21 March, 2013

I Have the Greatest Roommate

Just in Prague with the roommie.  No biggie.
I live with a sophomore from the University of Florida named Victoria, and I always knew we were going to get along.  Before we came to Rome, she posted about reading the same books as me, she asked me if I was interested in going to the Of Monsters and Men concert, and she just seemed like an overall chill and fun girl.  Well, I was right!  I love living with her!  We didn't know each other when we got here, and that was when I needed a friend the most.  We got close fast because when I was homesick I was homesick.  I would sob and cry and just say that I didn't know why I was so sad, and she was just there.  That was all she needed to do for me.  I cried and told her one day that I felt so lonely because I "had no friends" here in Rome, and she invited a bunch of our friends over to help me out.  God truly blessed me in putting me in her room.
On that note, Victoria is truly a blessing to have as a roommate this semester of all semesters.  Yes, I'm in Rome, but I'm also growing a lot spiritually.  I've been reading my Bible a lot and talking about my faith a lot, and though Victoria isn't Christian herself, she is the perfect person to talk to.  She is in an 'exploration' phase (or at least she feels like she should be), and thus she is so supportive to me and is so keen to listen.  She thinks my cross that I have been drawing on my wrist for 2 weeks is adorable and wants me to get it as a tattoo.  She thinks me reading my Bible is adorable, and she even tweeted "'The Holy Bible is now on my Kindle!' #christianjoys #itsthelittlethings @M_adTown" after I got super excited about being able to bring a Bible with me on Spring Break.  I don't think she realizes how much this all means to me, especially since I have very, very few Christian friends here compared to back home.  She may not realize it, but her friendship has made me feel so loved while I was here, something that is so needed when you are alone in a foreign country.  Going home to the opposite side of the country is going to be especially hard.

14 March, 2013

I'm Living History!

Getting to the Vatican to watch for smoke!
So, I live in Rome.  And as some of you may know, the Pope resigned last month.  And I happen to live a twenty minute walk from the Vatican.  So my life is pretty interesting right now!  I couldn't make it to the last Papal address because I had an onsite class, which was really depressing.  BUT, the conclave started yesterday, meaning (for you non-Catholics) that all of the Cardinals were locked up in the basement of the Sistine Chapel where they get to vote on the new Pope.  The first time the smoke went up was around 7pm last night, when they made their first vote.  There were no obvious choices, so it was assumed that this one would last at least a day or two.  I got out of my onsite class early, so I wanted to make it to the Vatican to see the 12:00, but with rain and other circumstances, I didn't make it.  I had class tonight from 4:30-5:45 and 6:00-7:15.  Sarah is in my 4:30, and I knew that she was going to the Vatican after class.  My prof ended class 15 minutes early so we could go.  So you know what I said?  SCREW MYTHOLOGY.  I skipped class and went to the Vatican.
This was the best decision I could have ever made.
Karishma and I!
We got to the Vatican around 6, when the rain started going from slightly-more-than-drizzling to raining pretty hard.  We were cold.  We were wet.  We were miserable.  We all had different reactions; Sarah was super crabby and said from the start that she wasn't staying past 7:30 for the smoke, Karishma was talking about anything and everything to keep us from thinking about how cold we were, and I was super positive, talking about how I knew (even though secretly I was sure it wasn't) it was going to be white smoke!  Well, after an hour of goofing around in St. Peter's Square, the screens draw our attention.  Karishma says, "Is that smoke?!"  We instantly start screaming and running.  We run to the screens, and Sarah is sure it's white.  I, however, knew that bells would be ringing if it was in fact white.  So I ran after Sarah and Karishma in excitement, but it wasn't until I heard the bells that I truly got excited.  We continue running, getting as close to the Basilica as we can (and we got close dammit!).  The bells ring for minutes on end all over Rome, indicating to the people of Rome that the Pope has been chosen and that basically everyone needs to get their ass to the Vatican.  When we were walking around, it was pretty empty.  We had room to take pictures and find different places to stand so that we could have a good view. Once the white smoke blew, the crowd filled, and we were three among tens of thousands of people.  I'm amazed that I can say I was in a crowd that big for one event!  If you're familiar with the Vatican, not only was St. Peter's Square full, but the road going back from the Vatican was as well!  They kept showing an aerial view of it, and I was just in awe that I was a part of this!  I remember watching the smoke and whatnot for the last Pope, and HERE I AM, WITNESSING IT WITH MY OWN EYES.
Sarah and I!
What was a little annoying was the fact that the time between the smoke and the Pope actually being announced was slightly over an hour.  However, we were lucky enough to have run up smack between two Americans, one being an undergrad interning at the American Embassy in Italy, the other being an NBC reporter.  So, we talked with them a lot, especially since the girl working at the Embassy knew a lot more than we did, but the reporter was very keen on observing us.  Finally, he heard us say a few things he found interesting, and he asked us to talk to him about it.  Little did I know, I ended up on national news!  See my interview here :)  It's the one titled "History in the Making: The Crowd Reacts at the Vatican".  So, the Pope finally came out after an hour/hour and a half, and it was honestly the coolest experience of my life.  No, I do not speak Italian, so no, I did not understand what he was saying.  My friends and I were talking about how life-changing of a moment this is for the new Pope, and how daunting it must be to come out to this crowd for the very first time.  We weren't wrong.  Pope Francis came out with such a look of humility and awe.  He was in no desire for power, or at least that's what his face said.  And one of his first words were, "Pray for me".  I was so moved, that I did in fact do that.  He asked for a moment of silence (I don't know what for, I just heard 'silencio' and everyone went quiet) and I just started praying for him.  Whether or not I am Catholic, this man is the head of a very huge church that is very much so associated with mine.  His doings have an effect on the image of my church, and in all honesty, the fact that we both believe that Jesus died and rose again for our salvation puts us all in the same boat in my mind.  So, I prayed that he would lead well and that he would better the Catholic church.  And then he lead the entire St. Peter's Basilica and whoever else could hear him in the Lord's Prayer in Italian.  I was almost brought to tears.  Hearing thousands of people say these words in unison is truly moving, especially when they're words you believe with your entire being.  I could feel God's presence, and I was amazed that in such a secular world I was in such a non-secular place.  Think about it, we hate religion and politics intermixing, but the entire world watches the Papal selection.  Also, I could have gone to Rome any semester.  The last Papal election was in 2005 if I'm not mistaken.  And I just happened to choose the semester where the Pope not only needed to be elected, but had to do so because the former one resigned, which hadn't been done in 600 years.  This is history book worthy stuff.  And I'm living a 20 minute walk away from it.  I am so amazed at how blessed I am to be here, and how amazing it is that I get to witness it.  My grandmother was almost in tears at the thought of it.  I'm not even Catholic, and I got to witness (with front row seats, mind you) one of the most important events in the Catholic faith.  My grandmother made my grandfather convert to Catholicism to marry her, and she will never see it herself.  Though this is sad, it only makes me appreciate it more.  I am here, in Rome, witnessing such amazing history, and I am in such awe that this is my life.  I was literally shaking at the thought of how important of an event I just witnessed.  I will probably never again witness an event that is so globally important.  The Great Wall of China was an amazing day because it was an amazing place, something I could go to any day of the year.  This day, however, will never happen again.  I easily could have missed this day and this event and not feel my life is any different.  But no, I was so amazingly blessed to have the desire to skip class (which I never do) to witness something I will never again be able to do.  I am so extremely thankful and grateful for the opportunity I have to be here in Rome for the semester, and I thank God every day.
Awkward selfie with NBC News!

So excited to see the White Smoke!
Leaving a night I will never forget!

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11 March, 2013

Non-Travel Related Excitement

So my friend Robbie and I kinda based our friendship off of our love for music and, especially, Mumford.  I'm pretty sure the reason we started talking is because he overheard me telling someone that I have a Mumford tattoo and he then turned to me and said, "You have a Mumford tattoo!?!?!"  So we started hanging out and playing music, more like he played his amazing guitar and sang with his beautiful voice and I sometimes joined in, but anyway.  So when he and some of his friends got into GAC Idol, the biggest music competition at Gustavus, which I was a part of last year, he told me and I got excited.  He told me they were doing Wait So Long by Trampled By Turtles, which is a fantastic song.  Later that night, I was listening to that song, trying to imagine how it would differ when he played it.  Then I Will Wait by Mumford and Sons came into my head, and I thought how complimentary those songs are to each other.  I messaged him the idea, expecting him to think it was okay, and then just leave it.  WELL apparently he jumped out of bed the minute he read it and got to work on putting them together.  And this Friday, he and his friends performed my idea!!  Now I know that all of the work of putting it together was done by Robbie and not me, but I still was just really flattered that he liked my idea enough to do it!! I don't know if they placed or not, and I don't really care, because I'm just so excited about this!  You should all listen to it!

10 March, 2013

Frenzies in Firenze!

Let's ignore how uncreative my title is, its still punny and I'm a fan of puns.  Anyway.
I've travelled a bit in Italy before; I've been to Napoli/Pompeii, as well as Orvieto and other small medeval towns in Tuscany.  However, Florence felt like the first time I was going to another city (or at least a good one.  I hated Naples.  I hate that I hated somewhere, but I did).  My friend Erin has been studying in Firenze for a month and a half, and I had a free weekend, so I bought an early (and by early I mean God-awful early: 6:55) train there and a late train back.
I met Erin at the Duomo at 9, and from there we saw the David.  First off, it's HUGE!  I had no idea!  It was created to go on top of the Duomo, so its features were all exaggerated to make them more visible from the ground.  Like his hands, for example, were just abnormally large.  It was so crazy!  What really shocked me in this museum was the amount of Renaissance art.  You would think that someone going to Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, would expect Renaissance art.  But I've realized that I've been so surrounded by ancient Roman and Greek art, that I came to think that all Italian art was ancient!  Just like I was shocked by the 'new-ness' of Florence.  Erin's roommates didn't understand this, for they saw themselves as walking in a history textbook every day.  Obviously they are, I'm not trying to belittle the Renaissance, but Roman history just feels so different than Florentine history!  Being in Florence made me realize that I've been taking Roman qualities and putting them in my head as Italian.  I loved it.  It was such an eye opener to me, and I feel like I appreciate Rome even more for the differences.  Like the cobblestones.  They're in Florence, but they're not the same.  And I came back loving the cobblestones, thinking to myself, "Hello cobblestones! I love you so much, despite the fact that you attempt to kill or injure me at least once a day!"  I didn't dislike the things that made Florence different, if that makes sense.  It's just making me realize how much more special Rome is to me.
Florence is also much more colorful than Rome.  The buildings in Florence reminded me a lot of Prague.  Not quite the same gorgeous architecture, but the buildings were pink and yellow and orange, and all the roofs were orange terracotta (if I am not mistaken), giving the city a gorgeous color scheme when viewed from above.  It was very well planned out.  Also, since I understand the whole Italy-has-regions-and-Tuscany-is-not-a-city-but-a-region thing now (yes, I felt stupid when I realized that), I can totally tell what 'Tuscany' is, and Florence is the city version of Tuscany.  It's so beautiful.  Tuscany is drop dead gorgeous, and if you sleep through your bus or train ride through, you're missing out on the most beautiful views I have ever seen.
The main reason I went to Florence was to see my friend from school, Erin.  She's been there for about a month and a half, and I was really excited to talk with her about how we're both adjusting to Italy, and what we love and hate about it, and just catch up.  It's so much easier to talk about your feelings of studying abroad when you're with someone else who is in the process of it, because those who haven't don't understand, and those who are done think, "well thats cute, I remember being at that stage of study abroad", and don't necessarily make you feel better when you're feeling afraid or sad or lonely or angry or whatnot.  Well, we walked the entire city, she was an amazing tour guide, and then we finally got to sit down and enjoy each other's company.  It was so needed, and I am so lucky that someone so wonderful chose to study abroad so close to me!  We were so tired that after awhile we decided to take a break and watch a movie before going to dinner.  I got my first apperitivo!  It's an Italian thing, so you would have thought I would have done it by now!  You buy a drink (an overpriced one), and then its a buffet (hence the overpriced).  I was unfortunate in the fact that my frist ever apperitivo was amazing.  Nothing will compare!  Usually its finger food or bruschetta or whatnot, but this was meat, risotto, pasta, fruit, you name it!  I also got to chat with her friends, which was fun!  Florence is much more artsy than Rome, and it was very apparent in her friends.  They all dressed amazing and they all were so interested in learning the culture of Italy... they actually made me feel like I should be trying harder!  Haha!  But they were so kind, and it made me really happy to see that Erin has such great people to spend her semester with!
I made the train at 21:35 and got back to Rome around 23:10.  Though I had a little mishap on the bus ride back to my apartment, I had an amazing day.  I am so blessed to be able to go to such an amazing city just for the day and spend it with such an amazing friend!  I wish I had more free time in the semester that I could go back!
The lucky Boar!  You rub his nose, and drop a coin from his mouth.  If it goes through the gates below, you'll return to Florence!  I didn't do it, I like to keep the future unknown :)

View of the Duomo from the Terrace!  414 steps up!  Entirely too many steps.

My favorite Piazza in Florence!  Entirely too adorable. 
The sign of Florence, the Fleur de Lis!  Made up of Hard Rock pins, of course :)

Erin and I at Apperitivo!  Such a wonderful day with such a wonderful girl!

07 March, 2013

Going Back to Minnesota - Month 2

Okay, I've been here for two months now.  I'm at the halfway point.  So, how am I feeling?  Last night I told my friend that I was dreading going back to Minnesota.  I've realized by being in Rome that I'm a city person, and St. Peter just isn't doing it for me anymore.  I've also said multiple times that I never want to go back to the U.S. and I actually was looking up about half an hour ago how I could stay in Rome for the summer.  I knew I couldn't afford it right now, but I was willing to try and make it work.  Well, I've been focusing a lot more on God while I've been here, and I started watching a message from my church from two Sundays ago.  In the message, Pastor Bob starts telling a hunting story, because that's how he is.  He ties God to deer hunting on a regular basis.  That got me thinking, I hate deer hunting.  But I love deer hunters.  I don't hunt or fish, but it's still a part of my life because I'm Minnesotan.  No, I may not be there the rest of my life, but I can never take my love of Minnesota out of my heart.  That doesn't change the fact that I don't really want to live in St. Peter for another year before I graduate, but as of right now, at 9:53 on a Thursday morning in Rome, I miss Minnesota with all of my heart.  And I'm excited to spend another summer, fall, winter even, in Minnesota.  I'm so excited to go to the State Fair and eat cheese curds, and yes that is a Midwestern thing, because my Floridian roommate didn't even know what those were.  (I know, someone needs to get her to experience life.)  I'm at this point where I have absolutely no idea what I want to do with my life.  I don't even know if I want to go to grad school, if I want to move out of the States the second I graduate, or what.  In all honesty, I want to start "my life", I just don't know what that is.  Right now I miss my grandparents, driving, snow, basically everything about Minnesota.  And I can't believe I'm saying that.  I'm not sad about it, I'm not sitting here wishing to be back.  I'm in love with the experience I'm having, but I'm starting to realize that my life can't last this way forever.  I love traveling, but I can't do it every weekend.  Neither my body nor my bank account will allow it.  Also, being a vagabond would mean that I'd spend a lot of time alone, and I can't do that.  Not because I can't be alone, but because there are too many people in this world that mean too much for me to never see them.  As of right now, the majority of the people in my life that I love and care about are in Minnesota, and basically St. Peter.  And that means more to me than the size of the town I live in.  There's a song by Atmosphere that is about how much he loves where he's from (he's Minnesotan, if you didn't know), and there's a line "Roam if you must, but come home when you've seen enough."  I think that's exactly what I need right now.  It's not a coincidence that I'm studying in Rome.  Nor that my initials are MN.

05 March, 2013

Counting My Blessings Every Day

Talking about the life I'm living right now makes me feel really pretentious and spoiled.  Yes, I spent every weekend last month traveling to Athens, Prague, Paris, and Tuscany, and I will be spending the next few weeks traveling to Florence, Spain, Venice, Dublin, Beirut, and London.  And then once my program ends, I'm going to Budapest, Cardiff, and Edinburgh.  My life is unreal.  My life is amazing.  I just want to spend some time talking about that.
On the Roue de Paris with my mom!
The Heckel family at the Coliseum! Where dreams are
made of!
I am so incredibly blessed.  I have been given so much in my life, and I hope you all know that I realize that.  I know that I have an opportunity that most people do not have.  I know a lot of people who are studying abroad but aren't even leaving Italy.  My passion for traveling is an expensive passion, and I am so lucky to have had money saved up.  God has truly given me so much more than I deserve this semester, and I refuse to let myself complain about anything here.  There is nothing else I can call my life right now than my dream.  My life will never again be as free and open as it is for the four months that I am here.  I am able to go absolutely anywhere (except Russia.  Damn visas.) and do absolutely anything.  I am able to meet people from all over the United States and the world even (I have a friend from Pakistan!  Who would have guessed?!  And not only that, but she's published a book!). I am meeting people who have so many different life plans from me, and its incredible that our small lives could somehow cross paths in Rome.  My time here in Rome has changed me to help me believe that I can do absolutely anything and go absolutely anywhere and live the life I want to live.  I am in such an amazing place in my life in comparison to how I was last year.  Today, I dream of the future, not because I am sick of my current life, but because there are so many doors to be opened, so many paths I can possibly take.  My life has no direction, and I say that in the most wonderful of ways.
 I cannot talk about how blessed I am without talking about my parents and what they have done for me.  My parents always taught me that I could do anything I wanted to, as long as I put my mind to it, and I am so lucky to have this mindset.  My mom will do absolutely anything it takes to help me reach my dream.  I told her that my biggest regret about study abroad was that I only did one semester instead of a full year.  How does she respond?  "Do you want to go again in the fall?  I'm sure we can figure out something about your lease for the semester."  My mental jaw dropped.  Here's my mother, who has already given me so much more than she needs to, and she wants to give me more.  No, my family is not loaded and this semester is making a dent in my (and probably her) savings.  But she wants me to be following my dream so badly that she is willing to give me even more.  I refused, for I know that one semester is enough.  I need my full year at Gustavus before I graduate and start my "real life", whatever that may be, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate what she said to me.  My mother is an amazing woman, and I would be no where without her.  My father gave me the drive to do whatever I put my mind to, and my mother gave me the mindset that I am worth it, and that my dreams are never too big.  I love her so much, and can't imagine where I would be without her.

04 March, 2013

Paris with my Family!

First off, holy crap its been awhile since I've posted!  I met with my family in Paris the weekend before last, and then they came back to Rome with me for the week!  Not only that, but it was midterms week, and I had an exam every day!  I'm amazed that I not only made it through the week, but I was able to enjoy myself thoroughly and do ...decent... on my exams!  Paris was soooo cold, but my sisters loved the sites I took them to, which was quite the relief.  We even went to the Louvre, something I didn't know if my family would be interested in!
We went to climb the Eiffel tower one night, which was terrifying to say the least.  I had no fear going up, but Camryn for sure did.  She was almost in tears on the way up, and they definitely started flowing once we got on top.  We took the last elevator up to the tippy top, and thats where she decided she would stay inside.  So, Anissa, my mom, and I took pictures on top while she stayed down.  I thought she was being a little chicken, but that was before I got outside.  My stomach was turning and it was a lot more scary than I thought it would be!  I got a few pictures, and then went back down and convinced Camryn to go up, just to say she had.  She touched the rail and immediately decided it was not for her! Haha!
After getting back down, we were taking pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower all lit up in the background.  A group of grown men kept photobombing, and eventually we started taking group pictures.  One of them started hitting on me, and another on Anissa.  It was hilarious, because these men were obviously drunk, and the Georgian trying to hit on me kept going in for kisses that I was not going to allow.  He kept asking me, "Do you love me? Do you?"  I awkwardly tried to avoid the question, because I didn't want to give any ideas, but I also didn't want to say, "um, no strange man, I do not love you."  Anyway, he asks me one last time, "Do you love me?!" and BOOM.  The Eiffel tower starts sparkling.  It was such perfect timing, it had to have been planned.  He got on one knee, grabbed my hand, and put a ring on it.  No, there were no diamonds, but it was more of an official proposal than my Irish man (though I still prefer him.  Baby come back! I'll be in Dublin in only 4 weeks!).  I tried to give him his ring back, but he refused.  His sober friend told me it was okay and they left us alone (after trying to get us to go out to coffee with them).  It was an interesting night to say the least.  Camryn and my mom were more annoyed than amused, but Anissa and I were extremely flattered.
The group of Georgian men with my sisters!

On top of the Roue de Paris!

At the Louvre!

Outside the Moulin Rouge!

Our excitement/terror to go up the Eiffel Tower!