Fall Break, The Lizzie McGuire Dream, and Finding Peace Abroad

There is so much to cover, yet so little time. I will do my best but if at any point this turns into a pointless rant or a wannabe YA novel, feel free to skip through and just look at the pictures.

Contributing to the idea that this feels like a vacation (zero complaints), we had a weeklong fall break after midterms, which felt odd. Odd in the sense that I spent many hours planning a smaller excursion during what seems like a dream from which I haven’t waken from yet. Still, my fall break was all I could ever ask for and more. Two of my roommates and I decided to head to the United Kingdom and found a second home in London and Dublin. Was part of that due to being able to speak English for a week? Well it probably contributed. Honestly though, we fit so many stops within so few days, it mostly felt like a touristy trip, something we tend to avoid at all costs while in Florence. This is where you start though. It was our first time in London so of course we were going to hit the major ‘must-sees.’ Nothing says London like sitting at the Buckingham Palace and getting a picture with Big Ben. It was surreal and amazing (the two adjectives I basically use to describe every experience I have had thus far). Again, it was a start. That is my number one piece of advice I could give to anyone spending their time studying on a program for such a limited time. Of course we wish we could spend more time everywhere we go, but I think it’s often forgotten that we are so young. There are many years in our future to continue exploring and to return to the places we could see ourselves living later in our lives. I am so bad when it comes to this myself, but I think our generation has a serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), but this saddening condition can limit our experiences and can make memories more bitter than sweet. So in conclusion, from this momentary observation, my U.K. trip was unbelievable, it went by very quickly, but when I come back I will have enough experience under my belt to adventure even further out in England and spend a lot less time working the tube system. But what did I do there this time you ask? Well…let’s see…WARNING: this may read like a laundry list of stops, but when you don’t have much time, you squeeze in as much as possible!

Night 1: Got lost finding our amazing hostel (everyone should consider the Wombat City Hostel – clean, amazing people, and a cave restaurant!), first tube experience, Starbucks trip, and we ended the night seeing Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre!

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Day 2: Starbucks trip #2, walk through of Harrod’s, Hyde Park, found the Peter Pan statue, Baker St./Sherlock Holmes Museum, Abbey Road Studios, King’s Cross – Platform 9 ¾, Camden markets, Chin Chin Laboratories (Nitrogen made ice cream), random blues club, and dinner at a place that supposedly housed the worlds’ best fish and chips…and rest at the hostel for the next day!

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Day 3: Tower of London, more Starbucks, Tower Bridge, the Borough Market, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Millennium Bridge, London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, walk through of Piccadilly Circus, dinner in China Town, and then we walked back to our hostel, taking the scenic route along the river.

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London was especially memorable as we were able to meet up with our friend who is studying abroad there and was able to show us our way and help navigate the bus system our second full day in town. I cannot reiterate enough just how jam packed our day was but it was completely worth it. Even though London was short-lived, we moved onto Ireland and knew only more adventures were to come.

We arrived in Dublin with just enough time to catch a bus into town, find our hostel, grab a nice dinner at a local place and grab a late night snack at a grocery store. It was here that we saw some of the snacks that we have been missing since our arrival in Italy *enter Pop-Tarts, Microwave Popcorn, Oreos, etc.*. After our snack food binge, we retreated to our hostel (another amazing spot called the Generator Hostel in the center of town), to find it had a full restaurant and dance hall in the lobby. Not a bad way to spend the night. We started our next day pretty early on a walking tour of Dublin’s city center. Not going to lie, most of my knowledge concerning Ireland stemmed from movies like P.S. I Love You and Once, so hearing the stories and folklore behind almost every street we passed, was very eye opening. We also were able to have lunch at O’Neill’s, one of the most well-known, traditional Irish establishments in Ireland. Our tour then left us to experience the Guinness factory where we took a crash course in bartending and capped our tourist time at their skyline restaurant with a 360-degree view of Dublin.

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Our next day in Ireland was my favorite though. We started very early and made our way to the Cliffs of Moher on the coast. Honestly, one of the most unforgettable places I have been since coming abroad. It definitely put things in perspective. After spending a couple hours walking the cliffs and listening to the traditional music of the players sitting along the countryside, we took a bus to Galway. Although we only had a few hours to explore, we tried to make the most of it. After grabbing another delicious meal at a local place, we strolled along the streets listening to musicians who seemed to be coming up every few feet from one another, and peeking in the shops here and there in search of the perfect memento. Our time once again flew by, out of our hands, and before I knew it we were on our way back to Dublin. I feel as though I should also mention that this day happened to be Halloween. YAY! Halloween is a holiday that is not celebrated in Italy for the most part, but the same cannot be said for Ireland. All day it was costume after costume and people throwing candy in the streets. It was quite the sight to see. As a result though, we had to quickly throw together costumes from what we could find at our junk food grocery store. By the end of the day we had a Batman (mask), a cat (ears) and a cowboy (hat).  A super fun trip, a very short trip, but it was definitely hard to leave Ireland. It only inspired me to come back. If I ever live in another country for an extended amount of time again, I can only hope it will be in Ireland.

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I will only briefly mention my weekend that followed directly after fall break, but with the ISA program we traveled to Rome for the weekend. This was it, my chance to see and walk in the footsteps of my favorite fictional character, Lizzie McGuire. I have to say, Rome surprised me. I thought after hearing about it from other students studying there, and seeing a lot of the more famous sites in movies and in different T.V. programs, that I would enjoy it less for some reason. That was not the case. In fact, Rome was so stunning, I could have used at least a week to experience everything it has to offer. The Colosseum alone was more magnificent than I could imagine and no pictures I have seen have done it justice. My other favorite moment-in-awe, was walking through the Vatican City and seeing the Sistine Chapel and Basilica. Pieces of art like that of the city itself do not happen anymore. I honestly have never seen anything like it before in my life. It really made me stop and give some thought to our society’s fascination with all things modern. Are these the same people who haven’t been able to experience history and beauty like that of the civilizations we have learned so much from? It would have to be – there is no comparison.

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Finally, I don’t think it would be possible for me to be abroad, and not mention the events in Paris. I send all of my love to the victims and residents of Paris after the attack on their beautiful city. I do however employ us to spread our prayers beyond this horrific incident and recognize the travesties happening worldwide and the victims who are not receiving the same media attention and reactions, as was the worldwide concern for Paris. I do not, under any circumstances deem the loss in Paris as any less important, but I do think there are so many people worthy of the world’s love, grace, and attention who are not currently in the spotlight right now. Please join me in sending good thoughts out into the world as we move forward and strive to be decent human beings to one another.

And with that excessively long post, until next time. Seriously, if you have made it this far, you deserve a cookie.

Ciao!

-Justine

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