Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tiny Paper Tree Advent Calender: Day One

Happy first day of December! Gooligan opened her first little paper tree today and inside was...

a coupon for a movie date! Good for one matinee or any showing at the local $3 dollar second-run theater. Second run movie theaters are lifesavers for people on a budget by the way. I think Gooligan wants to wait until Thor 2 shows up at the $3 dollar theater, because we both love superhero movies and we haven't seen it yet. (We decided to see Catching Fire with some friends last weekend.) But I'm pretty excited to take this special lady out to a movie soon. I feel lucky to be dating someone who is just as interested and excited about stories and storytelling in any form as I am. Gooligan is one of the biggest supporters of my writing and I am so grateful that she understands my passion and holds it in such high regard. I know a lot of people do not have such supportive partners. So thank you, Gooligan, for being such a swell gal.

Holiday Festivities and Advent Calendars

December 1 is a mere twelve minutes away, so I felt that it was time to update this blog again! November was a heck of a month. Gooligan and I are settled in after our mad dash around Europe, on the job hunt, doing odd work where we can find it, and trying to take advantage of our copious amounts of free time by enjoying the holidays this year. 

In between tutoring and a part-time internship writing online petitions, I've been wrapping up my last semester of graduate school. December is going to be a big month for me school-wise. There's all the standard work that the end of any semester entails (turning in my last packet, preparing for workshop by reading everyone's stories and writing comments on them), but there's a lot of additional work, too. I have to turn in my creative thesis, which includes 140 pages of my polished fiction. It's pretty exciting, though.

This past month, Gooligan and I also competed in NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, and I'm proud to say that we both won! As of just a few hours ago, we both hit our goals. Gooligan, who has never written a novel before, wrote 50,000 words over the course of the month. I pushed myself a little bit, and wrote 80,000 words--and finished the first draft of my third novel.

I'm glad that we both did NaNoWriMo this year because it was incredibly fun to participate in a creative venture together. I am excited for Gooligan to edit and let me read her novel, since I think it sounds amazing. But I am also glad that I accomplished my goal this month, because in about five weeks I'm going to graduate with my MFA, and ideally I'd love to be able to work on getting something published while editing something else while generating new writing (either short stories or novels). 

While writing is my main creative pursuit, I enjoy a good craft day as much as anyone else. I stumbled across an amazing post on the Etsy Blog with a free template to make an advent calender of trees! Paper crafts aren't my strong suit, but I had everything I needed to make them: lots of different light card-stock paper and a scoring tool, so I went ahead and made them!

These are the first twelve lined up on the window sill in the dining room. The templates include three separate sizes. I decided to mix things up a little and include some pattern card-stock in addition to plain tree colors.

Since Gooligan and I are still looking for consistent full-time work, I'm working with a limited budget, but I've already filled the first seven trees with free and/or inexpensive items (date ideas, coupons, tiny trinkets). While I would love to give Gooligan everything her heart wishes for, my goal for this advent calendar is to let Gooligan know how much I appreciate her on a daily basis by doing activities together that we both love, trying new activities, and anything else that celebrates our common values/interests.

I plan on updating this blog each day for the next 24 days to let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jumping Right Back In

Gooligan and I have been home for a week now. And it's weird. But also not that weird. Which is, in itself, odd.

It took us about five days to get over the jetlag. But that didn't stop us from socializing! The first night after we got back, we met up with my friend, Amanda, who I have been friends with since elementary school.

We went downtown to see a cabaret show. Each of the people preforming did a great job designing and preforming their acts, especially considering that it was a debut show for many of them. I guess that's part of being an artist of any kind: the willingness to commit yourself to your work, and to get out there and preform no matter the outcome.

After the show, we went to the Hurricane Café, where we ordered nachos, hash-browns, and a milkshake.

Probably the single worst thing I've eaten since coming back to the States (nutrion-wise, anyway). But it was so delicious!

Then on Sunday, Gooligan and I went pumpkin-patching with her sister and her sister's delightfully silly kid. We went fairly last-minute, I suppose, on the Sunday before Halloween. Most of the pumpkins in the field looked more like vomit than pumpkins, actually. But after a substantial amount of walking around and peering at pumpkin carcasses we finally found two suitable pumpkins.

After we got home, Gooligan and I carved the pumpkins. I carved the Goblin King for her (my drawing skills, which are abhorrent, are still better than my carving skills, let me tell you). Gooligan complained that her pumpkin was also atrocious, but when I saw it my mouth fell open.

Incredible, right?! 

Anyway, the real reason we pumpkin-patch and carve pumpkins is for the seeds! Gooligan loves fresh pumpkin seeds. She roasts them in the oven and slathers all sorts of delicious seasonings on them and then we eat them for days.

Speaking of eating things, having a lot of free times on your hands and a well-stocked kitchen, leads to a lot of baking. And it's not even November yet. The holidays are going to hit hard.

Luckily, I've started running again. Sometime in the last couple of runs I passed the 200 mile mark without even realizing it! Take that, high school P.E. coaches!

So far I've made cinnamon pancakes with chocolate chips in them, pumpkin chocolate brownies, and chocolate-dipped peanut butter cookies. Oh, and lentil soup.

Lentil soup is one of my favorite things to make because it's a) delicious, b) you can make it with just about anything, c) it's super cheap, and d) it's really easily adjustable if you have people eating with you who can't eat certain things. Last night I made it with vegetable stock, onions, carrots, and green lentils. If you make some homemade bread to go with it, it's one of the best quick, easy, and affordable meals ever.

Well, I'd better hurry up and finish my homework. Packet four is due in a couple of days and Gooligan and I are going back up to Bellingham to visit some friends tonight. 

It feels really weird to me that I am almost done with grad school. After this packet, I just have one more, which is really just compiling everything into my final creative thesis. Then I have to give my reading and lecture at residency at the end of December and I'll be done with schooling for the first time since I was in preschool. It's so surreal to think about. But I feel like I have made some substantial breakthroughs as a writer and a critical thinker, and I'm eager to be able to apply the time I've spent on school toward other writerly pursuits soon. I'm sure I'll blog about my feelings concerning graduation and my reading/lecture more later!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Since I promised Maddi that I would make a wrap-up post about my trip, here it is!

When Gooligan first told me that she wanted to go to Europe for a month, I thought it would be impossible from a financial standpoint. But then, partly due to our own determination to scrimp and save, and partly due to the wonderful financial blessings by our friends and family, the financial side of our trip--miraculously--fell into place.

What I wasn't planning on was the emotional and psychological aspect of traveling for over a month. Planning an entire trip and dealing with the mistakes that happened along the way, like missing our plane, is exhausting.

When you are at home--no matter how stressful your life might be at times--you are simply not using the same emotional and mental muscles as you do when you are traveling.

Before I left for my trip, there were certain situations that made me anxious: calling up strangers, going to new places, asking for favors.

But Europe threw my entire perception of anxiety-producing situations out the window; after being lost in a place where you cannot speak the language, it's not exactly terrifying to call someone up on the phone.

It's made me realize and appreciate how it is literally life-changing to speak the primary language of the place you live in. After all, what's the worst that can happen?

I feel like I have a much better take-it-a-day-at-a-time grasp on a lot of things, actually, after our trip. I'm no longer scared if I see a cop on the side of the road. Sure, I can't exactly afford a ticket now, but if I were to get a ticket, I know I could go to the courthouse and work out a payment plan. Nothing seems impossible anymore.

Going on this trip definitely strained my relationship with Gooligan at times, due to high-stress situations. But we worked through our tensions when they occurred and have, as a result, a deeper understanding and love for each other.

One of the things I realized when I was over in Europe is how important diet is to my personal mood. We were eating a lot of carbs while we were over there and my blood sugar has a tendency to drop fairly rapidly after mass-consuming carbs, which produces symptoms akin to hypoglycemia. It's not that my blood sugar actually gets that low, but just that the dropping levels is shocking to my body. But since getting back and changing my diet to be fat and protein heavy, I have felt 100% better.

And last but not least, this trip has really made me appreciate where I live. Not just because I speak the language or have access to a wider variety of food. I truly love Seattle. Especially right now as the leaves are changing and beginning to fall. It's gorgeous. The weather is crisp, even chilly. The trees are beautiful in their variety and color. Everything about Seattle at this time is simply magical. It's good to be home. 

At least until the next adventure. 

Wednesday + {Day Thirty-Seven: Paris to Iceland to Seattle}

Today was the big day! We got up early, dressed in our best PNW grunge hipster fashion, and headed off to the airport. We had to take the metro to a more central location, then catch a train out to the CDG airport.

We spent a lot of the day waiting and sitting. We made it to the airport with an hour to spare before check=in began. The CDG airport has these cool futuristic tubes to take you up to the security area!

On the planes, they had all these cute little sayings.

Personally, I think it was a ploy to distract from the fact that they don't serve food on their flights, even if they're 9+ hours. Hmm.

They did serve very delicious soda, though.

With more cute napkins.

And then we saw it.

The glowing beacon of home! The flight home was the longest of my life. The last three hours in particular crawled by. But I read Margaret Atwood's entire The Year of the Flood, so it wasn't entirely wasted time.

My dad picked us up from the airport! And he brought the dog! It feels so unreal to be back in Seattle. After a quick stop to see Gooligan's family, we went out to eat at a decent Thai restaurant and headed home.

Tuesday + {Day Thirty-Six: Paris}

So after lazying around yesterday, Gooligan and I decided to spend our last full day in Paris going back to Versailles. Sure, we could have experienced something new, but we had both enjoyed Versailles so much and, frankly, the place is so big that it takes more than a single day to explore.

But first: breakfast! Since my dad had asked us previously if we'd had a truly fantastic croissant yet (sadly we hadn't), I felt obligated to scope out the best croissants in Paris. All the reviews told us to go to Blé Sucré because their croissants are simply incredible.

Unfortunately the map we were using on the TripAdvisor app listed their location incorrectly, so we had a lot of trouble finding it. But Gooligan asked a really nice pharmacist who looked the address up on our computer and helped point us in the right direction. From there, Gooligan found it! My hero!

Blé Sucré was as cute inside as it was on the outside. It was busy and all of the desserts, sandwiches, and pastries looked like they would be perfect. Because it had taken us so long to find the place, we decided to buy two sandwiches for lunch (that's how long it took), and also five croissants.

After we finished eating our sandwiches, we hightailed it to the metro to go to Versailles! With a brief stop at Starbucks, since we were falsely lured in by their Pumpkin Spice Latte sign. We didn't get Pumpkin Spice Lattes because they had sold out in all of Europe, apparently. But we did get some coffee for the road.

Happy coffee camper!

Since we saw the chateau itself last time we decided to just go to the gardens. Which involved getting back onto Le Petit Train.

Technically you can just walk, but the gardens are huge, and it's really nice to have a train ticket back after you're done exhausting yourself exploring!

The hamlet was just as beautiful as we remembered it. We ate one of our croissants while surrounded by this beautiful nature.

Totally worth it.
We explored the same area, but also went further this trip! It turns out that there's a farm with animals!

Gooligan befriended this donkey. My donkey friend, naturally, was so much cooler.

We took a lot of silly photos, too.

And then headed back to Paris! The line to buy tickets was crazy and chaotic and when we got all the way up to the ticket machine we realized that they only take coin, so Gooligan had to run and quickly break a bill. Very stressful!

After a grocery store dinner, we packed and hit the hay early, since we have a long, long day in store for us tomorrow.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Monday + {Day Thirty-Five: Paris}

Back in Paris! We arrived around nine in the morning and got hideously lost trying to find our Airbnb. But we found it eventually, thankfully! Upon arriving, our lovely host gave us some slippers!

We didn't do much today because of the long night on the night train (Gooligan didn't sleep as well as I did). And then there was the little deal with the train giving us all-day motion sickness! Fantastic! All kidding aside, today was great. Our host recommended this pretty good Chinese buffet!

After the buffet, we came back to our place and kind of hung out while I wrote more of my novel and both of us watched television. Then we headed out to find some groceries for dinner and snacks for the rest of our trip.

We ate in the living room and talked to our hosts who were both home from work. I was shocked to learn from our hosts that they have never been to the United States because it costs too much even for a transit visa to somewhere in South America. (Just to have an hour layover in Miama would set them back almost two hundred euros each!) It really made me think about my American privilege. We have been to something like eight or nine countries (including brief transit stops, such as Iceland and Wales) and we never once had to pay for any kind of visa, even for longer trips. It's like no one thinks that we'd have any interest in immigrating anywhere but everyone thinks that the rest of the world is so eager to move to the United States. Like we don't have a lot of problems that make us a really unideal country at the moment.

But anyway, enough rambling. Our hosts fed us all these delicious Parisian desserts and then I collapsed onto the bed unable to move because I was so full! We went to bed early because we want to go to Versailles tomorrow!

Sunday + {Day Thirty-Four: Venice}

Today was our last day in Venice! After checking out at eleven, we headed to the train station to drop off our bags, since our train out of Venice didn't leave until eight. 

With nine hours to fill, we wandered around a lot. Venice is beautiful and I could stay there for weeks without getting bored of the scenery or the weather, which luckily was fairly nice if overcast/foggy for a lot of our trip. But by this point in our trip Gooligan and I were frankly done with museum-going and cathedral-visiting and when both of those items are off the table, sometimes cities seem a lot emptier. Or it just feels like you go from one place to another eating.

I guess that's one thing we learned while on our trip; friends and family, even a job (although hopefully one you actually like), and hobbies really enrich your life. Sometimes I daydream about going home and just being with everyone. I know, I know. Other people daydream about being in Venice, but let me tell you: I really love Seattle and all my people (and my dog) there.

We ate lunch at this disappointing restaurant, then sat at the hipster café from a few days ago for hours. I wasn't just wasting time, though! I was hard at work on my homework. I have a story due soon for workshop that I had to finish, plus I had to play catch-up on this blog.

After the café, we walked around a lot and then headed to Alfredo's for one last pound-of-pasta-in-a-box meal. Gooligan and I couldn't decide what flavors to get, so we each got our own. Alfredo recognized us and joked with us, which was really nice after a month of new faces.

As we headed back to the train station, it began to rain. Just a little at first and then, suddenly, the sky split open and it started to pour. We were soaked immediately. Luckily we were so close to the station that a mad dash later and we were safe!

After collecting our bags, we sat under a covered part of the train station and listened to the rain. The rainstorm quickly progressed to a full-blown thunderstorm, complete with lightning! In a way, it felt like Venice was ushering these Seattleites home.

The train arrived at eight and we boarded it. There were six of us in each compartment. After we made our bunks (with provided blankets and pillows!) we settled in for the long night. It wasn't the best sleep ever, but at least both Gooligan and I are short enough that we could stretch our legs out the full length, which was a plus.

The people in our compartment were really nice. There was an older couple from Argentina with whom Gooligan practiced her Spanish. There was also a guy around our age who was studying abroad in Spanish who was from Paris. We talked about our travels and studies. It was a great experience to have such a multilingual conversation, since the couple only spoke a little English, so there was a lot of helping each other trying to explain certain concepts.

A very nice end to Venice!

Saturday + {Day Thirty-Three: Venice}

On Saturdays, Venice's famous Rialto fish market is open, so naturally Gooligan and I decided to go check it out. On the way there, however, Gooligan spotted a beautiful mask shop. We popped it--just for a minute--and the owner of the shop came over to talk to us. She asked us where we were from and showed us several of the masks. She was so nice, she even let us try the masks on and took our picture!

There were so many amazing masks. Gooligan fell in love with two of them and had to pick. The owner offered us a substantial discount, which was very generous, since the masks were definitely worth more than she was charging. 

We had considered going on a gondola ride on our last day in Venice, but we had been wavering about it all trip for two reasons. First, gondolas are fairly pricey (eighty euros for forty minutes), which works out to around a hundred dollars. And second, we felt a little uncomfortable, since it's such a romantic activity and we didn't feel entirely comfortable holding hands or otherwise being visible in Venice.

So we decided to skip the gondola ride and invest in a more permanent memory. I'm so glad we did, too, because the mask Gooligan ended up picking is beautiful.

Anyway, we eventually made it to the market, which was fabulous. The fishy smells and people selling their vegetables and fresh catches reminded me so much of Pike Place Market. I felt right at home.



There was a restaurant near the market selling fried fish, which would have been delicious, I'm sure, but we ended up going to a small popular local restaurant that sold cicchetti and spritz.

I had been wanting to try the spritz--a local venetian drink. I had mistakenly assumed it would be sweet, since it's orange-colored, but in reality it's actually quite bitter. Spritz is made-up of wine, soda water, and a small of some kind of bitter liquor (such as Aperol). The more you know! 

After lunch, we walked around and looked for souvenirs for Gooligan's family. Then we stopped at a café for some cappuccinos, hung out for a bit, and headed home!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Friday + {Day Thirty-Two: Mestre}

Today Gooligan and I decided to take the day off. Instead of going to Venice, we stayed on the mainland (Mestre). We slept in and then got up and walked to the grocery store to pick up supplies for lunch and dinner. After eating so much pasta and seafood and pizza, we have been craving other types of food a lot, so we tried to make some nachos for lunch, working with the meager and unsatisfying supplies at our disposal: namely chili beans and mozzarella cheese. Cheddar cheese does not exist in Italy. Personally, cheddar cheese is never my go-to cheese when I'm home, but I'll never take it for granted again.

Anyway, Gooligan made an amazing Italian-style nacho lunch. After we ate, we walked to the park, where we sat under the beautiful fall trees and in the sun. I read while Gooligan listened to Harry Potter. We're both reliving some fond childhood memories via the audiobooks during this trip. I know a lot of people who dismiss these books and frankly I can't fathom why. Obviously they mean a lot to Gooligan and me because we grew up as part of the Harry Potter generation but I think it transcends us, too; J. K. Rowling does an incredible job at capturing the complicated feelings of children and a lot of writers could stand to learn a thing or two from her since so many people oversimplify their characters who are children.

After we were done sitting in the park we went to a cafe and drank cappuccinos while Gooligan finished writing her postcards. Then we went home and I wrote for awhile. I started a new novel project, since I finished writing my previous novel. Obviously I have a lot of editing to do on my old novel (which I will start as soon as we're home, since the polished novel will be part of my creative thesis for grad school), but there's a huge difference between writing and editing. I love editing and finishing things, but I love the creativity and fresh energy that comes with first drafts, too. The possibilities and nerves and excitement.

But enough about that. We had salami and bread and mozzarella and cooked zucchini slices for dinner. Then we hung out in the living room with our hosts' dog (they were out for the evening) and watched a little television before crawling in bed. A slower day, but a nice break. I, for one, feel relatively refreshed for the last few days of our trip!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thursday + {Day Thirty-One: Venice}

Today we took a day trip to the island of Murano which is known for its beautiful glass. We took a vaporetto to the island and walked around. It was a beautiful sunny day. It is coming to the end of the very nice weather here, so we definitely lucked out.

Gooligan told me a few days ago that I had to get a souvenir. I hadn't been planning on it, but I'm glad she insisted and also that we waited until Murano to buy one.

I got this beautiful blue glass dish with a tree on it. Buying art or knickknacks can be difficult when we're in transition because I have no idea what my future home will look like but that's just part of this stage of life.

Gooligan got her niece and another girl she knows these adorable glass heart necklaces. Then we stopped for lunch at another amazing seafood restaurant.

After lunch we got back on the vaporetto intending to go to another island but we accidentally got off on Venice. We wandered through the streets a little in search of gelato but what we found was even better!

Acqua Alta is this amazing bookstore where the books are stored in a gondola and bathtubs! The owner was so nice and told us to go in the back of the store and see the staircase made out books and also the "fire exit" which was just a door that opened onto the canal. Haha!

We picked out all these postcards from a box out front and then took them over to a small cafe where we drank some cappuccinos and tried some cicheti (tapas or appetizer like snacks) while we worked on filling out our postcards and uploading our photos.

The cafe filled up pretty (an early batch of happy hour seekers) and then emptied almost as quickly. After we were finished with our postcards, we walked over to Alfredo's (the pound of pasta in a box restaurant) to pick up dinner.

Then we took a vaporetto back to the bus terminal, caught our bus home, didn't get lost this time, and ate our delicious pasta on the patio extension from our hosts' kitchen. Then we got in bed and watched some television and fell asleep.

Right before we went to bed, though, our host informed us that on Friday the buses are going on a strike so if we wanted to go to Venice we had to catch the limited commuter transportation (which runs until eight a.m. and then again in the late afternoon/evening). We'd already planned to take the day easy, though, and explore our local area--Mestre--so this actually justified our decision.

Wednesday + {Day Thirty: Venice}

Today is Gooligan's birthday! After letting her sleep in a whole ten minutes, I woke her up! We had breakfast (cereal and toast provided to us by our lovely hosts.

After breakfast I gave Gooligan her gift! It was a disposable camera! 27 pictures. We've taken a lot of pictures of our trip with my phone and our camera, of course, but there's something special about film. Having to line up the perfect shot and come to terms with the inevitable imperfections. When we get back I'm going to develop them for Gooligan and frame some. So we have an extra special reminder of today/Venice.

After breakfast and gift giving we had to spend some time doing laundry. Unromantic but necessary.

Then we walked to the bus through these beautiful crunchy yellow leaves. It really feels like fall here.

Once on the island we took a vaporetto (a waterbus) around the island to the restaurant we'd picked out for lunch.
Probably the fanciest place we've eaten this trip (but not unreasonably fancy), the food was completely worth it. Gooligan got the spaghetti and clams and I got the seafood spaghetti. Both dishes were perfection. They also served their Coke lemon slices, an odd European touch I've grown to love. We've been drinking a lot of Coke here (unlike at home) but it tastes so much better made with real sugar.

After lunch we wandered the streets and Gooligan happened to spot a mask shop she liked. We went in and the woman was so nice and let Gooligan try everything on. She picked out a gorgeous mask, her main birthday present!

Then we went to Doge's Palace, where the rulers of Venice operated while in power. It was gorgeous. We rented an audioguide and shared it as we wandered in awe from room to room.

After the palace we walked around until we were exhausted and then found this little restaurant on the canal where we had sparkling peach wine and tiramisu to celebrate Gooligan's birthday! Because no birthday is complete without cake and a rendition of Happy Birthday by yours truly!

Once dessert was over we headed home on the bus and after a brief detour of getting lost we made it home! For dinner, with the assistance of our host, we ordered some Chinese food that arrived on a Vespa!

After we ate we curled up in bed to watch Sleepy Hollow and I promptly fell asleep. All in all I think Gooligan had a pretty good day!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday + {Day Twenty-Nine: Venice}

Miss your flight once and I swear to God, you'll be paranoid about missing your connections for the rest of your life. After a very restless night of sleep, I woke up at seven when my alarm went off to finish gathering our odds and ends up into our backpacks. I pried Gooligan out of bed around seven-thirty.

We left our house at eight, caught the bus to the train station, and then had a little breakfast while we waited for our train to be assigned a platform.

I fell asleep a lot on the train. It felt like every time I nodded off, someone--usually the ticket-checker--would come by and make a lot of noise and wake me up. But I caught a few zzzs by the time we made it to Venice.

Our first sight of the city was a watery one: the train goes over a bridge between the mainland and the island! After we arrived, Gooligan and I located the bag drop and checked in my backpack (all our clean clothes and toiletries, essentially). Our plan was to find a laundry where we could get our dirties washed while we explored some of the city.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at the shop, it was closed. At least we think we found the shop. It's tough to tell sometimes because if a business has a metal sheet over it, and it doesn't have any signage anywhere else), you can't tell what the business is or what its hours are.

Since the laundry was closed, we had to lug our dirty clothes around all day. Not exactly great, but at least we're saving seven or so euro by not checking it, I guess.

For lunch we stopped at this amazing pasta place called Alfredo's. They're a rather unique pasta restaurant in Italy, since it was a hole-in-the-wall place where they only have about eight dishes and they serve them in Chinese take-out boxes. Each portion is a pound. The food was really great. They use all fresh ingredients and the cook inquired how we liked the food and talked to the four of us who were sitting at the minimal indoor seats. The other two were from Colorado and California. The shop also played popular American music which is a nice slice of home when you're almost a month removed from American radio.

After lunch, we sat in San Marco square for awhile. Both Gooligan and I really want to see Doge's Palace, but we decided to wait and do it another day when we're not weighed down by all our bags.

We basically spent all afternoon wandering around the city and window shopping. We took a small break at a hipster cafe with wifi. Gooligan listened to Harry Potter on the couch while I caught up on some homework and my blogging.

After the cafe, we headed to our new place, stopping to pick up a couple of slices of pizza for dinner. The buses here do not have any announcements for what stop they are stopping at, and since it was dark by the time we made our way to our new place, we got utterly lost. Gooligan asked someone for directions, and he helped us the best he could, but he only spoke Italian, so we had to figure it out. Gooligan was brave enough to ask like five different people along the way, all of whom were very nice and helpful despite only speaking Italian. During part of our journey we had to walk through this poorly lit park. Slightly terrifying! But everyone we saw seemed to be nice--couples out for jogs or old men or ladies walking their dogs.

We eventually found our new place and our hosts are very nice. The bed is comfortable and I took a nice hot shower, which was great. At the last place we stayed at, this bug got inside at night and bit Gooligan and me each about twenty times, so we're kind of itchy, but at least we're clean and ready for bed!

Tomorrow is Gooligan's big day! If you haven't yet, you should send her some huge birthday wishes. It's exciting to be in such an amazing place for a celebration, but it is bittersweet to be removed from all your friends and family.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday + {Day Twenty-Eight: Florence}

Today was our last day in Florence! Gooligan and I spent the morning filling out postcards and then we took the bus into town around midday. Our first priority was finding a post office. We sent off five postcards today! Apparently the Italian postal system is notoriously slow, though, so hopefully they won't take weeks to arrive at their destinations. We have another batch to send off, but the post offices close surprisingly early here (or at least the one we found), around 1:30 pm. We're taking a train to Venice at ten tomorrow morning, so I'm not sure we'll have time to drop them off before we're off to the next city. So hopefully, if we haven't gotten a card to you yet, we'll be able to send one from Venice!

After we mailed off our postcards, we picked up some groceries at the store for lunch: a baguette, a wedge of Brie, salami, some pasta salad from the deli, and two mysterious fried rice balls. Grocery shopping is so much more affordable than eating out, but the trade-off is that you either have to eat outside (if it's nice), eat while walking (if you can't find a place to sit), or eat (as we did today) at the weird awkward tables right next to the cashiers. At least it was inside, since today was on the cooler side.

Full of food and ready to go, we hit the streets once again. We passed this pretty cool piece of street art.

One of the most problematic aspects of our trip has been doing laundry. Everyone we're staying with has a laundry machine for the most part, but no one in Europe has a dryer. Which would be fine, ordinarily, except that since it's October and kind of wet or cold, it takes about four or five days for anything to dry. Since we're staying in most places between two and four days, it means that unless we do laundry right away on the first day, it won't be dry before we have to go. And even if we do laundry, whatever we wash won't be wearable for four days. Needless to say, it's a tough choice between smelling less-than-fresh and freezing. To make matters worse, we only have four warmer garments between us and right now three of the four are much too dirty to wear.

Thankfully there is an H&M here. Literally every other store we've passed has been in the hundred-euro range, but I found a basic black hoodie for twenty euros at H&M and tomorrow Gooligan and I plan on going to a laundromat in Venice.

The day was not a waste, however! We went to our favorite gelato place one more time. It will be hard to say good-bye to the lovely Il Edoardo Gelato Biologica! Gooligan loves the cinnamon flavor so much! 

After gelato, we meandered back home, stopping at the grocery store again to pick up some more food for dinner. We had a salad with the leftover Brie, roast chicken, and artichokes! Mmm. Then, a little while after eating, our host surprised us by bringing us two slices of the cheesecake from last night. Such a sweet man!

Anyway, it's off to bed, so we're well-rested for our next big travel day! Venice tomorrow and then Gooligan's birthday the day after that!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday + {Day Twenty-Seven: Florence}

Today was a slow day! After spending the morning sleeping in, showering, and doing some homework, Gooligan and I headed down the hill on the bus to the city center. We were fairly hungry, so we headed to this sandwich shop for lunch right away. All'Antico Vinaio is this little sandwich shop that was so bustling the line was stretched across the street, several people wide. Ordering was a little chaotic, but for five euro each Gooligan and I got some sandwiches! Gooligan got Tuscan bacon, truffle spread, lettuce, tomato, blue cheese, and marinated eggplant or something, and I got spicy salami, artichoke spread, tomato, and some kind of cheese. The sandwiches were amazing. Completely worth the huge line we stood in.

We walked around Florence a lot today, just kind of window shopping and browsing stalls. It's such a great city to walk because everything is beautiful and nice and relatively clean. There are a lot of people on certain streets and today there was a fundraiser for cancer, so there were hordes of people wearing yellow t-shirts. At the time, we had no idea what it was for, since there was a wide range of ages and people who were wearing them. But there were a couple different races--one 14km and one 5km. Pretty neat! 

We also spotted this really cool carrousel while walking around. Around three, we decided to call it an early day. Gooligan and I walked around a ton the last two days and were feeling pretty tired.

We headed back to the train station, where we bought day passes for tomorrow. Day passes are good for twenty-four hours here after the first time you use them. In some places they expire at midnight.

Anyway, while buying our tickets I saw the BEST PRESENT EVER for Gooligan. It's her birthday on the sixteenth--just three short days away!--and I had been wondering what to get her. I can't say what it was yet, because sometimes she reads my blog, but it's pretty great!

After we got back to our place, we rested for a short time, then had dinner just past eight with our hosts. Dinner was amazing! It was nineteen euro each and we were a little unsure. It's more than we normally spend on food for one meal, but it was completely worth it. Our hosts were great and fed us so much. We ate a light amount of pasta, appetizers (chicken liver on bread and salmon on bread), a delicious chicken salad, grilled zucchini, spinach, wine, and a lemon liquor made from lemons in their very own yard! And then for dessert we had crème brûlé and cheesecake made by Mario himself! Perfecto. It was so nice to eat with a family, too. They have four sons between them, but only two live with them. Everyone was so nice and we had a lovely conversation about a huge range of things. Mario speaks the most English, I think, but the entire family understands a certain amount of English, and we had little problem communicating.

Overall, a very wonderful day and we look forward to our last day in Florence tomorrow. Mario gave us another map and circled some places worth checking out!

Saturday + {Day Twenty-Six: Florence}

After getting a good twelve hours of sleep, Gooligan and I woke fresh and ready for our first real day in Florence! We started the day at the Museum Stibbert.

 Stibbert was this guy who inherited a mansion and a lot of money and spent his life collecting everything -- and I mean everything. For eight euro each we got an hour long tour of the rooms of his house. Each and every room is elegant in and of itself, but they are also filled from floor to ceiling with things: endless armor, statues, mannequins of horses and people wearing armor, swords, guns, shields, tapestries, etc. There's also china, paintings, and a whole wing of Japanese items. Basically it was like a tour of a well-organized, very rich hoarder's house. The guy had such an addiction that when he ran out of room he built a whole new wing to keep adding to his collection. On his death the house and grounds (huge gardens) and everything in the house went to the city. Amazing!

After the museum, we took the bus down the hill and found a cute restaurant for lunch. The food was delicious--I got a cream/egg sauce--but the waitstaff was a little cold. Still, any day I get to have lunch with the most beautiful girl in the world is a great day!

And what lunch is complete without a wonderful stop for gelato after! Gooligan and I finally found the best gelato in Florence--perhaps the best in all of Italy. We were both incredibly impressed. They have a lot of the standard flavors, but also some very unique ones too! Gooligan got cinnamon and apple (basically tastes like apple pie, mmm) while I ordered chianti (so interesting) and crema (eggs + milk). They also make their waffle cones right in front of you. So, so good.

 After gelato, we wandered through the city looking at all the artisan crafts, then went looking for a park to sit for a bit. We found this beautiful place next to the river Arno. It's an urban park area that looks out on a sort of lock or urban waterfall. So beautiful, especially at sunset.

Gooligan read some of The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to me while we sat by the river. We finished it! So good. Also a perfect read for our trip because the book discusses a found work by Michaelangelo, Rome, Florence, traveling, and budgets--plus it's just a delightful read.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Friday + {Day Twenty-Five: Rome + Florence}

I woke up at midnight and realized that Gooligan still hadn’t gone to bed. I got up to investigate and she, Sarah, and Shannon were in the other room, desperately trying to call a taxi. Apparently not only was Shannon’s phone having difficulty connecting with Italian numbers, but whatever taxis they eventually did get ahold of simply didn’t have anyone free or working that early in the morning (they needed a taxi for 4:30).

Since our apartment was about five or six km from the main train station (where there are always a reliable number of taxis), we decided, worst case scenario, they’d walk and we’d walk with them. After all, Gooligan and I were leaving from Termini so it wasn’t out of our way—just really early—but we wanted to make sure they got their safely.

Shannon even enlisted extra help in finding a taxi, but to no avail. Not even the super expensive private car company they called could send someone at that time. Not sure if this is normal for Rome or what, but we all woke up and got ready to walk to the train station at two in the morning.

Before we left, Gooligan had a brilliant idea and looked online to see if there were any buses that ran that early (trams don’t start until 5:30). Eventually she found a night bus and we made it to the stop on time. (Not only are the night buses not really advertised, but their stops look a lot different than the bus stops we were used to seeing.) It was just a post with a tiny sign that said “stop” in Italian and had the acronym of the transit system on it.

But thankfully the bus did, in fact, stop when they saw us there and we rode it all the way to Termini where there were plenty of taxis waiting. Since we were really early, and since Termini station doesn’t open until 4:30), Shannon and Sarah waited with us for an hour. We really appreciated it since Rome is not exactly the cleanest or safest place.

But finally Termini opened and since Shannon and Sarah needed to catch a taxi at that time anyway, it worked out perfectly. We said our goodbyes and told them to email us periodically so we know they arrived safely.

Gooligan and I made our way into Termini station, where we found the only open coffee shop and ordered some pastries and hot chocolate. The guy behind the counter definitely gave me a latte instead of a hot chocolate, but after freezing outside, we were just happy it was warm.

After a quick pit stop, we found a warmer place to sit and Gooligan read some of the book we’re reading together out loud. While we were sitting there, so many people stared or verbally harassed us. This is one of the factors that made Rome probably our least favorite city on this whole trip: the aggressiveness of men. From our first horrible encounter on the train to Rome to our last day, the men here are simply reprehensible. Crowning jerk of the trip: the loudmouth we had to listen to blab about how stupid American study abroad girls are, especially when he dropped the c-word.

Gooligan and I have felt safe everywhere on this trip—even in Dublin, which is definitely a rougher city—but there are definitely certain cesspools of males in Europe.

Unless you are an art buff or an archeologist or a devout Catholic, frankly I have no idea why anyone would willingly come to this city. But at least it is behind us now: we are currently on the train zipping along to Florence.

Looking forward to ending this trip on a high note over the next few cities!

After we arrived in Florence, it was only around nine in the morning, and we couldn't check into our Airbnb until seven at night, so we dropped our bags at a manned bag desk at the train station. About five euro per bag for the first five hours, then seventy cents for every additional hour. In total it cost us fourteen euro to be bag-free in the city all day, which was a deal. We took our valuables with us, just in case, which meant our daypack was heavy enough to deal with as we took turns carrying it.

Our first stop was the Galleria dell'Accademia, the museum that houses Michaelangelo's David. Tickets were eleven euro each but completely worth it. I was blown away by the statue. There is, obviously, a lot of other amazing art in the museum--and a whole wing devoted to old instruments--but I didn't realize how big David was. We weren't allowed to take photographs but even if we had, I'm not sure the scope of the statue would be captured. My brain can't even wrap itself around how Michaelangelo sculpted something so much bigger than himself.

Anyway, after the Galleria, we stopped for lunch right next to the Duomo (we didn't go in, though, because we wanted to save something for another day). Then we got gelato (some of Gooligan's favorite so far!) and hiked over to the river, the old medieval bridge Ponte Vecchio, and up through Piazzale Michaelangelo, a square that has a fantastic view of Florence.

Gooligan and I sat on a stone wall for awhile and read each other parts of the book we're reading together, then made our way back to the train station with a stop at a grocery store for some snacks for the next few days.

After we picked up our bags, we caught the bus to our Airbnb. Since we were still early, we sat around in San Marco square for awhile killing time, ate a slice of awful pizza, and then made our way over to the bus.

Check-in went smoothly; we're staying in a detached room from our host family. The room is beautiful, there is a great mix of privacy but also someone around to ask for help/advice. The only slightly inconvenient thing is that the bathroom is up in the main house and you have to go up these stairs and through the kitchen, so at night or during meal times it's a little awkward, but they're been great so far!

Plus the bed is perfect. Almost too perfect. Prying myself out of it to do anything over the next three days will be an ultimate test of my willpower. Just kidding. But boy am I looking forward to sleeping!

Thursday + {Day Twenty-Four: Rome}

This morning I scouted out a breakfast bar that I thought looked alright, but the pastry I ordered (which I thought was a plain croissant) was filled with some kind of bitter/putrid fruit. Disappointing.

After breakfast we headed off to see the Pantheon. This time Gooligan did us all a huge favor and found a bus that ran the way we wanted to go. The bus was a little full sometimes, but there were seats and we were rarely pressed up against other people.

The Pantheon was cool, with this huge circular hole in the roof. Because of its dimensions, if light floods in through that hole it becomes the biggest "column" anywhere in Rome.

We were there when it was dry, luckily, but I wonder what it would be like if it started pouring (which is did off and on today).

After the Pantheon, we ate at this super delicious pasta restaurant. Gooligan and I split our dishes: rosemary spaghetti and mussels with spaghetti. So delicious!

Then the four of us walked all the way back to the Colosseum. Since it started to pour during lunch, Gooligan and I bought an umbrella on our way to the Colosseum. Not the best quality, but it was only three euro and we have definitely gotten our worth out of it so far.

We went on a brief tour of the Colosseum, which was great to explain some of the basics. Gooligan wanted to go on the underground tour, but it was sold out except for two spots only two hours later.

Being in a place like the Colosseum (or a lot of these historic sites, actually) is difficult for a number of reasons. Yes, the construction of these sites and their endurance is impressive. But how many people were exploited to build these sites? Or, for the Colosseum in particular, how many people and animals were needlessly put to death? Something to think about.

After the Colosseum, we went over to a nearby gay bar that, during the day, is a delightful cafe. Since it was our last day all together we indulged and ordered drinks, food, and dessert. The food was great and afterward we headed home to pack and get organized for the next day of traveling.
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