The Nineteenth Week Crete

Crete, the village of Plantanias to be exact, was wonderful. We were in a small, slightly touristy area with mostly restaurants, beach shops and hotels which gave us a lot to explore if not a large taste of local culture. It’s a very small area, nothing like the crowds of Italy, but we’ve been told this is the “off-season” for beach goers.

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The food has been superb. I tried stuffed grape leaves which were delicious. Everything is much less expensive here, which after Italy was a relief. The only thing I found to be pricey were fruits and vegetables, which after a week without much of any and eating at restaurants for every meal has been tough. Our hotel did have a small kitchenette so we could cook a bit. The owner was so sweet, and had two dogs, a cat and an adorable kitten. I’m rarely a fan of cats but this kitten was so sweet, even if I did have to shower every time she came near me.

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The first two days were cool and cloudy, which gave us ample opportunity to explore the village and the shops and catch up after a week apart. After spending so much time together and with everything happening so quickly this month, a week seemed far longer especially after traveling solo.

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The beaches were so beautiful; I’ve never seen those shades of blue in the ocean before. I never could seem to capture them on my camera properly. The sand is a bit rocky but the water is warm and salty. More than anything I love the beach and that’s part of why I wanted to take this vacation to Greece without a checklist of attractions and landmarks to visit. Of course I would like to see Athens and archeological remains, but that would be for a very different trip than what my week in Crete had been. We rented lounge chairs and spent the majority of the week relaxing.

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My friend and I had a little adventure and got fish pedicures! At first it felt incredibly strange, almost like pins and needles but much less intense. But after a few minutes it was simply calming. The fish seemed to particularly enjoy swimming between my toes which was a strange sensation to say the least. I had always wanted to try one and with so many salons that offered them here it seemed to be a perfect opportunity. (I’m still waiting for the pictures!)

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Side note, Zoe recommended this fantastic book to me called “Where’d You Go Bernadette” by Maria Semple which I downloaded to my phone and read in less than 24 hours. I tried to read “Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess which I had brought with me but it really was bumming me out on the beach. I’d need to be in a much more serious (and angry) state of mind to read that one.

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The Eighteenth Week Part 3 Rome

I got to Rome in the late afternoon, after accidently taking the local train instead of the express train which made the ride four hours instead of one and a half. Meaning that by the time I found my hostel and checked in, just about everything I wanted to see was closed. But since I had missed out on a day already and would only have one more day before flying to Greece, I wanted to try and see something on my list of sights. I figured they couldn’t possibly close the Trevi Fountain so I got back on the metro and made my way there.comics hostel meg I stayed in a comic themed hostel!

The fountain was indeed open; actually it was swarming with tourists though I suppose that fact shouldn’t have surprised me. Again, I was struck with how large the statues were and how artfully they were crafted.

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The next morning I went straight to St Peter’s Basilica, as it was closest to my hostel and the only free attraction left on my list. While the line for the Basilica was intimidating to say the least, this was a surprisingly fast moving line. Thankfully I remembered not to wear shorts or a tank top despite the heat so I could go inside the church.

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St Peter’s is gorgeous and filled with such amazing art, though it seems everything I saw in Italy was beautiful artwork. I’m not sure who this statue was depicting, but there was a line to touch his feet. His toes had been completely eroded away into smooth slabs or shiny marble. I was told rubbing his feet was for luck, but the informational sign was in Italian so I have no idea what powers these feet supposedly have.

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I headed to the Vatican next, where the line did move faster than expected but standing in line by yourself can be a bit boring. This museum was crazily crowded and I think I left with a new sense of claustrophobia. The centuries of art was overwhelming in most cases, and there was such a sense of rushing around that I feel I might have missed a few things while lingering on others.

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The Sistine Chapel was nothing like I imagined it but was even more striking. Of course The Creation of Adam was incredible, but all the other ceiling paintings were similarly exquisite. When you walk into the room, you snake around in a slow moving line across the room and out the other side, urged on by the guards to keep the line moving as you try and absorb as much as you can before leaving the chapel.IMG_1565 Athena!

After lunch I took the metro to the Colosseum, which I managed to successfully take a half dozen times in two days without getting lost, a huge deal after the fiasco of the boats in Venice. The line for the Colosseum was particularly frustrating because it was just a horde of people cutting one another. It was like kindergarteners lined up for snack time. The Colosseum was my favorite part of Rome, and maybe of Italy in general. The sheer size of it was incredible and imagining it during the time of the empire, when it was still used for the gladiators was split between seeming incredible and barbaric.

IMG_1620 You can see part of the reconstructed stage and the gladiator and animal quarters below

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I ended the day at the Forums (no line there!) but I didn’t spend too much time there. It was quite beautiful, especially with all the poppies growing up in the cracks of the ruins. However I had seen so much in one day I was exhausted so when my camera battery died I decided to call it a night.

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Goodbyes

I am still catching up on Italy and Greece posts, but as today I fly back home to Virginia (with only a small delay) I wanted to jump ahead and give you my thoughts on the end of my time in Ireland, and mostly about the friends I have made here.
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Last Week in Cork

I will readily admit I spent the last week in Cork in deep denial (although does it really count as denial if I realize it is denial?). Even as I shed tears over more goodbyes than I wanted to ever say, and made last stops at all my favorite haunts, went to the UCC campus for the last time…I was determined to plow ahead. Avoid thinking of now and focusing on everything good that I was coming home to. That more than anything has helped me keep it together this last week. All the things I missed from home; from Reese’s cups to my boyfriend to regularly washing all my clothes (and for free).

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I have focused on all the positives of going home and tried my best to ignore what I will miss most about Cork.

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I have said goodbye to all my favorite spots. Had last meals, last drinks, last shopping excursions at all the most memorable parts of the city center. I have stocked up on Butler’s hot chocolate, eaten more O’Flynn’s sausages than I care to admit to, wandered through Topshop and the English Market. Eaten my last Gino’s extra cheese and pepperoni pizza and scoop of gelato while reading a book. Had a last drink at the Washington Inn. Had my last homemade pot of spiked hot chocolate with friends. My last trip to Penny’s. My last time on the UCC campus, to print my plane tickets.

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I love my friends back home, and I have missed them. These friends from high school, college, and even elementary school who I am so glad to be coming home to finally see after five months. But my college career has been filled with friends fluttering in and out of my life within a semester or two. Now I have made some of the best friends of my life, and the pattern is continued.

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Already we have been flung across the world without any set date of a reunion. Real life will take hold of us, and Skype dates and letters will be the best we can do after five months of constantly being in one another’s presence, traveling together, practically living together. These women had knit themselves into my life faster than I could have imagined, and I can only think myself better for each of their unique influences.

I have learned to be spontaneous, a hard lesson for me and one I needed. I have pushed my boundaries and done things I could not have pictured myself doing a few months ago. This experience has been a time of growth and personal reflection that could not have been nearly as rewarding without these friends.

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We plan to visit, anywhere in the world we can manage, and as often as we can. We have talked into the wee hours of the night about our lives, and our plans to travel together in the future. We have supported one another through more than you might think in such a short time together. We have said again and again how lucky we were to meet on that first day. How lucky I am to have met these ladies, to have experienced so much life with them.

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It is difficult to relate these feelings, particularly in blog format. Particularly because I have done all I can to deny that I must say goodbye to these amazing people, to this city that has adopted me. I have done my best to look forward to this summer, to being in Virginia, to being back at UMW. I have not put enough thought into the fact that this chapter is ending and I cannot stop its closure. But I seem to be unable to properly express how happy I am to have gone on this adventure, and with such perfect friends along for the ride. I have appreciated all of these friends I have made here, and find myself better for knowing you all.

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The Eighteenth Week Part 2 Florence

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Florence was much less stressful that Venice, the train was fairly easy to figure out and I got a cab to my hostel. The hostel was in a perfect location. It was on the same street as the museum where Michelangelo’s David is housed, and I could see the Duomo from the lobby window, so I could walk everywhere. Everywhere I wanted to go into the lines were horrible so I spent most of my two days in Florence walking around and seeing as much as I could of the outside of buildings and people watching at the many plazas.

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Michelangelo’s David
I opted to get reservations to see this, as I didn’t want to waste half the day in line. There’s not much else in that museum, except for several unfinished statues by Michelangelo which were interesting. David is huge, much bigger than I had imagined the statue to be. It made me feel very small, not just because of this hulking marble statue but the enormous skill that took to create it.

By some stroke of luck, I managed to run into the only people I 9sort of not really0 knew in Florence at the museum. These two really lovely women, also from America, helped me find my train platform when I was in Venice trying to get to Florence. I saw one of them next to me at the museum but couldn’t place her, but she remembered me. Traveling alone, even for a short time, makes seeing anyone you might have the briefest connection with particularly enjoyable simply because it’s someone to talk to. I’ve noticed it’s only when traveling alone I meet people in hostels, and it’s usually other solo travelers looking for someone to chat with about the sights you explored that day.

IMG_1483 This obviously is not a picture of David, but it is a statue of Hercules who is a personal favorite myth of mine that I wanted to include

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I did not go inside the church, but it was my landmark for the days I spent in Florence as you can see it from just about everywhere. I got the most delicious gelato at this little shop right out front three different times. It would just keep hitting me, as I sat on the steps of the Duomo eating chocolate gelato and reading Pride and Prejudice that I was in Florence amongst all this fabulous art and history.

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On my last night, after I got yet another gelato at the Duomo, they were having some sort of charity race. They were playing music and warming up and they left right in front of the church.

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Ponte Vecchio
I’m going to be honest, I have no idea why this bridge is so famous but I can only imagine what an incredible view those rickety (and I’m sure multimillion euro) apartments have. All the shops lining the bridge were expensive jewelry stores for some reason, maybe that’s what connects to the history of the bridge? But most importantly the river was beautiful and peaceful despite the horrible driving and constantly honking horns.

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Piazza Michelangelo
My best friend, who did her study abroad in Florence, recommended this spot to me. It gives the best view of the city and is most definitely worth the walk up the hill.

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The Eighteenth Week Part 1 Venice

I decided to travel for about five days on my own in Italy, before meeting a friend in Crete the following week. My first stop was Venice

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My flight out of Dublin was at 6am, so I essentially pulled an all nighter, taking the 1am bus to the airport from Cork and doing my best to doze off whenever possible, on the bus, the flight, the airport. Dublin airport has these cool little padded circular holes in the walls of this one room to curl up and sleep in that are comfy. When I planned it I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal and would give me a whole day in Venice (where I was going to have the least amount of time).

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I arrived in Italy, weirdly not tired and got the bus to Venice. It was one of those weird times where I’d rather just sit and think while riding around on the bus than anxious to get off and start exploring. Anyway, I found a tourist office because I brilliantly did not plan on how to get from the bus to my hostel. Instead of a bus system, Venice uses a boat system. Pretty cool right? Well I ended up lost on those boats for over three hours, riding back and forth, switching from line 4 to line 1 to line 2 trying to find the right island, and then the right stop, and then walking directions from there. Paying a ridiculous €30 for this boat ticket and never actually being asked to check my ticket. 30 hours without sleep or food. I was determined to find this hostel before doing anything else. The hostel, when I eventually found it, was beautiful. It faced San Marco Piazza, and I saw the sun set right over the water that evening.

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After dropping off my bags I bought the most delicious and overpriced can of coke and wandered around the piazza, and tried to find Vodophone to buy a new cell phone charger (I brought the European adapter, but not the charger itself because that was the kind of day I was having). Mostly though I just got a feel for the city and I got an early dinner, pizza of course, and turned in early (I slept almost 12 hours that night). It all started to sink in as I strolled through the streets that even though today hadn’t gone at all to plan, and I was tired and cranky and doubtful of the whole trip, I was in Italy and how bad could it really be? You know how they say a bad day at the beach is better than a good day anywhere else? Same goes for Italy.

Venice was where it finally hit me that I have to go home in a few short weeks and say goodbye to all these wonderful people and a place that has so quickly become my home. Trying to come to terms with this change while also struggling to literally find my way in a new place was difficult, and set a mood for my whole time in Italy. That isn’t to say I did not enjoy myself immensely, simply that going on this solo adventure in such a transitional time was not ideal.

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Fondue Night!

As I am on vacation currently, I wanted to write up a little extra post about the last Ladies’ Fondue Night, mostly consisting of pictures. My post about Italy and Greece when I return to my laptop!

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Fondue Night!

Thursday night three of my closest friends here had what is probably our last night just the four of us in Ireland. We celebrated with cheese fondue for dinner and chocolate fondue for dessert. I may never eat again, I’m still full.

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I had meant to take pictures of the process…but we got distracted and it wasn’t until we sat down with the cheese that it occurred to me I wanted to document it.

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As luck would have it, the exact same thing happened an hour later with the chocolate fondue, although when I remembered we had already eaten most of the marshmallows, cookies, and strawberries.

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I had never made fondue before coming here, but I made it once for a little dinner party in February and the tradition stuck, I think this was probably the fourth or fifth time we’ve done it.

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But this time we were particularly decadent, having both cheese and chocolate.

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The Seventeenth Week

This has been a week of goodbyes for me, as most of my friends will be going home while I’m on vacation for the next two weeks. This experience has surpassed all expectations but I feel I have been particularly lucky with all the fantastic people I have met in these short five months. I am so used to being able to send a quick text or Facebook message about meeting up for just about anything with no notice, and transitioning to not seeing all my friends as frequently as we want will be hard. As bittersweet the goodbyes have been, I now at least have friends all over the world and across the States to keep in touch with.

The Shandon Bells
A few of us walked up to the Shandon Bells this week, where you can actually ring the bells from the tower and it also offers a beautiful view of Cork. The bells are numbered and there is a songbook provided so you can play a little tune with them. Bells are much harder to ring than you might expect, there was only a thin piece of string attached to pull on but the sound was pretty. After ringing the bells, you climb up the tower more and you have to wear noise cancelling headphones as you crawl around the bells. At the very top of the tower there is a wonderful view of the city, the city center seemed so quiet from there. We could even see our apartment building.

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About a block away from the church was this fantastic little artsy café, The Buttercup Café. We got lunch there, and I had the best Panini and fries. We went to Butler’s from there, and it was so warm we got milkshakes instead of hot chocolate. The milkshakes are just as rich and chocolate filled as the hot chocolate.

buttercup cafe The Buttercup Cafe meal

Kinsale

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The very first weekend in Cork after the first week of classes I went to Kinsale, one of my favorite places in Ireland, with a girl I met at orientation and one of her friends who I had never met. The three of us have remained close friends throughout the semester, going to Dublin together, and London, and a half dozen day trips around Cork. This week we went to Kinsale again, the three of us, just like that first week in January. We recreated the day almost, hot chocolate and pie at the Poet’s Corner. I found an adorable edition of The Great Gatsby there, and got my loyalty card stamped one last time. We visited all out favorite shops and went to a dozen new ones, including another book shop where I found a copy of Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott. We ate at the Hamlet for lunch, where we preceded to order way too much delicious food. That was the end of our time in Kinsale, for this semester in Ireland at least.

cork map1 This was a map made out of corks in the Kinsale wine museum we popped into

Side note:

I will be traveling in Italy and Greece the next two weeks so I am unsure if I will be able to do my weekly post