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Well That's One Way to Look at It...

Sicily, Christmas, and I miss you

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First of all, Merry Christmas to everyone! I miss you madly, and I hope you all enjoyed some baking and good company over some time off. I will be home next Christmas to join you.

The last two weeks since I have written last have been very busy and hectic. If I want to be a pessimist about it, I can list off that I
1. was in a tram that crashed
2. lost my camera
3. had all of my roommates move back home
4. got stuck in a Sicilian airport with two cancelled flights and 28 hours of delays by myself
5. got hit by a car on Christmas eve
6. and spent Christmas writing a ten page film paper.

I’m choosing the more optimistic approach- let me start from the beginning…

With Christmas quickly approaching, that meant that school was quickly finishing up. What this also meant was that my roommates, whom had been the heart and soul of my study abroad experience, were leaving. We had studied together during the week and travelled together on the weekends. There may have been a little bit of partying in between.

We had one last hurrah at our trusty pizzeria across the street from our soon-to-be lonely apartment. It was lonely in the fact that I would be the only one to live out the full term of our housing contract to be terminated January 29, 2010.

On the way to the bar we sung Christmas carols throughout our faithful tram 14. We got yelled at over the speaker system, and I managed to video record some of the commotion. I’m certain that this is the reason I lost my camera later that evening, the evidence was gone. We didn’t know it then, but it was the last time we would all get off at the “Lanza M2” stop together.

We adored our castle on the way to the bar as it was set up with bright lights and beamed greater than ever. We partied hard that night. Instant replay would surely highlight me sobbing to a classmate about my missing roommate only to literally be turned around to find her standing back to back with me. Another noteworthy moment being a snow-fight at the bar in the first snowfall in Milan with some class-mates I likely will never see again. The thought now makes me a little queasy, but I can appreciate the fun that we had in our time. That is the most anyone can ask for.

I decided to book a trip to Sicily in order to leave before any of my roommates. I didn’t want to be left behind one by one because I felt like that would be depressing, and I am terrible with goodbyes or any other situations for that matter where I am expected of anything.

Sicily was beautiful. One day I would love to rent a car and just drive all over the island, in the summer though.
One of the days it rained there, and it was a little cold. However, I was able to travel to two beach towns, Mondello and Cefalu, to stick my feet in the ocean and pick shells. It was wonderful.

My base camp was Palermo, and my commander and chief was Giuseppe. He was the owner of the hostel that I stayed in. When I say hostel, I mean the home I was welcomed into. He took me for drinks with a couple other of the guests and made me tea when I came back from the pouring rain. He was so kind, and I am thankful for the hospitality that he showed me while staying in Palermo. He gave me all sorts of tips about what to do and where to go and what to eat.

That first day I wondered through the streets alone. I sat by the ocean and actually managed to write a little. Along the marina there were large concrete blocks that greeted the water to the land. There was a skyline of a rigid mountainous coastline, the sea, and a densely populated boardwalk. Some Italian boys pestered me, but I was busy noticing a couple that sat peacefully on one of the larger blocks. They were watching the tide and enjoying each others company. This scene of a limitless pathway, an endless horizon into the ocean, and a happy couple made me recognize how alone I was. The significance was that I didn’t feel lonely. I felt content in the unknown, and I marveled at the potential for what lay ahead. Being alone and being lonely are two very different things. I sat there and wondered how long I could last feeling so empowered.

I continued to the botanical gardens and took in the many different species of trees. It was like fern gully in the variety of vegetation. There were trunks with more trunks intertwined, trunks that remained the same width consistently from top to bottom, orange trees, and trees that looked like Chewy from Star Wars because they were disturbingly furry!

One of the interesting things that I noticed in Palermo was that there was a bullet proof glass shelter in the train station. Mafia much?

I met a Dutch tour guide who lives in Rome and we went for supper. I tried Sfinchoni pizza which is typical of Sicily, and he gave me History 101 of Italy. He has his masters in International Relations and made me feel a bit naive. Nonetheless we had good conversation throughout the evening, and I felt safer walking around at night with him as he was at least six foot four.

The off season proved itself in Sicily over my trip. There were a mere few staying in the hostel, and one of the nights I was even the only guest! I didn’t mind though, my week had been crazy.

The second day I went to Cefalu. It is a famous beach town in Sicily, and I would back that statement. It was beautiful. I sat on the beach and watched two men fish. The view was so breathtaking that I was able to just sit there without any entertainment for about an hour. I walked around to find a better seat, and stood on a pier with the tide splashing up against the rocks below me. I felt powerful somehow, like I had fate in my hands.

A tremendous windstorm arose that blew sand into my eyes, and I resided in a quaint cafe. I consoled in a pot of “caldo” (hot) tea and tried the beloved Sicilian sweet Canolli -pastry wrapped like a taco filled with flavoured crème.

In Mondello, I got off the bus and landed straight on the beach. I had brought an umbrella because it had rained in Palermo the day before. I just sat on the beach and soaked in the sun.

The sun, oh that glorious rejuvenation of heat. The sun and the ocean – salt and pepper. What is it that is so soothing about waves? The process kills little turtles and the other underdogs of marine life, but for me, as I lay on the cold sand, the waves were almost a lullaby. The rhythmic ebb and flow serve consistency and like the chorus of your favourite song, you listen and come to expect that roar and crash followed by the echoes and soothing verse of the washing tide. You know the beat of this song; still you want to hear it play on repeat. The waves of the ocean are the lullaby, the rays of the sun are the comfort of a loved ones arms, and the sand is the softness of a bed. Relaxation.

I walked down the beach after picking shells to find a spot for lunch. Spaghetti and mussels and a beer. What a day. They happened to bring me a big beer, and well, I decided to go with the flow of my wonderful day. I ate really fast because of my hunger, and then they pressured me to leave ,so I ended up drinking really fast.
I was in mid-afternoon drunk as hell by myself in paradise. I literally found my way back to the bus by walking along the beach again and following my tracks back. The reason I knew which footsteps were mine was because I had been walking with an umbrella as a cane because of the rain the day before! I could see the steps and the holes where the umbrella had pierced the sand. Sherlock Holmes here-that’s right.

I was to return to an empty apartment that same day. How sad was that. Unfortunately, that was the least of my worries. I got stuck in the Palermo airport before reaching loneliness. My first flight was scheduled to leave at 6, but I got there at about 4 because I wanted to finish my book, yes I’m a dork.

The plane was delayed until 1am when it was finally cancelled. I didn’t even realize what was going on because I couldn’t get a single word in when the stewardess arrived to tell us the bad news. I honestly thought that there was a hurricane outside because of the wind that was howling against the windows, and the mob that was attacking that poor airline employee.

The people were horrendous. I am so disappointed sitting here replaying this situation in my head. I literally had to screech “Stop yelling!” And that didn’t help anything. In Italian lines, nice people finish last. I patiently waited to hear what all the fuss was about, but in the mean time I was literally pushed aside by old ladies and interrupted by seemingly powerful men. By the time that it was my turn I started crying I was so panicked. I just wanted to know what was happening and all of the waiting around and yelling in Italian had really worked me up.

A stewardess took me to an information desk where I had to sit until 5 am to seek help. She meant 6 am. Fifty or so frantic people squished to the information desk for that long hour hoping for answers that would please them.
By the time I got to the front and asked who could speak Italian again, I was freaked right out. The lady told me that I could either phone a certain number or pay thirty Euros for her to change it. The bank machines were down, so I asked to pay with Visa. No gold. Who doesn’t accept plastic?

There was nothing for me to do. I literally just started crying into my arm because there was no solution and no one to help me and I was just plain exhausted. I had no phone, and no access to money. How would I get my next flight? She grabbed my old boarding pass from the overcrowded counter and returned 10 minutes later with news that she had taken care of it. Thank god for the good people. It was probably because I was the only one not yelling at her.

I sat around for a few more hours only to find another cancelled flight. Now what? There were even more people lined up this time from more flight cancellations that were piling up. Everything was backing up, and my free ride with the lady at the info desk had already been used up. I plotted and plotted, but I shamefully had to call home – collect.

My mom and dad were woken up at midnight to clean up my slop. How pathetic. I thought that I could do this all on my own, but I had failed. This was the worst feeling in the world. Even worse was trying to hold back the tears and seem alright to my family. I failed at that too. My parents had to fix MY problem. I felt like a child. They rebooked my flight online for me. Thank god for my family. What would I have done if I had no one to call?

This flight actually made it. By this time, I had had five café macchiatos, been through airport security 3 times, eaten a piece of pizza and a box of Ritz crackers, read one book, doodled all over another book, slept about 4 hours, and got one invited back to Palermo by a hot Sicilian painter. The only good bit about this experience was that I met a guy who could stand the smell and look of me after 28 hours of Tom Hanks’n it in the airport.

One problem was that there weren’t enough seats to fit everyone on the flight that actually took off. I don’t know how that happened, but as I was giving my ticket a man actually grabbed my arm. Two boys has snuck around and budged, and I guess he thought that I was with them. I literally yelled “Don’t f#@%ing touch me”. Got my voice back again, however as I walked onto the plane and was literally blown aside by the wind I thought that this plane wouldn’t make it either due to foreseen irony for me getting a place on the plane. It felt like the Titanic. Thankfully ours didn’t go down.

The disgusting display of raw animalism that I witnessed was enough to lose all faith in humanity, and only days before Christmas. Men pushing seniors, men yelling at women, people trying to push all together through the guard who was trying to alternate sides of people being let through.. I am telling you, I was horrified. There wasn’t much to do by this time but laugh, especially because I couldn’t understand the Italian. I swore and laughed, and hoped like hell to get back to Milan. It was December 23rd. I didn’t even consider not being in Canada for Christmas at this point. Now I just wanted to be back in Italy – home. What a revelation, Italy being home that is.

I got back in one piece. I shuttled from the airport for an hour and a half only to miss the last public transportation by 20 minutes. What a shame. Walked in the slush to find a taxi and wondered how much I was about to pay to get home. Only 16 Euros! (I wish I knew that all semester before sleeping in the airport countless times!)
Unfortunately I had no money, so I ran upstairs in my apartment to find some.

MARAH!!!!! Marah’s flight had been canceled too! I was so happy, but I had to find money. I had no money; she had no money, so I ran down the four flights of stairs and down one block to the bank machine. Money! I ran back down the block only to be teased by my taxi driver. He was kind, but I just wanted to be home.

Marah pardoned me for smelling so foully, and I was relieved to see her at 2 am. My mother had stayed home all day worrying about me. I skyped her, and I felt that I was on my way to normal again.

Food, sleep, shower.. sanity.

It is amazing what 28 hours in an airport can do to someone, but I never sank as low as some of those passengers. I will never forget how savage they were.

I now have a phobia of flying! Trains for me!

Thank-god I was home. And not only that, I got to spend a whole other day with Marah. We went shopping by the Duomo, and traded books before I took her to the shuttle bus for the airport that evening. I secretly hoped a tiny bit that she would have more cancellations to stay with me longer. She got home smoothly in time for Christmas though, my Dr. Jeckyl side was pleased for her.

Christmas Eve came so quickly after my flight was delayed for so long. I was to go to my friend Elisha and Josh’s place for Christmas. Elisha’s mom and friend had visited and made it special and feel like some sort of mock Christmas.

I prepared Greek Italian salad (Greek salad with noodles…), baked, and made perogies for the first time. My mom sent me the recipe, and I put in the man power to successfully make some doughy perogies. The cheese in them also wasn’t quite right, but that is because I still haven’t mastered all the types in Italian in the grocery store.

I had felt ok that day. I wrapped little gifts that I had bought my family and put them under the foot and a half tree that we found in our apartment. My family comes January 15th, so I would have a celebration or “Christmas” then.

Only when I was about to leave in the evening and my mom told me Merry Christmas did we both shed a few tears together. Those two simple words put it all in perspective – I wasn’t home for Christmas.

We held back more tears and parted ways. She was to finish working a full day, and I was off into the night by bus with two trays of food, a backpack, and an umbrella.

It was night and it was raining and I was carrying too many things, and I was hit by an S.U.V.

It was yielding to a round-about while I thought he was stopping for me. He was going slowly. I fell into the puddle on the road and dropped most of the things that I had prepared all day. I knew that I couldn’t do Christmas on my own. No matter my efforts, I was alone and foolish. Nonetheless, I got up, scrambled some of my goodies, and hobbled to the sidewalk. I quickly realized that I wasn’t hurt – just scared hopelessly in the rain with my work spread across the road.

The man yelled at me in Italian. I didn’t understand him, but I am assuming, for his sake, it was something like “are you ok?” Immediately there were several people around me, and I couldn’t remember how to say that I couldn’t speak very much Italian. I just showed them my hand shaking and spoke in English. Panic stricken I just walked the block without acknowledging anyone shaky and bawling in the rain to Elisha’s apartment. I waited for her to come down, but a kind man let me in and carried my remaining food up to her apartment.

She didn’t quite realize at first what I was saying when I told her what had just happened. I was still so scared. I don’t think my knees have ever wobbled so intensely or my hand shaken so violently. Her mother looked at my legs and determined that they were swollen, but I am sure that it was just the fat (insert comic relief).

Nonetheless, they set me up with a beer, and Josh set up the movie the Lion King, and my sobs gradually turned into whimpers, my whimpers into tears, and my tears into a smile.

My perogies were salvaged and so was the salad, but not the dressing. One of my peppermint chocolates sneaked into my perogy batch and I was able to let everyone try a little bite, the rest were selfishly taken by the damp street.

We feasted upon brushetta, prawns, calamari, mussels, salmons, perogies, and Greek Italian salad. I was proud that my perogies were gone, and everyone had seconds, and was excited to tell my Baba of their success.
The night really turned around. It was pleasant to fall asleep on Elisha’s couch knowing that there were people with me.

The next morning, Christmas morning, I woke up to return home to write a paper. I had anticipated on writing it the day that my plane was delayed, and then Marah was home as well, so Christmas day – the due date, I had to write a ten page paper. Elisha and her mom invited me for mass and another dinner, but I had to finish this bloody paper.

The holidays have hated me this year. Canadian Thanksgiving- food poisoning, Christmas Eve – hit by a car, Christmas Day – wrote a paper, New years – don’t think I’m not ready… bring it on!!!

Christmas day wasn’t so bad. I spent the morning writing my paper, and by night, my family was opening presents. I Skyped with them for 3 hours! I swear that this idea will soon be an MTV program called “I’ll be Home for Christmas” sponsored by Skype (Copyright that haha). How amazing it was that I could be there for the whole thing, no matter how creepy and voyeuristic it may seem. I do feel badly that I chose to be away for Christmas, and it was me that was accounted for and catered to. I appreciated it to no end though – it almost felt like I was home with my family.

I apologize for the lengthiness of this blog. I really let this one snowball. I think it was because I was waiting for more to add to the pile of drama. I am happy to report, that my life has been boring as of late. I bought a couple pairs of boots... interesting?

There are no photos with this blog, as my camera was lost. It makes me a little sad not to be able to show you the beautiful towns I visited in Sicily, but I am glad to not have one reminder of the Palermo airport. My Sicily is truly my own. I travelled alone and without a camera, and I will be the only one who has the memories of my experiences. How unique.

Tomorrow I will head off to Bologna, by train, for a day trip with my new shiny camera. I will let you know about the chaos soon enough.

Miss you and love you all, hope Santa was good to you,

Posted by jwinitaly 14:56 Comments (0)

Prague Blog

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Christmas has finally arrived in my mind. I have felt very disconnected from the idea of Christmas this year. It is due to the lack of family, Christmas carols, Christmas commercials, and snow. It surely also has to do with the fact that I have been living in a little travel bubble that prevents me from remembering the day let a lot the time zone I am in.

My roommates and I went on our last trip together to Prague over the weekend. It was as wonderful as it was depressing for me. I am being left behind in an empty apartment with Christmas plans that have been revised at least three times. As far as I am concerned this year, there is no Christmas.

Prague could very well have been the North Pole. The Christmas market spread the spirit while a background of an enormous twinkly Christmas tree shone beautifully, silhouetted against a building that reminded me of Sleeping Beauty’s castle.

It was cold outside, but hot wine and tzdelnik kept us warm. Tzdelnik is impossible to say but so amazing! It is rolled out dough wrapped around what looks like a rolling pin tightly coiled and glazed in sugar. It is rotisseried over flames until the outside is caramelized. Then it is pulled off of the wooden pole and rolled in more sugar, vanilla powder, and almonds. Served hot, it is hard and crunchy on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside. As I untwined my last one (my third in two days...), I vowed to try to make it at home. Take a look in my photos, it is pretty neat. We were also happy to find our old Hungarian friend goulash soup, and this time in a bread bowl!
For the record, I do know how much I talk about food in this blog haha.

Angie, Marah, and I took a free tour that was the same company as the one Marah and I had taken in Dublin. Again, it was awesome. How the guide performed so energetically in that weather, I don’t know, but we were happy that he kept us on track. Surely we would never have walked around for three and a half hours in the cold without our commander in chief.

We saw the most unique clock in the world. It has so many rings and dials; I can’t even remember them all. There were ones for the zodiac signs, names for each day of the year, Roman numeral time, normal time, things that popped out, a cuckoo on top, etc. The clock is truly a piece of art to look at, and on one occasion guided me home safely.

There is a story that connects to the clock. The designer of the clock actually had his eyes burned out and was blinded by Czechs. The reasoning was so that he could not make any clock like it ever again. The Czechs wanted the clock to be unique because it was their monument. The designer got his revenge though when he stole a crucial piece of the clock and it didn’t work again for around a hundred years. The moral of the story …never make anything really unique or amazing?!

We saw the last building standing that Mozzart played in, Jewish quarter, a castle, Charles Bridge, and a tower that looked nearly identical to the Eiffel Tour, but was built a couple years after and is much smaller. Our guide actually mentioned that it was the same size as the Eiffel Tower, but that is including the huge hill it was on though.

We ended our tour near Charles Bridge. I stopped paying attention when a couple jumped out of a fancy car. They had just gotten married and were taking photos on the staircase across the street. They were so cute. It started raining and the man pulled the woman’s veil over both of their heads in an attempt to protect them both from the rain. He carried her up the stairs, took some photos with her, and then put a coat over her shoulders. It was freezing cold, but they still looked so happy all dressed up in the rain. It was the perfect little fairy tale wedding in my head.

After I snapped out of my ADD, our tour had ended. I noticed that our tour guide didn’t mention once that he took tips only for his tours. Very classy -he was probably in his thirties and was very professional. I would recommend the free tours to anyone.

We rocked out a pub crawl that evening with a discount for dropping our tour guides name. The guy in charge was hilarious. He gave us a speech at the beginning and portrayed himself like a drill sergeant. He barked out smart-ass comments and orders about drinking the free absinth and how to steal beer from other tables. It was a really fun night excluding the ending when I got lost and walked up and down a single street literally five times. I did have a map- it was just a little hard to read at the time…

The next day we explored one of the castles and a church that highly resembled Notre Dame in Paris. The buildings across Charles Bridge into Old Town resembled Disneyland. They were pastel coloured and tall and narrow. Some of the buildings had interesting patterns that looked textured, but as we got closer to them they were actually painted that way. They were unlike any buildings I’ve seen.

We wandered into an absinth store that sells real absinth, not the bright green kind. The man told us that if we took four shots, cut half with water, we would be talking to trees. I’m hoping that they won’t take it away from me when I hit the boarders back home. If they do, I’ll be drinking some quickly and talking to the wings of the airplane.

The remainder of the day we just enjoyed eachother’s company. For my roommates Marah, Shani, and Jesann, Jesann’s boyfriend Claudiu, and Angie it would be the last time we all travelled together. How strange. We played poker in the hostel and sipped on Czech beer. We taught Marah how to play chess, and honestly it was just really nice to relax.

The trip to the airport the night before our flight on the way to Prague proved to be hell because we missed the last shuttle bus, metro, and went the wrong direction on a bus to Angie’s house missing the last bus. If it wasn’t for the nicest radio taxi driver in Milan who was already done for the night, we wouldn’t have made it back to Angie’s house with all of our luggage in time to have the two hours of sleep for our trip to Prague. He literally drove us to the bus stop to see if any more would come, waited with us so we wouldn’t stand in the cold, and then drove us right to Angie’s doorstep after we missed the last bus. The kicker is that he wouldn’t accept one penny. I revoke my big city bitterness. His kindness was refreshing.

We hoped to avoid this whole scenario second time around, so we left with ample time to get to the aiport and sleep for four hours.

I slept maybe thirty minutes because some guy came and put two water bottles of what resembled pee near me and ran out the door. I looked out the window as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, and he motioned at me to drink them. I freaked out thinking he was about to pour them on me, so I stayed on look out and finished my book.
There are some real weirdos that hang out in airports.

Extra pickles and pepper on a turkey sub from Subway made it all better though. Tasted like home.

Angie had been waiting to see flurries all weekend, and just when we got on our plane, it snowed! She is from L.A., and when she looked up the forecast that called for “flurries” she didn’t even know what that meant haha. I love my American friends.

This week I have been super busy with school. It is finals week. Two ten page papers, two photography hand made books, and a final exam. Boo.

I am however, leaving for Sicily tomorrow night, so there is light at the end of the tunnel. My roommates all leave over the course of this weekend. I decided that I would book a trip and take off before they could leave me behind one by one. Pretty clever I thought…

Tonight is our last roomie dinner at the Pizzeria across the street. We’re going to eat, play some poker at our place, then go party for the last time all together. It feels like just yesterday that we all got here, and now they are already leaving. I am nervous to be on my own, but this is the real test of strength. There are still plenty of people in Milan that I know, but I’ve never lived by myself before.

Don’t be surprised if you get a lot of e-mails from me in the next two weeks, I don’t have much planned and I will probably be lonely. Miss you guys,

Love you always,

Posted by jwinitaly 08:53 Comments (0)

If That was the "Low Season"...

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Everyone told us that we were going in the low season to Greece. Marah, Ben, and I weren’t bothered, however, because we were going somewhere more southern than Milan, and it was Greece – how bad could their worst really be?

We arrived to ruins in our metro station, intrigued by the architectural sincerity that preserved the ancient artifacts so well. Apparently, when a building goes up, if ruins are found, they must build around them. So much history is preserved by this basic philosophy.

The first thing we noticed were the copious amounts of stray dogs. I wasn’t impressed with their matted fur seeking my attention. I practiced one of the many practical vocabulary words that a Greek girl had taught us on the plane ride over “Evharisto (Sorry) Doggy”!

The dogs outnumbered the gypsies in the streets. But even stranger -the garbage outnumbered them both. Why was there such an eyesore of garbage lingering throughout the streets of Athens? We found out later that there was a strike going on, and the garbage hadn’t been picked up in weeks. By the smell of the place, it seemed more like months.

“This place looks like Afghanistan” were the words from my friend Ben’s mouth as we approached the street of our hostel. Again, it was a lot to do with the amount of garbage that paved the streets.

The hostel itself was a charm, and fittingly is a “World Famous Hostel” called “AthenStyle”. Upon entry into our 6-person mixed dorm room, we met our soon-to-be friend who we now refer to as Maui Mike. He was thrown across a top bunk dropping jelly tomatoes from it in attempts of making it splat like the Nigerian man who sold it to him had demonstrated. Unfortunately, he unaware that it was a faulty, cheap product and likely a one time use one.

He didn’t know that people in Europe will try and sell you anything and everything on the streets. He also had never stayed in a hostel before. He didn’t think that he would have to give up the other four beds that were unoccupied the night before, and that were now recognized as his closet.

He quickly rummaged together his belongings from each bed, and as I reached for some toilet paper to blow my nose in the bathroom, he scavenged some more of his belongings from the sink. His interpretation of the simple tomato toys gave off an optimistic and friendly personality. His Hawaiian way radiated, and each of us immediately recognized him as an ally.

After meeting our first bunk mate, we returned to the streets to find the Acropolis. The sun was setting, and I’ve never seen such a beautiful skyline in Europe to date. We hiked the hill to the Acropolis, and Ben was the most excited because he had brought his fancy camera to film a time lapse shot of the sunset and the Acropolis. He’s a film major, so this was pretty huge for him.

To our disappointment, however, we got to the top and discovered that you couldn’t go in past 3 pm. This might be because of those stigmatic words “off-season”, but we were out of luck regardless. The next day we would surely conquer it.

Instead, we wandered the streets of Athens without a cause. We saw the Temple of Zeus, and Greek Parliament. We finally settled down for dinner at an authentic Greek restaurant. When we couldn’t understand the menu, we questioned our waiter. He kindly asked us where we were from and recommended the cheeseburger. Marah and Ben giggled, but I was actually offended by this no matter how sincere his intentions may have been.

I shook it off after some wine and an amazing Greek (“Village”) Salad. They also gave us free dessert, which although it wasn’t the most delicious thing in the world, was very kind of them. Cheeseburger...why I oughta…

We missed Happy Hour due to a much needed rest, but after recharging our batteries we ascended to the roof. It contained not only a bar, but an amazing skyline including the main attraction – the Acropolis. We were maybe two kilometers away from it, and the lighting couldn’t have been more perfect against the clear dark sky. We chatted with some new friends from Brazil and eastern Canada.

It was after a few “Mythos” (Greek beer) that our roommate Mike decided it was time to whip out his Nasa-quality laser. I didn’t see it until I heard the roar of laughter contagiously spread throughout the gang of the hostel roof. Another squished tomato scam?

The laser pointer could reach the Acropolis! It was single handedly the most hilarious and degrading thing I have ever seen. The beauty of the lit up Acropolis meets a laser toy you are more likely to see in a teen movie at the theater. We all tested the power of the laser throughout Athens.

“Shots fired!” Someone was using the exact same laser pointer from across Athens back at us. They could have been from five to ten kilometers away from us, without exaggerating. We lasered them, they lasered us; it was all out laser wars. What a hilarious way to meet new people. We ventured into the night “in search of the enemy”. We searched at the bottom of a glass in a club – not much success there.

The clubs in Athens were very strange. No one was dancing! They had obnoxiously loud beats reverberating through the sound system, but still, no one danced to it. I mean it wasn’t even possible to talk, but people just casually lingered throughout the club. This was a trend at the many clubs we visited throughout our stay.

The first club had the best idea to get people in more of a dancing mood (well our group anyway!). They had break-dancers. They were straight out of an M.C. Hammer video, it was so cool! The impressive bit was when they played spin the bottle. Only, the rules of the game were tampered a little:

1)spin a bottle of vodka in the middle of the circle
2) whoever it lands on must chug the vodka straight from the bottle
3) break-dance in front of the club
4) spin the bottle and return to your place in the circle

Deadly game, but it sure revved up our group- if no one else!

We danced on and met a couple of the dancers. One of the guys, who I personally thought was the best one, told us that he won “So You Think You Can Dance”! I was impressed because my mom and I watched a season of it together. After he told me it was the Greek version, I was a little less impressed.

After the bar, I met a skateboarder from Vancouver. Seemed pretty cool that he was from so close to me, and I proceeded to tell him how I was from “near Vancouver – Kamloops”. He snorted back at me that it wasn’t Vancouver. I was highly disappointed after meeting the closest person to my hometown in Europe, especially since I spend a lot of my time representing Canadians because I am only one among so many of my new American friends. What a jerk.

Gyros made it a little better. Gyros is a pita stuffed with any veggie you can think of, tzaziki, and either lamb, pork, or chicken and sometimes FRIES. Yum!!!

On the way home, one from our group fed a stray dog some of their gyros. I ended up naming it Lassie because it led us all the way back to our hostel. It was like we had just paid it for a 25 minute journey back home through our Afghanistan-like streets with food. I’m really not a dog person, so this was highly amusing.

I woke up with Canadians vs. Dogs written sloppily on my left arm. In my belligerence, my world had been shattered because I was disowned by a Canadian, and loved by a dog -what a night. Luckily, I later found out that our hostel receptionist was from Kelowna, so I can forget that loser and count her as the closest person I’ve met to home in Europe.

We woke up to our new friend Mason from Seattle cursing for sleeping in. We felt bad for him, but went right back to sleep without a problem. By the time I took a shower and scrubbed off the previous night, Mason was back. He took a bus to the airport, and then decided to come back because he had such a good time. Mike was also supposed to leave that day, but the two of them withheld their flights until the same day that the three of us left.
They had standby tickets so the flexibility was possible. Our adventure had only just begun.

We split up for the day because they had already done the “touristy” bits of Athens. Ben, Marah and I headed for the Acropolis, round two (without any protection of a laser), and the day embraced us. It was beautiful weather with clear blue skies and sunshine. We even sweated a bit climbing the hill to the ruins. Ben was able to film for a while as we soaked up some sun and adored the history that we were walking through. We even had a little time lying on the walls surrounding the Parthenon before being yelled at “Excuse me! Excuse me!” by some underpaid lady at a distance. If only she knew how pasty Marah and I are.

We met up with our new Brazilian friend Gabe and explored the Acropolis museum. After a stroll through the surrounding streets, we ventured into a meadow-type garden at sunset. The view was unbeatable. The city of Athens looks a lot like Kamloops with its rolling hills. Athens, in contrast, has an extremely populated landscape, and looking at the city from a distance – it looks like Bedrock City in its pale rocky appearance.

After shopping for some hippy attire, we returned in time for happy hour. Marah and I went round for round so that our beer wouldn’t get warm, as we taught our new friends some drinking games with my Canadian flag cards. It was my turn to buy the round, and I patiently waited at about ten minutes to nine for the two discounted drinks. The bartender served a couple others before me, and then called downstairs to do his liquor order. By the time I was served, he tells me that it was regular price now. I looked down at my watch to see 9:02 – and my watch is fast.

I paid for the beer. What a nice bartender! He had just given us such a good deal – pay regular price and you are actually buying the “Mythos” mugs! Marah and I took ours downstairs to our hostel room immediately. That was the deal as far as I knew, but that thing sure was heavy to get back to Italy!

The next day we woke up to rain – so it WAS the “off season”. It was cold and ugly outside, but we visited the Agora, had spanakopita, and just buggered around the city in the rain. The rain lured us into a three hour nap to regain our strength for our last night in Greece.

We partied perhaps harder than the two previous nights combined, and I unfortunately had an issue when I attempted to pee in the dark and was in bed by 12. I’m getting too old for three nighters!

The next day, I was convinced to find the amazing gyros I had near the bars on the first night. Unfortunately, after our 30 minute trek, it was closed! This was because it was St. Nicolas’s Day – the holiday they also have in Amsterdam (the first of two Christmas’). What was worse was that the garbage mixed with the rain had created a pungently tangy aroma that didn’t cope well with my hangover.

In the end, we settled for the gyros a block away from our hostel. It ended up being amazing. I tried lamb though, and it was weird. I can’t decide if it’s my childhood pal “Lambchops” or all the salt that made me feel a little uneasy about it, but nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed it.

We dwelled in self pity as we finished our last gyros and made our way back to the airport. Best trip all semester – bar none.

We met so many amazing people in Greece. I have learned from the last two trips that I prefer to travel in smaller groups with one or maybe two companions. Marah and I have been gallivanting together, and we have met some awesome people because of the sink or swim intuition that kicks in.

I can’t wait to go back to Greece (notice the assertive tone). I want to go in the summer to see the difference that comes with “high season”. All I know is that if the Greeks are complaining about weather in December, they should come and live in Kamloops for a winter season!

Love and Miss You Always,

Posted by jwinitaly 10:37 Comments (0)

I Like Guinness, aka I'm Badass

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I went home after writing my last (whiney) blog and got a virus on my computer and had to sleep on the bathroom floor for an hour because I got sick. There’s something to really complain about. Talk about irony.

I’m well and jolly right now though, so I won’t torture you this time around.

Last weekend Marah and I went to Dublin. Straight off the plane, everyone was really friendly to us. Somebody gave us their map, the bus driver called us at our stop, and our hostel receptionist guy was more helpful than one would expect. Marah and I later joked when he stood up that he was our little leprechaun bringing us good luck.

After settling into our hostel, we ventured into the cold streets of Dublin in search of the Irish pride and joy – Guinness. We rocked the Guinness Storehouse for a couple of hours, and I was comparing it to the Heineken Museum which I experienced in Amsterdam. What won me over was the old advertising “Pregnant women should drink Guinness”, “Guinness helps build strong muscles”, “Guinness is recommended by doctors to cure influenza”-lawsuit waiting to happen.

After tasting Guinness for the first time, Marah and I both loved it! We were both pleasantly surprised but agreed that it could have been a meal supplement. I do feel pretty tough saying that I like Guinness though, I’m not gonna lie.

We decided on a pub crawl for the evening to get a taste for Irish pubs and meet some new people. We had an hour to kill before the pub crawl, so we decided to lie down in the hostel. By the time 7:30 came, we didn’t get up. Lying down was not the smartest idea. Marah and I were slap-happy and content with calling it a night after our one-hour nap turned thirteen hours. To be fair, there is a one hour time difference and we were up at 5 am Italy time.

The next day we were more than willing to compensate for our lack of energy the day before. We started it off right with a “jumbo breakfast” that included: eggs, toast, sausages, bacon, ham, hash-browns, tomatoes, mushrooms, o.j., and coffee for only seven Euros!!! I love Ireland.

We met up for a free tour at 11 am surprised to see how large of a crowd they brought in. It must be because of the key word “free”. Nonetheless, we split off into groups and away we went.

Our tour-guide rocked! She didn’t stop spitting out historical information for the whole three and a half hours that the tour lasted. I even learned some Canadian history which I found amusing in the context. It was an awesome way to learn some history from an Irish perspective. There were a lot of jokes referring to the animosity between the Irish and the British. She was working off of tips, and she really put on a quality performance in my opinion.
What a cool job- I bet she makes good money and meets so many different people.

About midway through the tour, we stopped at a coffee shop to warm up and take a break. My toes were colder than any day at Sun Peaks because I was unequipped with a mere single layer of long striped socks. I was eager to find refuge in the over-capacitated café.

Marah chatted with our guide outside while I fed off the temporary source of heat. In the mean time, someone came up to the guide and told her “The president of Ireland is in that coffee shop across the street”. Marah went with her to meet and shake the hand of the Irish president. She didn’t think to come and grab me!!! I swore to her after that if I spotted Colin Ferrell I wasn’t going to tell her, clearly a little bitter about the whole situation.

After our tour, we browsed Grafton Street. Marah found Claddagh rings, and I, once again, was excited to find an English bookshop. I also bought a sweater with a Guinness on it quoting “Tall, Dark, and Handsome” –yes, I would.

The street was marvelous in its Christmas spirit. Between the lights and the giant tree, it was very beautiful.
Europe sure knows how to do Christmas from what I’ve seen so far.

That night we actually made it to the pub crawl. We met three others and convinced a solo traveler in our room to join us. We already had a good group pre-pub crawl. I connected really well with a boy from Ohio, and I regretfully never got to say bye to him.

The pub crawl was a blast, until it ended with our guides being beat up and ditching us. A couple wasted Irishmen caught eye of some attractive girls in our group and decided to tag along. Being that they were peeing on buildings and acting like belligerent fools, our guides kindly asked them to quit following us around, although they clearly could go wherever they wished. I found them entertaining until it ended with our two underdog guides bleeding from the mouth and the nose. The clowns were arrested and likely sent to a drunk-tank. We thought they were ok until they checked out at our third bar.

There was a live band playing classic rock covers, and they had already fed us enough shots to keep us preoccupied. Unfortunately though, we all noticed that the group was gone at different times, and we lost each other among the crowd and the brilliant music. Marah and I danced it off.

We got about two hours of sleep before having to wake up to take a shuttle to the airport. We went outside and came face to face with the most intense rainstorm I have ever been in. We walked about 20 minutes to O’Connell Street trudging through the puddles splashing down on us. If we weren’t both still half-cut, I think we would have been in a lot worse of a mood.

We rung out our jeans at the airport, and we passed out on the plane ride home. We left the cold weather behind us, and we were extremely grateful that it hadn’t rained until we were leaving Dublin. I will miss the friendly people there. I feel like my family would fit in real well there; I felt very at home.

At first glance, the appearance of the streets resembled London a lot, but after getting under the skin of Dublin, the people are the heart of it. If I ever get real fed up with Canadian men, which is quickly approaching, I may just up and move there to recruit some poor bastard.

I am going to Athens tomorrow with Marah and our friend Ben, and the weather calls for 22 degrees Celsius. I can’t wait! I am getting very, very pasty, and the sunshine will do me wonders.

On a more important note, my parents are celebrating their 22 anniversary this weekend. I’m sorry that I can’t be there to give them a big hug. That’s really something, 22 years. Congratulations Mom and Dad!

Love and Miss you always,

Posted by jwinitaly 06:05 Comments (0)

Rainy Rant

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I have thirty minutes before class, and I need to blow off some steam. Sorry but you are about to get an earful.

First off, I went shopping for Christmas decorations which was lovely. However, I got to the checkout, and the lady ripped me off. This is not unusual among Italian merchants, however the point of frustration is that I just let her do it. I knew that she charged me twice for a product (among several unnecessary Christmassy knick-knacks), but I didn't say anything. Conveniently, it was the most expensive item, and there was no receipt that was listed item by item.

I let myself get taken advantage of, and I somehow lost my voice. I took it laying down. Where had my fight gone? I would never usually submit like that, and this is why I'm bummed about it. She likely did it because I told her I don't speak Italian, and it really makes me feel like just another bum in the rain.

I wondered to myself if this is the big city mentality? Millions of people pass by me everyday, and none of them are exceptional in any way- they are just more people. When grannies pushed me elbows and all to get onto the metro, I used to be bothered by it. Now I am unphased by it. What happend to the common good in everyone? Working together makes a better world people!!! In a world that seems to take advantage of the sincere people, I don't want to be a sucker, but I don't want to live that selfishly either.

Secondly, and perhalps more randomly, are there no umbrella ethics? I have never lived in a rainy city, and it seems that Milan's winter season is actually it's rainy season. If I thought that Italian drivers were something to be cautious of while walking down the street, I was wrong- the umbrellas are the real killer. Flying left and right, stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, turning around - these clearly double as weapons! I feel unarmed walking down the street without the flamboyantly colourful rain protection. Pedestrians with umbrellas resemble a game of "chicken". Trust me, they won't flinch or back down.

Ok that may have wasted your time, but I needed to either go for a run (not gonna happen in the rain/without a 150 Euro gym pass) or tell someone. I decided to tell you all haha.

I will write about Dublin soon to compensate for this atrocity of a winy blog post.

Love and miss you always,

Posted by jwinitaly 07:56 Comments (0)

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