Rue de Dunkerque; Paris, France