Thursday, January 31, 2013

Scenes de Córdoba (pt 1)

One of the many orange trees that are all around Cordoba. This picture has absolutely nothing to do with my post, I just really like this picture.
You're sitting in the living room that serves as the center of the apartment and all family activity. It is later into the night, so it is quieter than usual. One of your sisters is out at the bars. Your younger nieto is probably sleeping or watching television elsewhere, and your older brother is with his wife at his own house. It's only you, your madre, the older nieto Juan, and his mother. The lights are off, except for a small lamp in the corner, creating the same soft glow a fireplace would. You snuggle your feet under the table, absorbing the radiating warmth coming from the heater underneath you. The table cloth is thick and enormous, serving both as a decorative piece and a makeshift blanket. The edges of the table cloth are long enough for you to pull it closer to you, covering almost half of your body. This is the epitome of comfort. On the table in front of you is your spanish homework and your laptop. While you are conjugating verbs, everyone else in the room is glued to the television screen. You hear the sounds of gunshots and people speaking in Spanish. It's the show "24," and your family is obsessed with it. You think it is one of the cutest things you've ever known. From the exterior, this scene is monotonous. But only from within can you feel the exuding warmth beyond just the heater. It is a moment so pleasant and peaceful, you wish you could capture all the feelings and place them in a frame.  There's the popular saying that you should "stop and smell the roses." If that saying were translated into moments it would be one like this.  You're happy; you're so incredibly content and in disbelief at everything in your life at this moment. The sweet, sweet smell is especially overpowering when taken in during times like this. That's what make them so worth it. You realize to yourself, indeed, what a life. 

My First Futbol Game

(Left to right) Yalda, Joe, Jake and Will helping us claim seats for the game. We arrived an hour early and it was starting to crowd already

TAPAS. WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE?! Buy one drink, get one free tapa. Best. Business Model. Ever. ME ENCANTA. 

Me con mis chicas Markisha and Yalda.

Joe being forced to take yet another picture of the chicas: (Left to Right) Markisha, Ela, Yalda, Me, Lyna, Ashley and Melanie. Una grupa muy bonita, si? <3
You can't say you have ever watched a sports game, until you've watched futbol in Spain.

Back home, I've always loved watching sports with my dad or with my friends. My favorite thing to watch is a tie between Olympic swimming and the NBA finals season. It's always fun because you pick a team that you want to root for, and then you cheer them on like your life depends on them winning (which it does). Honestly, I don't follow sports religiously because school gets in the way. So during finals time I tend to just pick from the teams who are in who I like most, and cheer for them from there.

As a sports watcher (and perhaps, as a person in general...), I don't know what word describes me better than psychopath. If you observed me watching a sports game, I absolutely guarantee you will notice the following:

-Intense Arm Flailing
-Nonstop Flow Of Cursing
-Possible Water Bottle Throwing
-The Sound A Mother Bear Makes When She Loses Her Child

But see, here? I am one of the guys. I am considered NORMAL. While we were watching the game, everyone sounds like a mother bear who just lost her child. It is a magical experience to watch futbol with the spaniards. You have fans, and then you have Spanish fans. There is a collective spirit that is so tangible, its electrifying and contagious. You can feel it in the bar like its a different type of air that everyone is breathing in. Passion isn't even enough to describe how these people feel about futbol. Perhaps my spanish teacher said it best, it's a religion here. A religion that lets you scream and shout and drink beers nonstop. Sign me up for conversion por favor!!

The Spanish Volume

When visiting our other cities, Julie and I would ask our new friends/hosts what they thought about Spain, in order to prepare us for our upcoming semester. The first thing everyone says is that they love España. Which is always reassuring to hear, considering you've basically put your normal livelihood and academic career on hold to go live there.
The second thing we are always told, is that the Spaniards are loud.
Even during orientation, literally 40 minutes before we were going to put our lives in the hands of our new Spanish parents, our teachers warned us about "misunderstandings concerning Spanish parents yelling at you..."

Altogether, this was not looking like a very good situation. At this point I was expecting Spaniards to talk as if everyone around them was deaf or something.

Which is why it came as a little surprise when I didn't notice anything unordinary about the way my Spanish family talks. In fact, I really click with the way people talk here. The stories are theatrical, lively and much more entertaining to listen to. People talk with passion and enthusiasm, baring all emotions with their words. And needless to say, the futbol games are absolutely insane but in the best way. People should be allowed to shout and curse and scream when their players barely miss the goal, and not be regarded as psychopaths in need of treatment! I think deep down, I was always a little spaniard because I feel like I've always exuded this type of behavior.
Alas, I am finally with my kind of people.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sweet Moments

Today, I came home for almuerzo and found a pile of chocolate eggs on my bed! At first I thought it was Curro, who has already proved how sweet he is to me by always sharing his crackers and toys with me. Turns out, today it was my older brother Danny who brought them from work for me.

This is clearly, one of the sweetest things to happen to me. And on my second day here. But picture in your head, if you will, a 6"7 Spaniard who is in his 30s, laying down a pile of chocolate eggs on your bed.

Doesn't that just melt your heart?

My Big Spanish Familia

I am an only child with a family of only children. We're a small bunch. When you combine everyone from my mom and dad's sides, I have four cousins, and one new "niece." (Technically, not a real niece because I am not my cousin's sister, and therefore am not an Actual Aunt. Not sure what the real term is...).

Now, I am living in a family of eight. Mi madre has five older kids, ranging from ages 24-32ish. Three daughters and two sons. Two of her daughters and one of her sons have children, making three nietos. One son lives in his own apartment with his new baby and wife, so that is why they don't count with the eight people I live with. This leaves me living in an apartment with my madre, two sisters, one older brother, and the two grandsons-one being 12, the other 6. It's a big, happy, sitcom-worthy family. Make sense?

I looooove my family. Mi familia es mi amor.

My madre, on top of being such a kind and beautiful person, is an a-maaaaazing cook. She is really considerate about me being vegetarian, even though it makes me feel super guilty. Everything she makes for me is restaurant-caliber.
My sisters are beautiful. All the females in the family remind me of a much more beautiful and lovely version of the Kardashian family. It is easy to see my madre was very beautiful in her youth, and her daughters are all really, really attractive.
My oldest brother, Danny, works in advertising for chocolate/sweets. We have sweets and treats everywhere around the apartment. He is muy muy alto also! When I give him the traditional two-kiss-greeting, I have to stand on my tippy toes.
Juan is the 12 year old nieto. He is really nice, and his favorite movies are LOTR. Good taste, kid.
Juan's mother is Anna. She is really beautiful and nice. She owns a jewelry shop and is also tall. That's all I know for now.
Curro is the six year old. He is extremely sweet and likes talking to me and teaching me how to play games with him. I've always loved kids, so it only took 5 miliseconds for me to fall in love with Curro. His sweet disposition makes it even easier. At this point I can already write a short story about Curro. You can be sure to see his presence on this blog multiple times.
Curro's mom is Mirche. She is also extremely beautiful and looks more like Curro's sister than his mom. She is studying english right now and is going to take a test in April in order to become a nurse. I hope I have more opportunities to help her with her english soon. It is the least I can do.
Anna has a boyfriend (Curro's father) that comes over for dinner. He plays soccer futbol as goal keeper and learned some english in college. He is pretty good! He and Danny, and most of Cordoba, are team Madrid for futbol.
The third and youngest sister is Marta. Marta is 24 and teaches in elementary school. She loves her job, which is so refreshing for me to hear (and gives me hope!!!). Marta is extremely lively and theatrical in the way she talks, but it makes her really fun. Now I kind of get what people mean when they tell me that I am an expressive taker. I wish I could understand spanish better because I feel like that would make Marta's stories more funnier for me. But I'm getting there. I'm too shy right now to ever ask her, but I feel like she and I would have a ton of fun hanging out in the bars/clubs. But, that's a secret for only me to keep.

Living in a big family is a really cool experience for me. Especially in conjunction with the family culture of Spain. Every day, the entire family (including myself) comes home for lunch at 2:00 pm. Lunch is the central meal of the day and lasts about an hour or so. Everyone gathers in the living room and fills it with lively chatter with the television simultaneously on. Young adults living with parents is the norm in Spain, even though all of them are working.

Its very clear from my observations (only two days in) that the family has love and companionship. They tell each other anecdotes, share youtube videos, and describe funny scenarios like a couple of friends sitting at a bar. It's a kind of genuine openness. Its something that you will never find in chinese family etiquette.

 I know that no family is perfect, and that I have only been here two days. But the notion of this large family is very endearing to me. Like how there are so many sounds that fill the hallways and carry to the entire apartment. Or just the extra warmth that is added to a room when there are more bodies to take up that space. There is always lots of delicious food on the table, since there are more people to feed. And even during siesta or late into the evening, when it is relaxing time, the silence isn't as frigid when it is shared with multiple people. Yes, even in silence, the sense of togetherness is very apparent. It wraps around me like an extra blanket that I can snuggle in.

As a very important disclaimer, I have absolutely nothing against my own family. They are the sole shareholders of  my entire, unrelenting love. And my grandparents are extremely dear to me. No one can replace them or anyone in my own family. It is just that this home-stay is both a language and cultural immersion. And being able to be immersed in something so completely new to me was a risk that, thankfully, is turning into a blessing. Comparing the familial behavior of my chinese culture to now is like trying to compare an apple with a light bulb (is the chinese culture the light bulb because we're all...nerds...? Am I subconsciously being racist toward myself and is it even racist if its to myself?! So many questions. I think I need to sleep now...).

My family has become my primary motivator for practicing my spanish speaking. The sooner I can become more fluent the easier it will be for me to communicate and understand. That way I can partake in more conversations and feel more relaxed and confident about doing it. In time I hope!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Spanish on Crack

Being in a homestay with my spanish speaking skills as they are right now, feels like this:

My spanish is an obese 55 year old person who has lived his entire life eating absolutely nothing but McDonalds. He wakes up one day with a gun to his head, and is forced to run a marathon or get his brains blown out.

(Why my spanish is personified as a male is not relavent)


Spanish is fun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Meeting My Host Family is a Lovely Roller Coaster

Months before my study abroad program, living in a home exchange sounded really cool and cultural of me. I wasn't nervous at all, because I was confident in my extroverted personality. All the legit kids did study abroad. Dorms are for  da n3wbs!

Two weeks before coming to Spain, I started to wonder if maybe my horrible language abilities would make things awkward. But I was too lazy to put too much thought into it. I was also too busy trying to learn important phrases in Turkish/Greek/Italian/French.

When I finally arrived in Cordoba, I found out that we would be meeting our families in less than 24 hours....that's when I began to actually worry.

From the moment I landed in Cordoba until the official meeting point, it was like that uphill portion of the roller coaster. The build up before the big drop; it's the part I hate the most about roller coasters. (By the way, I hate all roller coasters). With each hour, the nauseating feeling got worse. Except even the build-up wasn't enough. In fact, it felt more like we were being thrown into a pool as babies without floaties on. None of us know how to swim!! (speak spanish!!!!) It was like,

 Hi! Welcome to Cordoba! You will meet your host family and start living in a Spanish speaking household and embarking on an experience unlike anything you've ever faced before in less than 16 hours! Gooood luck!!!!!!

I was [bleep-ing] terrified.

Well, push came to shove, and now I'm on the downhill part of that roller coaster. It's weird how small that precious moment is between...being an American tourist visiting Europe, and an American student living with a Spanish family for the next four months.

Now lets revisit the fact that I absolutely hate roller coasters.

Even for a person as extroverted as me, yes, this is definitely a challenging new experience. The effort it takes to speak a nonnative language is pretty exhausting. Let alone doing it nonstop. Luckily, when I was unceremoniously dropped into the pool, my host madre caught me with her patient speaking and extremely kind personality (will write more about my family later). But my extreme lack of confidence/lingual skill made me feel like I was walking on a tight rope 100 feet in the air with no net below me. I was in a terrified free-fall. At that point though, do you really have any other choice but to just make it work? So I pushed myself to ask questions. Make conversation. Force the awkward, broken words of spanish out into the open space between us. And to each my madre still responded with that same smile and understanding, as if I was actually speaking a real, coherent language (ha). I can feel myself slowly melt into a more comfortable state as the day continues on. It's only possible though because my family is so kind and open with me, not in a babying way, but in a very natural way that is genuine. It's exactly what I need to get me to slowly raise my hands in the air and enjoy the roller coaster ride. I'm getting there.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Friendship On Crack pt 2

Today is our last day in Paris, and it is also the last day of the Jennifer Julie Euro Adventure...FOR NOW. We already have plans for our St. Patty's day in Dublin, and are only 3 hours away from each other in Spain. She will definitely be visiting me, and I know I will take a bus to Granada at least once. Plus, we are both one hour from the closest beach in Spain. So that is going to be our central meeting point; how fitting for us San Diego girls!

Still though, it's a sad day. I can honestly say I have never gotten to know someone so intensely in such a short amount of time. In retrospect, there isn't that many people I know who could have been a more perfect travel companion. Being a good friend has certain criteria that many people fit for me, but being a good travel companion requires patience, flexibility, street savvy and most importantly, the right attitude. Check, check and check. Julie Brown is the perfect girl. But back off, she is already taken.

Ooooh Julie. Julie Julie Julie. Listen to me. Are you listening to me? Julie? Julie. Listen to me Julie. Julie.
You already know that I am obsessed with you. You know this because I tease you and am mean to you. It means I like you loads. I'm so glad that we went on this adventure together and shared so many unbelievable / embarrassing moments together. We could already write a book and produce a television show based on our adventures and stories. Except most people wouldn't get it because of all the inside jokes probably. Oh well, I bet Paul would watch it. Sigh. This is already super cheesy (can I get that with my wine? But no brie please), and I know I will be seeing you very soon, so I'll keep it Turkish-Tea-brief. You're going to have such an amazing time in Granada. You will be too busy making friends with all the cool kids and doing cool bad-ass things like toilet papering. Hopefully, you won't forget to message me once in awhile. Cannot wait to see you in Spain and when we travel to Morocco, Portugal, Dublin, etc. The possibilities are always endless.


Macaroon Crawl

Being a foody is one of my top priorities in life. So it comes as no surprise that the single most important thing I wanted to do in Paris is eat macaroons. Macaroons on macaroons on macaroons.
Despite being a pricey venture, I have no regrets. Here are the results of my mini-macaroon crawl:

Stop 1: Random Cafe With Name I Forgot
Flavors: Chocolate Passionfruit, Strawberry, Coffee
Over-all: 4th place 

Stop 2: Pierre-Hermes
Flavors: Mandarine Orange-Olive Oil, Rose, Creme Bulle (BEST)
Over-all: 1st place!!!!


Stop 3: Ladauree 
Flavors: Raspberry, Green Apple (2nd best), Chocolate
Over-all: 3rd place

Stop 4: Christophe-Roussel
Flavors: Pistachio Cherry, Lavender Apricot, Banana Chocolate
Over-all: 2nd place 

As of now, macaroons are definitely my favorite dessert of all time. Too bad I got so spoiled with it in Paris. None of the macaroons I tasted were bad, but Pierre-Hermes is definitely the best over-all quality. Ladauree is famous in name, but the macaroons weren't as good as I expected them to be. Their other pastries are more impressive, in my opinion. The rose-raspberry tart that Julie got was soooo gooood. Still, I definitely had to try it while I was here, just so I could say that I tried Ladauree. Now I know though that next time all my macaroons will come from Pierre-Hermes. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

How I Feel About Paris

Clearly, Paris is still very beautiful

At the end of the day, Paris and I are not lovers. Which is ironic, considering it is Paris. But it wasn't love at first sight, and after spending a little bit of time trying to get to know her, I will say that for now we are at a stalemate. 

I'm really divided about how I feel about Paris for a couple of reasons. First and foremost though, it is just too. freaking. cold right now. Julie and I do not do cold like how cats don't do showers. Yes, our San Diegan is showing right now, but that doesn't change the fact that when a gust of wind blows I feel like my ears will fall off. Also, me and Julie think we are having stomach problems from all the baguettes and sweets we have been eating. This isn't really a fault of Paris, because the food here is delicious. It's just a problem we've been experiencing and it probably is our fault because we're stupid Americans (to put it in the Parisan perspective). Things like veggies and meat plates though, are really expensive. And unlike in Greece and Italy, waiters here give you your check immediately. After coming from those two places, it feels a little like we are being ushered out of the cafe/restaurant. Maybe we are, because no one wants the dumb Americans to take up seats. Le-sigh. 

It isn't that I am not enjoying my time here though! (Julie and I could go anywhere and have a good time together. Even a dumpster site, probably). Paris is lovely and unique. Everything that is said about Paris from movies and books are definitely true-it is a world of its own. The combination of having limited days, and having those days be cold are impeding on the time I need to really discover Paris. The famous sites we've seen are still unbelievably remarkable. None of them disappointed, despite being so widely commercialized and hyped up in movies/books. The architecture is adorable in a NY-Upper-Westside-way. Boys here are all magazine-cover-model-lookalikes. Oh, and macaroons...yuuuuum. 

It isn't that Paris is a terrible place. I think honestly, it mainly is just that it's too cold and I am a wimp. Or maybe Paris is more like a very old wine. The taste of wine used to make me cringe, but it grew on me in time. And now it is the absolute best. I definitely want to visit Paris again sometime in my life, when it is warmer and I can see the parks fill with green leaves. Even now, Paris is still a beautiful city. I can only imagine how breathtaking it will be when the sun is out and the plants grow back again. Until then, Paris will have to wait for me while I tuck my tail in and escape to the mediterranean climate of Spain. 

Assumptions about Europe

...that aren't true.

1. Raging

The first thing you think of when you hear "Europe" is RAGE. Finally in the land of No Legal Drinking Age, what better way to celebrate than to drink your brains out. Only now, out in the open?
Well, turns out sight-seeing, getting lost, wandering through streets, eating out all the's actually really exhausting. Especially when you consider that the time it takes to get from A to B takes us 4x longer than it is supposed to. After spending about 10-12 hours straight just exploring the city, Julie and I have no energy left by the time we come back to the apartment/hostel. Usually we spend our nights relaxing and hanging out with each other. Maybe this means we aren't "doing Europe right." But I think we are. I prioritize seeing famous sites, exploring unfamiliar towns, marveling at scenery and meeting new friends to be much more important than buying an over-priced drink.

2. Hostels

Paris is our first hostel experience. And lucky for us, it is nothing like the horror-grotesque-murder chamber we expected it to be! (Thanks a lot, Western media). It's cheap, clean, and comfortable. The only thing is, I thought that because it is full of young travelers like Julie and me, that it would be a great place to meet new friends. Kind of like a co-ed fraternity where we would all click instantly and swap stories about our different home countries and then maybe hold hands and frolic together. I don't know. But it isn't really like that. For the most part, everyone came to the hostel with their own travel companions and stick with their own groups. A part of me kind of thinks that inside, a lot of people have the same thoughts as me and do want to make friends with others, but we're all just too shy to make the first move. Personally, I think the Europeans are just too cool for me. I've already embarrassed myself too many times trying to make friends with people who A) Don't speak english or B) Are just pretending not to hear me or speak english so that they can make me shut up and leave them alone. Who knows. At least I have Julie who is pretty much obligated to be my friend. ( <3 HI JULIE)

3.  Parisans Are All Rude

Parisans aren't all rude. Julie and I have met a number of very friendly people who have patiently taken time out of their work to help us with directions. Even with their minimal English speaking skills.

4. Couchsurfing Is Creepy And You Will Be Murdered

I never thought this was true, but I know Julie was a little shifty at first about us using Couchsurf for Istanbul and Athens. Now I know that she 100% agrees with me when I say that Couchsurf is the best way to travel. Honestly, you will meet the most wonderful people and be able to visit new places in a much more intimate and meaningful way. Highly recommended!

5. You Can't Be Vegetarian in Europe

Clearly, if you've seen my pictures, I am the opposite of starving. I was surprised to find that "vegetarian" translates the same way for many different countries, just with slightly different accents. It also helps that macaroons aren't made with meat. Right now, I could live life off macaroons alone...

6. Everywhere Will Have Wifi

We are in developed countries, but that doesn't mean they will give you wifi. Thank god my cousin suggested that I print out all my important documents / travel plans just in case. Talk about First World Problems?

7. In Rome My Life Would Become The Lizze McGuire Movie

This did not happen. A beautiful Italian boy did not ride up on his vespa and whisk me away. Still had a phenomenal time regardless though.

8. All European Men Are Beautiful

Psych. They really are.

Eiffel Tower

I wonder if parisans ever get used to the Eiffel Tower and accept it as just another part of the scenery. Like the campanile back at Berkeley. To me, it is just this big bell tower* that I can see from everywhere, and all it does is remind me to get my butt back to the library and study. Except this isn't a bell tower, it's the Eiffel. Tower. I mean, can you ever get used to something as magnificent as the Eiffel Tower? As I look back at all the pictures I took, I still can't believe I was there. Even with all its commercialization and exposure, it still takes my breath away. But it stuns me the most when I catch a glimpse of it unexpectedly. When we're walking back from a cafe and in the distance you see the tip of the tower peeking out. Or on the way to the metro when, as we cross the street, all the sudden the Eiffel Tower is just a hundred feet away from you, and its all lit up for the night. It's just...there. It seems too unreal that I have had the opportunity to actually go up the Eiffel Tower. Like, that is an experience I can file into my Life folder and mark as done! How many people say that their life is so good, they could cut out a piece of it and paste it onto a postcard? I know I sound like a broken record player by now, but "unreal" is still the only apt word that I know to describe it. Totally unreal, but in the most amazing way.

*Weeell, it is the tallest bell tower in California (suck it, Stanford) 

Paris Pride


Paris reminds me of a cat. Cats don't unconditionally love you the way a puppy would. You have to earn the love of a cat, and that is how I feel about Paris.
For instance, in every other country we have visited, locals readily spoke english with us. We were comfortable in the friendliness and openness of others, and it was assumed that anyone we encountered enjoy and willingly help the two American girls. This isn't necessarily true in Paris*. It's hard to describe, but you know how New York people are with their "I <3 NY" attitude? Like there is New York, and then there is this gigantic empty landmass that is the rest of the United States? Imagine that, but on crack. That's Paris. Here, people don't speak English. Not because the country isn't developed enough to teach English, but because it is too beneath them. You are in their territory, so you speak their language, or not at all. It doesn't matter that Paris is one of the biggest tourist cities in the world. Europe may be in an economic crises, but Paris doesn't seem to give any F-s about it. Clothes are still sleek, posh, and now cost both an arm AND a leg. And there are all these other weird rules that only Paris could get away with because its Paris. Like, why do cafes not have any food in the afternoon? Why do all these signs say "cafe" or "restaurant" but turn out to be bars that don't serve food? Can you tell that we had some dark and hungry times during our stay (cough Julie cough)?
Yet, people love Paris. I think when you carve out your space, and earn the respect of Paris, it pays you back in a fierce kind of loyalty, unrivaled in a never-ending supply of beauty and pastries. Until then, good luck even finding a bakery that will serve you food after 1pm.

All jokes aside though, Paris really is lovely. And the challenge that Paris presents is one that I  kind of enjoy. Yes, we look like two idiotic Americans. It's easy to see why parisians hate us. But there's something about the awkward obstacles that feel like we're at least experiencing Paris. At this point, Julie and I are keeping count of how many cultural travesties we will commit. We're already at a lot. But if you can't beat the parisans, or join them, then you might as well play into their stereotype and laugh at yourself about it. I mean, they already are.

*Disclaimer: We have actually had a lot of really friendly encounters with local restaurant owners who have been very gracious in helping two VERY cold and lost American girls find their way back to the hostel. One even drew out a map for us and made us realize we were on the completely wrong side of the river from where we wanted to be.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sistine Chapel

Photography is forbidden, so excuse this low-quality-sneaky-pic that I took while the guards weren't looking

No words can aptly describe how magnificent the Sistine is.

The chapel is completely covered in artwork. Except the art is actually comprised of separate pieces that cover every inch of wall space. Everything is so rich with detail and movement that each piece is more like a separate story; the details of the story unravel with every minute you spend staring at the piece. And that's the beauty of it for me, what distinguishes the Sistine Chapel as one of the Greats. Not many art pieces can embody so much depth and content behind the strokes, the raw bodies and the complete embellishment of detail. There is just no comparison. To be able to create something with that real genius. Let alone cover an entire chapel with such pieces. I could stare at the Sistine for hours and still never be able to absorb it all, not even close. I just don't believe my entire being could ever take in everything that is the Sistine.

I think in a lot of instances, art is exclusive. Either you are the person mindlessly snapping photos of displays that mean nothing to you, or you are that AP Art History kid who memorized all the context behind everything. With the Sistine though, everyone had their heads arched back to gaze at the ceiling.  No one could take their eyes away. And you could tell that, while in a room full of tourists from all over the world, the awe was universal. 

Julia Roberts Problems

If you saw the movie Eat Pray Love, then hopefully you empathize with this post. For those who don't know, it stars Julia Roberts as this average, middle aged woman who goes through this mid-life crises and decides to travel the world to find herself. Julia Roberts, with her stunning smile and perfect wavy hair and beautiful boyfriends (uhhhh, James Franco?!) that aren't "good enough" for her -soooo relatable.
There is this particular scene where Julia Roberts is complaining about the food in Italy. The amazing-mouth-watering food she gets to eat everyday, because they are making her pants stretch out. What. There is an entire scene devoted to poor Julia Roberts not being able to fit into her tiny size 2 pants and having to buy new jeans. Boo, freaking hoo.

I am 99% sure that I am ballooning into the size of a killer whale with every hour I spend here (because they're all spent eating...), but I can honestly say I am enjoying every minute of it. You would think you'd get tired of pizza, pasta and gelato every day but honestly, you really don't. It's that good. Theme of Rome is officially "TREAT YO SELF."

Monday, January 21, 2013

When in Rome

People say Rome is the perfect place to fall in love. Two days later and I've found better, I fell in love with Rome instead. This city is such a magical place.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Friendship on Crack pt 1

Sooo, the term "friendship on crack" comes from the fact that in a span of less than one week, me and Julie now know every single thing about each other and have the joint obnoxiousness of two middle aged sorority sisters. Plans to try out for the amazing race are already being made. We're like that movie Julie and Julia, but we're Julie and Jennifer and never cook, only eat.Here are some excerpts from Friendship On Crack. I say excerpts because there are already too many moments so horrifyingly embarrassing that it will never ever leave the vault of Jennifer and Julie to see the light of day (Julie, you know what I'm talking about. But it's okay! It's a joke? We're just kidding? Ha ha ha??)
1. Granny Witch Julie

"Teeeeell meeeee aaaa stoooorryyyy"

2. Julie has big feet

...self explanatory

3. Funny Greek waiters on the street


4. Hashtags

#whatstopdowegetoffat? #jenniferquestions #questions #ineedanumbrella #umbrellas #rain #water #cold #weather #coldweather #hashtag #eggs

5. Missing Toilets

One time Julie was being super white again and she thought that the toilet was missing in the bathroom. Actually it was just one of those squat toilets like the ones that used to be all over Asia. Oh Julie... #julieiswhite

6. MIW

Again, kind of self explanitory? Basically, we just got to roll with the punches and Make. It. Work.

7. Jennifer and Julie

Fair Warning: when we return to school, we will be two half robots short circuiting at a constant basis not being able to process reality because we aren't together. We will sound like broken records and no one will be able to stand us and our new snooty European superiority complex. But it will be okay because we will keep short circuiting until we find each other on campus. This makes absolutely no sense but Jennifer and Julie realize this and suggest that you just try to make it work.

A Cut and Paste City

Athens was so different from Istanbul-not at all what I expected. The city reminds me more of a cut-and-paste collage that doesn’t blend so much as come together in jigsaw pieces.
History obviously dominates a lot of the space. It seamlessly integrates itself into the setting, rather than hide behind hoity-toity velvet ropes and long lines. Walking down the street, you will pass by cafes, weird sex shops, and then to your left is the temple of Zeus. The centerpiece of the city though, is the Acropolis, and it’s literally in the center of everything. You can easily see the iconic columns from many points of the city. Seeing the Acropolis was an extremely humbling experience for me. There is an unspoken but tangible awe that really just made me speechless while I was there.  From there you also get a breathtaking view of the entire city. The Acropolis is like a masterpiece lost in time, frozen and preserved into our present day; it was my favorite part of Athens for sure.
But within the streets, you will come across so many different sectors. There are really posh, western brands and high scale gallerias (that contain more police for better protection). Then you will walk into grungier districts that look like they came out of a Hot Topic catalogue. There is X’lahia (I am destroying the spelling) Square, which is basically the founding father of Berkeley. Filled with graffiti and tags, the square is the center of youth culture. There are really hip bars and edgy looking teens smoking on all the steps. You’ll see a flourishing community garden that originally was going to be made into a parking lot structure before the residents occupied it. The culture of political activism is screaming from every building and every poster you see. It is also where the 15-year-old boy was shot point-blank by a police officer. Some parts of Athens are quaint and colorful, while others have an abandoned vibe about it. The cut and paste effect I think comes from the disconnecting overlap between the conventional, “European” aspect of Athens, and the effects of the economic crises. Put this all together and you get a very interesting mixture that makes Athens. 

Greek Life

Super delicious Greek dessert!!!

Picnic by the sea~

Too. much. yum. 
Orange cake from our favorite cafe!

General life in Athens takes its own slow tempo. Eleni told us how “Greeks enjoy their free time,” and at the end of our trip I can definitely say that Julie and I get it. Meals, for instance, easily last 2-3 hours. It isn’t about being slow eaters, but about taking the time to enjoy the meal and more importantly, the company. As a terrifyingly fast eater (imagine a raptor preying on baby dinosaurs and you pretty much have me at the dinner table) coming from a family of fast eaters, I’ve come to appreciate my meals in Athens. No one is rushing to get from point A to point B, rather everyone is enjoying the block of time that they have in between, when they aren’t working two jobs to make ends meet. I love it. I love that waiters do not rush you or passive aggressively clear your table to get you to leave. I love how dessert is offered for free. I love how kind owners will give you free desserts or free shots just because they are friendly (and during such an economically hard time). Oh, and on a side note, being vegetarian in Greece has been the best.
The same principles apply to café shops. After a few hours of walking around, Julie and I will pop into the nearest and cutest looking café to rest our legs and enjoy some tea. We’ll end up spending a couple hours in the same spot. Logistically, this life style may be more expensive if you add up how many cups of drinks you buy. And maybe on paper, it sounds like a humdrum way to live. But Julie and I both agreed that our time spent in Athens has been, albeit slower than Istanbul, pleasant in its own Athens-esque way. We made friends with the café workers at a place called Kimolia (chalk) Art Café (perhaps we are touristic “regulars”), ate traditional foods, met so many new friends by being super extroverted and friendly, and got to really learn how to enjoy our free time. It will be weird adjusting when we return to Berkeley, the land of Rush To the Library and Waste None Of The Time. I definitely do not miss that culture, where I feel like minutes of time spent with people are measured by how much time that could be spent “being productive.” I wish we had a culture that put more value in interactions, in setting side the time to thoroughly enjoy people’s presence and making simple gatherings very personal. But we will cross that bridge when we fly back to the States.