Berlin is full of life lessons. It's a city with such a vast history...albeit, it's mostly ugly history but Berlin is and has been one of the most famous cities in the world. Most of the history is depressing but to be in such a place, and to see the German people try to rebuild themselves after another ugly mark in their history was so incredible. This was probably the city in which I took the least pictures because I was trying to soak it all in and really think about the history through which I was walking. Whether it was passing through Checkpoint Charlie, looking at the beautiful graffiti on a wall that used to separate countless lives, or standing over the bunker in which Hitler killed himself, you really start to understand how much adversity that this city has survived. I admit that most of the tours were sad but I think it was so important to see and feel the history of this place in person so you can fully comprehend how vital it is to never let anything like the Holocaust, Cold War, oppression, etc. happen again. Thanks Berlin for that lesson that we all need as global citizens!
Everyone that knows my mom and I know that we absolutely LOVE Italian food so we were super excited for this trip to Italy LOL. We actually didn't even look up what to do in Rome before we got there because we just talked about the food! It definitely didn't disappoint though! It was actually amazing that each restaurant that we went to had a different spin on spaghetti, lasagna, even just pizza. It made eating one of our favorite activities!
Eventually we had to put down our forks and go explore the city though! So first stop is the land of our namesake, The Pope: Vatican City. We did a tour of the Vatican City Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and, of course the most famous church in the entire world, St. Peter's. What I thought was an interesting fact upon entering was that Vatican city is it's own city within Rome. It has its own police, mailing, radio/TV, etc. I thought it was just where The Pope and the Cardinals lived but you learn something new everyday! As expected though, the inside of the Vatican City museum (where the Pope and the Cardinals do in fact live) is enormous. The inside is filled with beautiful paintings and sculptures, some of famous myths, some of the Bible, some completely random. You have to appreciate the fact that looking at all of them together makes you believe a story about the world. What story is up to you but I thought that was interesting.
We then went to the Sistine Chapel but unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures in it (you're not even allowed to talk) so all I can say is that it was breathtaking. I cannot believe that Michelangelo actually took the time to paint every single detail and did it while hanging upside down. It would be incredible if someone today could do that, let alone hundreds of years ago. As a Christian, it was amazing seeing all the pivotal moments of the Bible laid out before your eyes in one of the most beautiful ways possible! Definitely a highlight of the trip. The last part was St. Peter's and even though I am not Catholic, the church struck me in a big way. I loved all of the history that it held--from Michelangelo's original Pieta to the ACTUAL bodies of past Popes in the different alters. Then it brought it back to the present by holding an actual mass service when we were there. It's beautiful that a church has been serving God in the same place and in the same ways for so long. It was amazing to be in the church where the Popes have spoken to Catholics all around the world for hundreds of years. Like I said, I'm not catholic but the church almost brought me to tears--just absolutely impeccable.
Last stop was where hundreds of people gather to listen to The Pope give his sermons and were thousands would gather for the coming Easter Sunday! You only see this place on TV so it was a dream come true to actually stand there!
Next stop in Rome: The Colosseum!! Wow I can't believe that this place is still standing because it is just as old and demolished as it looks! It was used for hunting games and of course, the legendary fights. Today it is only used for tourism and sometimes, private concerts ( I could totally see Kanye doing that). But you see this place in movies growing up (like the Lizzie McGuire movie LOL) and you read about it but to actually be there....no words! Still can't believe I was there! My mom and I had fun taking pictures and of course I had to give love to my favorite quarterback Colin Kaepernick by throwing up his legendary move!
And being that my mom is UC alumni and I will be in a year...we had to throw up the UC in Rome before we left
If you know me, you know that I am very close to my mom--she is one of my best friends which is not something that every kid can say. With that being said, studying abroad and being so far away from her has been so difficult but it's made me love and miss her even more than I do at school! When I decided I was studying abroad, she asked if she could come visit me over Spring Break and I was so happy that she wanted to come! I've been waiting for this day since I left and now she's here!! Delta canceled her flight and didn't have another one available until the next day but she wanted to come see me as soon as possible so she flew from Columbus to Toronto to Rome to Madrid (I flew to Madrid yesterday morning). She traveled all day and was exhausted but we still laughed and talked like I hadn't been gone for 2.5 months! Then today we explored Madrid and just had fun laughing and enjoying the glorious weather! We ate paella in the famous Plaza Mayor and then proceeded to walk around, ending at the palace. It wasn't even the sites in Madrid that were great, it was just being with family. You value your family when you go to college but you really value them when you jump across the pond! I'm so glad she came to share this experience with me!
Ireland has been on the top of my must-see-countries list and so I decided to take a 5 day weekend that we had to go to Ireland with a few friends and enjoy this country. My brother and sister-in-law went a couple of years ago and said there was something special about but of course I had to see it for myself. Well...they were right. Ireland was a country full of life, greenland, amazing food, great times, and even better people. I could go back to Ireland and easily spend another week there without being bored. Whether it was going out to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney stone, going to an impromptu Usher concert, enjoying the breathtaking views of Cliffs of Moher, or just walking around Dublin, surprisingly I have had the BEST time here. I have a lot of respect for this country and especially the people. Very prideful but never arrogant, which is refreshing! People just strike conversations with you on the street just and offer help without even being asked. Even though there are a ton of people who live there, it's still somehow a relaxed environment. I've never been in such a big city that can feel this calm. I wish that big cities in the US felt like this, and I would be more inclined to visit LOL. All this to say, I LOVED LOVED LOVED LOVED Ireland and am already missing it! I can't wait to go back when I'm older!
Blarney Castle was my first stop in Ireland! It is one of the most famous castles in Ireland as it was built nearly 600 years ago and still stands. It is widely famous for housing the Blarney stone, a stone that is kissed by visitors in order to bring them elegance. However, in order to kiss the stone, you have to hover above a hole in the castle, many stories above the ground. There is a guy that holds you to make sure you do not fall but nonetheless, I was still scared to do it! This journey is about conquering my fears though so I still did it! I'm not sure I became more elegant but it was still thrilling!
The next famous part of Blarney Castle are the Wishing Steps. Thinking of a wish, you have to walk down and up the stairs backwards with your eyes closed, thinking about nothing but your wish, in order for the wish to become true within a year. Let me tell you... absolutely terrifying! I honestly thought I was gonna break my neck but with Nicole's help I did it! Can't tell you what I wished for but hopefully it becomes true ;) I happily celebrated near a waterfall near the steps when I was done!
The day before I arrived, my friends were at the Guinness Beer Factory and right after they left, apparently Usher walked into the building. They found out about it and Nicole looked up why he was in Dublin and found out that he was on his world tour! The best part was that there were still floor seats available at a reasonably low price! Now I know that Usher isn't in his prime and it's American music but there were people from all over the world there and it was so much fun talking and jamming with people from all different countries over music that you all love. We were so close to Usher, I could practically feel the sweat dripping off of him! I was not expecting this but it was definitely one of the best nights I've ever had!
This is a traditional Irish breakfast and even though it does not look appetizing, it is delicious! I'm a big sausage fan so the sausage was my favorite part! The meat to the right of the sausage was ham, next to that was a tomato, next to the tomatoes were rice patties, and then was the fried potatoes and in the middle were beans with a sunny-sde egg. My mouth is watering just thinking about how incredible it was! And very filling! I didn't eat again until dinner time!
One of the most breathtaking views in Europe are the Cliffs of Moher and I was fortunate enough to go explore them and even more importantly, do it on a beautiful day. Words nor pictures can even do the sight justice. I spent about an hour and a half just looking at the site. You forget all your problems, worries, stress and really focus on the beauty of the world and the beauty of that moment you are in. There's definitely a peace that comes over you. I would have happily spent all day up there but unfortunately had to leave and continue on with my day. Of course not before throwing up a UC though since I was representing Cincy :)
I had so much fun exploring rural Ireland that I had not really explored Dublin! So the last day and half was spent in Dublin to of course do a tour of one of Dublin's most beloved sites: Old Jameson Distillery. It was so much fun learning and seeing why Jameson is so much different than other whiskeys! After giving us a tour of the Distillery, they have us tastings of 2 other different types of whiskey so we could compare it with Jameson. Then at the end, we all got free drinks and I chose the ginger and Jameson. I discovered that Jameson is extremely smooth and combined with ginger ale, it's amazing!
Fun fact: Jameson sells a special 12-year-old Jameson that is only available at this Distillery. You cannot find it anywhere else on this planet. So of course I bought a couple of small bottles to bring home to my family and to save as a souvenir.
The rest of the time was spent literally just walking the streets of Dublin. I did not take a taxi, bus, train, etc. but did it all on my two feet by myself the last day. Like I said, there is something calming about this country so even though I walked over 10 miles that day, it was therapeutic in a sense. Below are a couple of famous sites, including the famous St. Patrick's Cathedral and Town Hall which lit up green at night :)
Until we meet again Ireland
Last year I had the privilege of going to Paris with my business honors program, Kolodzik Business Scholars. I absolutely LOVED my time in Paris and always said if I had the chance to go back that I would. My 21st birthday is approaching and even though I always knew I would be away from family and friends during this special birthday, it really hit home this week. I'm at the point now where I want to see a familiar face. I want to talk to someone who has known me for years and who gets me. Then I realized that KBS was once again coming to Paris...and it was the weekend before my birthday. What's even more important is that one of my good friends, Allison, would be on the trip. After talking with her, I decided that being with my friends and fellow classmates was EXACTLY what I needed! I can honestly say after my trip that I'm in a better place--happier than I I have been in the past week! Even though I had already explored Paris prior to this trip, I still got to do some new things and once again take in the beauty of the City of Love. I obviously have less pictures than my London trip but I still wanted to post a few :)
Like I said in my previous post, I am not a fan of art but if you go to Paris, you must go the Louvre! Every piece of art is absolutely amazing, including the pyramid that is in the center of the museum. I cannot even describe the enormity of this place or post the vast amount of pictures of the art because it's something you have to see for yourself. However, below I posted some of the famous pieces of art like the Wings of Victory and of course, the Mona Lisa. Others are just pictures from around the Louvre :)
Fun Fact: The Mona Lisa is VERY tiny. It is probably like the size of a regular picture in your house. Very disappointing but cool to see in person. So of course, I had to take a selfie with her ;)
Next was just having fun with friends! We had a lot of "fun" trying to figure out where the famous macaroon shop, Laudree, was located in Paris. We walked up and down the same street for maybe 45 minutes! We kept asking people but due to our terrible French accents, no one had any idea what store we were talking about so we were super lost. Finally, we found a guy who spoke perfect English and French and he was able to identify where we wanted to go and give us directions! We finally arrived at Laudree and let me tell you...best macaroons of my life!!! Definitely worth the pain!
Last part of the day was spent cruising the streets and eating dinner by the Eiffel with friends! I already have a million Eiffel pictures from my last trip but a few more don't hurt... right?
Another amazing weekend in Paris with FRIENDS!! Blessed to be able to fly somewhere short notice and have a great time! Up above the clouds back to Bilbao. Je te time Paris <3
Ok so here is the deal....I have been obsessed with London for as long as I can remember! Every summer I watch Wimbledon, wishing I could be a spectator of the event in this amazing city. Before this trip, I had watched Mary Kate and Ashely's "Winning London" movie a million times, hoping that one day I could conquer the city like they did. Sometimes I had even just looked up pictures from time to time, dreaming of one day seeing them in person. Therefore, for my first trip I knew without a doubt that I had to go to London. I knew it would be a trip of a lifetime and fortunately, I was right!!
Due to an all day field trip that we had that Friday afternoon, my friend, Klarke, and I did not arrive in London until Friday night.However after a long day we made it to Heathrow! So of course I had to take a picture of my enthusiasm in the bathroom upon arriving LOL
We decided to chill Friday night but Saturday..it was time to explore! First stop was Buckingham Palace and as expected, it was incredible! It's definitely way bigger and prettier in person than I could have imagined. I've never seen a palace in person so the sheer size of it was mind blowing to me. The design was also obviously incredibly cool. Just on the gates, you can see the complex and beautiful royal emblem.
Since the guards outside Buckingham are usually only outside during the spring/summer months, we did not get to see them so we opted for the next best option: the guards of the Queen's horses. Surrounding the stables are guards standing as well as guards on the actual horses. You could actually pet the horses if you wanted but if you know me, you know I am terrified of animals! I decided to get outside of my comfort zone and get near one but as I did, it started shaking its head. I was absolutely terrified but laughed it off! Before leaving, I had to take a selfie with one of the guards in the background.
Next stop was the famous Trafalgar Square and of course, the National Gallery. In the square are these huge lion statues and they are VERY difficult to climb. However, once again being adventurous, Klarke and I decided to give it a go and after a few attempts (and a lot of girlish screams) we were successful.
Now I'm not one for art, but seeing Monet's work in person was absolutely breathtaking. The sheer details as well as the colors in the art were amazing--I couldn't believe that someone could paint something so intricate so many years ago. I walked through a lot of the museum and while I can't say that I am a great interpreter of art, I can say that I have a bigger appreciation for artists like Monet after seeing their work in person. Below is a picture of one of Monet's most famous pieces: Water Lilies.
So of course we had to stop by the famous Garfield's and get the traditional fish and chips! I am not a huge fish person but this fish was delicious and the tartar sauce was INCREDIBLE!
At this point in the afternoon, Klarke went to go get her hair done so I had a few hours to kill so I decided to go check out the biggest attraction in London: Westminster/Big Ben. Words nor pictures will describe the absolute beauty of this place. It is PHENOMENAL. It was absolutely freezing outside but I spent 15 minutes on the bridge looking at it and appreciating the view.
A lot of people go to Westminster to take pictures but what a lot of people don't know is that you can actually tour the inside of Westminster because it is the House of Commons aka the House of the English Parliament. Therefore I decided to take an audio tour of the place for a couple of hours. I would have to spend all day telling you about it but the history and the exquisiteness of Westminster is so incredibly immense, that you can't even grasp that you're in the midst of it. I was able to see where the famous Queen Victoria sat on her throne. I sat in the room and on the benches were the parliament goes to vote "yes" on legislation (going to a "yes" and a "no" room is how they vote). I was able to go into the chambers where greats like Nelville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and Tony Blair have made history with their comrades. It was an honor to be able to stand in the middle of history.
Fun fact: The cool thing about this building is that even though it looks very royal, due to having oppressive monarchies so many years ago, royals are not even allowed in some of these rooms!
This by far was my favorite part of the trip! If you ever go to London, go INTO Westminster!
Ok, so I have to throw in a business side note! Coke's branding in London is HUGE!! They are the big sponsor of the famous "London Eye" (ferris wheel) and then they have these Coke bars everywhere! You can order food, coffee, and obviously any Coke product you want! Coke was everywhere in London and I definitely wasn't expecting an American company to have, what seems like, the biggest brand awareness in London. Props to Coke for successfully carrying out such a great international business plan in London.
The American side of me definitely came out when I was in London because I HAD TO GET CHIPOTLE. I will admit that I am obsessed with it in the US so I've been craving it since I have been in Europe. Of course, London is one of 2 places in Europe that has Chipotle so of course I had to get some! And as you can tell, Klarke and I were extremely happy LOL
The next day, the weather was a lot nicer so I revisited Westminster with Klarke and we walked around London, taking in more views. There was a crowd outside one of the buildings and we asked a police officer what was going on and he explained that it was the Prime Minister's House! The best part though was that he had a conversation with us for about 15 minutes and it amazing that a police officer would cordially talk to us for that long. It was the best experience I have ever had with a police officer! Of course we ended our day shopping in the famous Oxford Street. Below is a picture of the inside of the market that is in the middle of the famous shopping district! Unfortunately our trip had to end and we had to head back to Bilbao but of course....not until we got one more round of Chipotle for the airport ;)
Once a semester, USAC takes its students on an out-of-town excursion and this semester it was to Pamplona, Spain which is known for the Run of the Bulls. On our way to Pamplona, we stopped in the town of Olite and visited a beautiful palace, El Palacio Real de Olite. There are three main parts to the castle: the old portion, the ruins, and then the "new" portion that was built in the 15th century by the king of Navarra (region where Pamplona is located)." Old or new, every single room and part of this palace was stunning. They gave us the last half an hour of the tour to run around and go anywhere in the castle to take pictures it was like setting elementary school kids loose in Disney world LOL. I climbed from tower to tower, from room to room wanting to take it all in. However, the coolest part for me was that I actually took the tour in Spanish and understood a good portion of it! Just proving that my skills are improving with each day :)
Next stop was actually Pamplona. Now Pamplona is part of Basque country like Bilbao but it is in the region called Navarra so it is definitely different from Bilbao. They have their own set of customs and traditions and one of those is called San Fermin. It's celebrated every July in honor of Navarra's Saint Fermin and the tour guide said it's a non stop party for a little over a week. It starts when everyone arrives at the city hall that is pictured below. They show up in all white with red scarves (to symbolize the blood of Saint Fermin) and as city leaders give their speeches and when it strikes 12:00PM that day, they tie it around their necks for the whole festival. During the festival is when the Running of the Bulls occurs. This is the world-renowned event that we all have seen in which people run away from the bulls down very narrow streets--and yes the streets are very narrow! The run should only take about 1 minute and a half to run but it is said to be one of the scariest minutes of your life. The tour guide told us that every year someone has died from the US or Australia and of course many are injured! It would be my luck that I would be that person so I could NEVER EVER EVER do something like that but hundreds of people do it every year. Once again though, I respect that it is part of the culture and that people are so excited to take part in it!
Fun Fact: The Run of the Bulls takes place each morning at 8 AM after the festival starts. It is not just a once-a-year event like many people think. After the run, the bulls are gathered in the stadium where they are used for bull fights later in the day.
I liked that I was able to see a different part of Basque country and learn about the different culture. I realized studying in Spanish Basque country is like trying to study two different countries at once. You have to study the different cultures in various regions in Spain and then the different cultures in regions of Basque country! I'm so thankful that USAC allowed us to experience Pamplona and I look forward to learning more about the Basque country in my time here!
Until then...¡Agur! (Bye in Basque)
In Spain (and in Latin American countries) they celebrate Carnaval, a holiday in which people dress up in costumes and have a lot of fun before Lent season is upon them and they must sacrifice something. It's kind of like Halloween but it means more to the Spanish people than Halloween does in the US. The funny part about the holiday though is that there isn't one set day in which the country celebrates it. In fact, for weeks, it moves to different cities in Spain and is celebrated there. So of course when it came to Bilbao, my friends and I decided to get in on the fun and go celebrate. I decided to go last minute (it was storming that afternoon so I wasn't sure but it stopped by night) so my friend picked up some mouse ears. The fun part of the night was not seeing the costumes though, it was seeing everybody out. Even though the majority were teenagers, there were kids and old people out in the streets celebrating too. It seemed like everyone in the city was out in Bilbao! I went to Ohio University's Halloween last year and it was crazy but they have nothing on Carnaval in Bilbao! It seemed more meaningful to me because the whole city was celebrating together at one time, rather than just teens celebrating it at night or kids celebrating it by trick-or-treating in the evening (like we do in the US). It was still a party--don't get me wrong--but I could feel more from it than I have ever felt from Halloween in the US. Great experience and as an added bonus, I got to keep saying one of my favorite lines from the movie Mean Girls: "I'm a mouse, duh."
Before I came here, of course I looked up the typical weather in Bilbao to see what kind of clothes I should bring like UC International suggests we do before departure. Well the temperatures ranged in the 50's. Now being from Ohio, you see 50 degree weather in the winter months and you prepare yourself for a sunny tropical vacation. However, I guess I missed the part where it rains literally every day. Even if the day starts out nice, it will rain at some point! And the rain as well as Bilbao's location on the coast makes the "50 degree" weather seem like it is in the 20's. I came out of class the other day and there was actually hail on the ground. I love Bilbao when it is not raining but it seems to be doing it a lot lately. We are midway through February and the news has said that we have only had about 20 hours of sun! That is so crazy! The bright side is I'm using it as my excuse for replacing Netflix with my daily runs :)
My friend Klarke and I are the only African-American students in this program and in fact, it seems like some of the few African-Americans in this part of Spain. I look around and see very few people like me and it doesn't bother me because growing up I have always looked around the classroom and seen few fellow blacks. However, today as Klarke and I were walking across the street, something kind of offending happened....we got called "negritas" which in direct Spanish translation, means "little black girls." Now it's nothing like the "N-word" but there's something about someone catcalling you by calling you a little black girl that bothers you. For one, it's rude to catcall and two, it's rude to call someone out by their race. Klarke's host mom told us that it was a term of endearment and because there are so few Blacks in Basque Country, many don't know what is appropriate and not appropriate when dealing with our race. In the past couple of years, our country has seen a variety of issues come about in terms of race relations from Trayvon Martin to Mike Brown and it's amazing that I can come all the way over to Spain and experience the same ignorance. I'm seeing that this is not only a US problem but a world problem. It's sad but I keep on moving forward with my life and continuing to respect all other cultures and people, hoping one by one we can build a better world.