Monday, November 26, 2012

Completing the Trifecta

For those of you who don't know, there is a well-known Jewish camp song entitled "Wherever You Go (There's Always Someone Jewish)." In this song, there is a line that goes as follows:
Amsterdam, Disneyland, Tel Aviv
Oh they're miles apart
But when we light the candles on Sabbath eve
We're sharin' the prayer in each one of our hearts
I went to Tel Aviv in 2008 with my trip to Israel, I have been to Disneyland countless times, and on November 16th, I was given the honor of completing what has come to be known as the Jewish Trifecta  by visiting Amsterdam.

This semester, five of my camp friends and I are all studying abroad. Hannah is in Rome, Ali is in Florence, Jenna's in Dublin, and Rebecca and I are in Paris. Unfortunately, Rebecca was unable to join us for this trip, but I met Hannah, Jenna, and Ali in one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to in my life.

Once I arrived at the airport, I took a train into Amsterdam's central station then a tram to our hostel. Immediately, I couldn't believe my eyes. The tram ride over completely blew me away. I felt like I was in a fairytale land. It was as if Disneyland Main Street was every single street I was passing. For some reason, Amsterdam has a reputation for being the place study abroad students can travel to legally smoke marijuana. Along with this reputation comes the expectation that the city might be a bit run down and sketchy. On the contrary, Amsterdam is not only one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen, it's one of the most clean and incredibly safe.

On Saturday the four of us took a free walking tour and my eyes were opened even more to the beauty of the city. We had an incredible tour guide. His name was Julian and he had been living in Amsterdam for about three years with his Dutch girlfriend who he had met back home in Australia. I learned more from Julian in that three hour tour than I ever expected to. He explained the history of Amsterdam, some interesting facts, but most importantly, he taught us about Amsterdam as a city of tolerance. You can be whoever you want to be in Amsterdam. Whatever religion you practice, politics you follow, things you believe in, it doesn't matter. The four of us felt like we were in some sort of dream world. I believe more than anything in the idea of tolerance and live and let live and my friends and I were blown away that we were in a city that believe so much in what we also believe in. 

Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam and smoking marijuana has been decriminalized. The city has put it's efforts into cracking down on hard drug use and has almost completely ridded the city of crime. Some of this made me uncomfortable but Julian put it all into a perspective that helped me understand things in a completely new light. 

After learning so much from the tour on Saturday, we headed out on our own. We wandered the city, ate good food, and just enjoyed each other's company. We visited Anne Frank's house which was amazing. The house has been turned into a museum and all of the furniture has been removed. They do, however, have her original diary in a glass case which was incredible to see. It was so strange being in the place Anne Frank and her family lived in for such a long time and a place that's known around the world.

This semester has been particularly hard for me but being with my friends was a comfort I so needed. Being in Amsterdam (and all my trips this semester, in fact) have taught me that there is so much more to life than we realize sometimes. I am extremely guilty of getting wrapped up in school and forgetting that having fun is just as important, if not more important, than work. The tests we take, assignments we complete, and essays we write are so minimal in our lives compared to what is out there. There's an entire world to be explored and tons of people to meet. I am more than lucky to have the opportunities that I do to see so many places and learn so many things. No matter how difficult this semester has been academically, mentally, and emotionally, I have gained so much. As I move into my last month here in Paris, I make a promise to myself and to all of you reading this that I will keep everything in perspective and continue to have fun. Much love.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

My Grandma's Name is Florence

This post has nothing to do with my Mema and everything to do with my fall break trip to Florence. Additionally, please ignore the fact that I am wearing the same shirt in every photo and that my trip spans over four days. I packed extremely lightly for this trip and did wear things at other times of day and on the one day I am not in any photos. Thank you for your understanding.  

One of my number one destinations during my semester here in Paris was always Italy. My plan was to head to Rome, but after a friend decided to go to Iceland instead, my agenda changed to Florence. And thank goodness. 

My parents have always told me their favorite city is Florence, and now I completely understand why. My three short days there were not nearly enough and I am already planning my return for someday far in the future. 

A friend from school, Taylor, is studying abroad there this semester and she so graciously hosted me. From seeing the Birth of Venus to walking the streets of Florence till a ridiculous hour of the morning, I could not have asked for a better vacation. I've really been feeling stressed lately with school and such and going to Florence helped me gain some perspective and understand what this semester abroad is truly about.

As soon as I arrive on Wednesday, Taylor and I went out for a walk. She took me all over. It is so drastically different from Paris but beautiful in its own way. You walk everywhere, which is such a huge difference from Paris. The streets are small and all sort of look the same, but you rarely have to worry about cars and congestion everywhere you go. After our walk, she dropped me off at the Uffizi Gallery where I wondered around for a bit. I then popped into a  cafe for a tea, read my book, and headed back to Taylor's apartment where we got ready for dinner and going out for Halloween. We ate at an incredible pizza place called Gusta's. I took a business card and taped it into my journal. Some of the best pizza I've ever had. Don't get wrong, New York pizza is one of my favorite foods in the world, but this place is unparalleled. 

After dinner, we went out to a bar to celebrate halloween then wandered around the city taking silly photos. It was tons of a fun. We also stopped in a bar called Ebby's. A man named Ebby, who resembles Einstein, owns the bar so we ordered a shot named after him. He gives you a plate with orange slices, coffee grounds, sugar, and banana with something on it. You take the orange slice, place it in the coffee grounds then the sugar. You place the orange on your tongue coffee grounds side down and eat it you. You then take the alcohol with something mixed with coke (which was tough for me since I HATE soda) then eat the banana. It was such an experience all on it's own!

On Thursday, we spent the day walking around again and went to a beautiful spot that looks out on the entire city of Florence. It was truly amazing. I had such an emotional moment when we first stepped off the stairs and I saw my first glimpse of the city from up there. I know I say this all the time, but all my life, I've seen photos of this exact scene, and here I was, seeing it with my own eyes. We have a photo of Florence hanging in our house that my parents took when they visited, and now I have my own photos of the same beautiful city. I am so lucky.

Friday was another amazing day. We first went to a market to buy food to make for dinner. I'm not sure what it was, but the market gave me an amazing feeling about life. I had no idea a food market could do that. Everyone was so pleasant, sharing food and conversing. For some reason, this little market in a random place in Florence helped me realize how beautiful life can be. No matter how cheesy it sounds, it's what I felt at that moment and may never forget. After buying food for dinner, we took the bus up a giant hill to a small town called Fiesole. Taylor and I packed a lovely picnic lunch and proceeded to walk. We wanted to find a great spot to eat lunch, and that we did. We found a spot that not only looked over Florence, but gave us a marvelous view of the hills and mountains surrounding the city. As we were sitting have our lunch of fruit, cheese, and bread, two men passed us and told us we were far from the spot where Leonardo da Vinci took his first flight. We, of course, decided to go explore. Again, we found an incredible look out spot. We followed some trail markers and found a few cool things, but, unfortunately, couldn't find the exact spot of his flight. It was an incredible day of beautiful views, good food, and great friends and Taylor and I both absolutely loved every minute of it.

Saturday was my last morning in Florence. Taylor and I woke up and quickly headed to the train station where we made our way to Pisa to see the leaning tower. It was honestly one of the strangest sights I've ever seen. It was a bit smaller that I was expecting and, of course, beautiful to see. But really, it was so strange. You feel as though your mind is playing tricks on you. We took a ton of silly photos of ourselves but also of other people taking their own photos. Seeing the photos being taken is quite hilarious and I'm sure we looked ridiculous as well!

Overall, my trip to Florence was absolutely incredible. Having a break from Paris and stress was much needed. I hope to have a chance to explore the rest of Italy some day and of course return to Florence. It is such a unique place and, as my dad says, frozen in time. Thank you for reading. Hope you enjoyed! Much love <3