Monday, October 29, 2012

A Trip for the Soul

My trip to Florence and Istanbul was absolutely a trip for the soul. I laughed more in one week than I have in a long, long time. I had wonderful conversations with not only LG and Kate but the many people of all backgrounds we met along the way. That being said, it was not a trip for the body. My soul may be refreshed but after hours of walking (uphill both ways), lots of pasta, a few bottles of wine, and not a lot of sleep.. its been an epic marathon! It was an unbelievable week but I'm so glad to be home in London.

First, I'll begin by sharing the motto of Istanbul because it pretty much sums up our entire trip.
"They call it chaos, we call it home."
Pitti Palace Gardens
Let me try to give a summary of our hectic and hilarious week.. Sunday morning I headed to the airport on the tube carrying a three packets of Kleenex and some heavy duty Mucinex. I woke up with a terrible cold so it was a loooong day of flying to Rome, meeting up with Kate, taking an hour bus, and then a two hour train ride into Florence. A total of 12 hours travelling and I was ready for bed! We met up with LG, Kate's brother and some Chi O girls (studying abroad in Florence) and headed for a delicious dinner and gelato, of course!

Monday was spent walking around and exploring. We wandered around to a few squares, got an awesome brunch (topped off with a spicy bloody mary!), and then explored the Palazzo Pitti gardens.

The view!
Tuesday we went to Santa Croce, via Mom's suggestion, and I saw Michelangelo's memorial! The church was so epic with its beautiful ceilings and gorgeous frescos by some of the great Renaissance masters. We also walked up to Palazzo Michelangelo to see the gorgeous view of the city. It was a hike but it was so worth it!

That night, we went to dinner with Kate's brother to a true Italian family restaurant. The tortellini was amazing!! After that we headed to the Lion's Fountain, a (semi) famous pub in Florence.. yes, we went to a British pub in Italy. The night then progressed into dancing to Wagon Wheel, which was played a couple times an hour, and meeting some more Americans who were living in Florence. We loved hanging with the Americans and dancing to some music that made us feel a bit like we were back at home.. or at least in college!

Our late night with friends (and my ongoing sickness - at this point I have no voice!) made for a pretty rough travel day on Wednesday. We spent the train ride back to Rome sleeping.. except for when a man tried to steal Laura Grace's bag and an Italian woman stood up for us and verbally attacked him. At one point, I may have cried as I chatted with a family of four sitting near us..."I miss my family!!" I said to the teenage boy and he responded with, "Well, you can have mine." ....Typical.

After the train ride which was pretty terrible, we then had an even worse bus experience. I'll spare the details but let's just say it wasn't pretty. LG and I saw our breakfasts again thanks to a smelly, crowded, hot, bumpy, curvy, evil bus ride. I rarely get car sick but this just pushed me over the limit, not to mention my runny nose, hacking cough, and pounding headache. After making it through what seemed like the bus ride from hell, we ended up in the airport security lines only to realize that we are going to be late for our flight. We pushed through the lines and jump in front of a group of about 30 Asian tourists, by just smiling and saying "sorry."

Finally, I look ahead and Kate has broken out into a full on sprint to our gate. LG and I, having just lost much of our energy due to the bus sickness, attempt to follow along in hot pursuit.. key word: attempt. Kate sprints ahead to hold the gate and after a five minute all out run, we get to the gate to see no one waiting in line or surrounding the gate. It is fifteen minutes before our flight supposedly leaves and the gate attendants told us we still had to wait for the bus to take us to the plane. (Thank goodness because it took me about 5 minutes to catch my breath from all the running and the laughing at how absurd the day had been.) Italians do not wear watches nor do they care about the concept of time. We wait for a bus, then wait on the bus for a driver, then ride the bus to the plane. Ten minutes after our plane is supposed to be in the air, we casually walk onto the plane and take a seat..... We later land in Istanbul and all give a huge sigh of relief! The day of travelling was torture but I wouldn't have survived without LG and Kate there to laugh with me.
In front of the Hagia Sofia
Thursday we were fortunate enough to take a tour with a hilarious tour guide, Aiden.. a forty something year old jokester who is super knowledgeable of Turkish history and monuments. We went to the Hagia Sofia and a few other mosques which was incredibly eye opening for me! Most of these mosques were originally churches but were transformed into mosques as Islamic people took over the area thousands of years ago. We went into the mosque where the first dome ever was built. Imagine that! The first dome in the whole world was built in this tiny church/mosque in Istanbul.. so cool. We also explored Topkapi, which was the palace of the sultan. Jewels, clothing, art, weapons and amazing views all were a part of this massive complex. Not to mention, the world's 4th largest diamond!

LG and Aiden, our fearless leader!
Aiden helped us experience the food on Istanbul as well... LG got a face full of pistachio Baklava even though she resisted due to her hatred of nuts and I ate a plateful of mashed potatoes. Chewy ice cream (aka dondurma) was also quite an experience. We all laughed the whole day and I felt like Aiden and I really enjoyed each others company due to our equally sarcastic humor. Let's just say, we bonded.

Aiden finished our day by suggesting we go to the Turkish baths. Back in the day, the baths were used for the sultan's many wives before they were going to see their man. Nowadays its more like a spa.. spa being a very light term. Here's my play by play: Go in, strip down and lay on a hot stone with about thirty other women. Pores are opening up. Large half naked woman comes to scrub you down, dirt comes off of your skin. Gross. Get freezing water and then hot water on you and get a five minute "massage". Stand up go to "hot tub", sit. Get out, go to "shower". Rinse off and feel "refreshed". You have now been treated like a princess and, by the way, you loved it. What an experience! It was hilarious and funny and I'm so glad we went. It was absolutely a new adventure for us....

Dinner afterwards was delicious and there we said goodbye to Aiden as he had to get home to his 7 month old twins! We finished up dinner and then headed to a hookah bar to get the true Turkish lifestyle! As we sat on the elaborate couches and watched the locals and tourists, it was truly an experience I will never forget. One conversation we had consisted of me speaking in Spanish, Kate speaking in Turkish, and our new friend speaking in English to all make sure we understood what was being said. It was funny and a bit awkward, as it was my first tri-lingual conversation, but I realized how cool it was to be in a place that was so welcoming and open to new people.

Like our new friend, everyone in Turkey welcomed us with open arms. Literally. The culture in Turkey is very different from back home but in this regard, I found so many similarities. We were frequently asked to come to people's stores, homes, or restaurants and every Turk we met was begging to teach us Turkish in exchange for an English lesson.  Everyone was kind and so curious about how and why we are in Istanbul. If I was confused or just looked plain scared (which I frequently was/did), they just smiled and tried their best to help me out. Not to mention the compliments the three of us received on a daily (if not hourly) basis. Good thing Kate speaks a bit of Turkish because it was quite the confidence booster. All in all, I liked Istanbul but I loved the Turks!

The Dead Sea
Friday we spent on a boat tour of the Bosporus. We docked in a small place two hours down the water and hiked to the top of a hill to look out over the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea! How sweet is that. Lunch was a full fish (head and tail and all!) that was delicious but a serious pain to eat. After a short nap on the boat ride home, we got another quick tour from Aiden's friend (again, Turkish hospitality!) and then went to dinner off the main street in Istanbul. After dinner, we met up with LG's friend and began celebrating Kate's 23rd birthday at midnight! A few hours later, we are leaving somewhere after dancing and celebrating and we run into a friend's older brother who is working in Istanbul. There are over 13 million people in the city and we end up talking to him! Such a small world. Anyways, this leads us to another place to chat and continue Kate's birthday celebration. It was an awesome night that, again, ended in dancing to Wagon Wheel a few times. What is it with that song?!

Friday night dinner
Saturday was a relaxing day, we moved into a 'fancy' hotel for Kate's birthday and it was so nice to sleep in a giant soft and good smelling bed! Sunday, I shopped a little around for Christmas presents and then heading to the airport around lunchtime. Had a long wait there and then a long flight home but was so happy when I finally got off the tube at Earl's Court and it was about 40 degrees and raining! That's my weather and I looooove it. Home sweet home.

So, if you've actually stuck with me this far.. well done and I'm surprise you don't have anything better to do. This may be the longest post I ever write but I just wanted to properly chronicle the week. I've skipped the cats, the insults, the mustaches, the dirty jokes, the "Turkish Jesus", and the Asia conversation so I'll actually have something to talk about when I get home. I hope y'all've got a better idea of my wild and wacky week in Italy and Turkey! I went into this trip by saying that it was my "try new things adventure" and it certainly lived up to that description. Thanks to LG and Kate who helped open my eyes and my mind (and sometimes held my hand) through all these new and exciting adventures, I wouldn't have traded this trip for anything.

Now, back in Londontown searching for internships and thesis topics, I have the wonderful and comical memories of my last week with dear friends to get my through the challenging weeks (work-wise) ahead! I've got 7 weeks in London until I head back to the South, my friends, and my family and I'm not going to waste a minute of it! So many adventures to come, I can't wait.

Cheers y'all, Lis

Monday, October 22, 2012

Florence: Best City in the World

(Minus London and W-S, of course...)

I'm going to try to post pictures throughout my week long trip in Italy and Turkey, so keep checking back for more updates!! Here are a few from today.. Kate and Laura Grace are with me and I don't think we've stopped talking since we got off the plane!

Day one in Florence has been amazing! We went to Palazzo Pitti and it's beautiful gardens this afternoon and then passed by the Duomo tonight. Hoping to climb the giant dome tomorrow.. Unbelievable pasta and delicious (and cheap) red wine have been the highlights so far though.

Some of these are already on Facebook (yay technology!) so they might be repeats but for those of you not on Facebook, hope you enjoy!

Cheers y'all, Lis xx

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

You are my Sunshine

In the sunny South, we take for granted the beautiful days without a cloud in the sky. We expect the warm sunshine on our face as we leave the house. We know that, on most days, we will see the sun at some point. I miss this assumption... Here in London, the sun is a novelty item, a cause for celebration, an unexpected treat to make your day exponentially better.

When I wake up with the sun shining through the blinds, I know it is going to be a good day. No bulky umbrella, no heavy rain boots and most of all, no sopping wet rain coat that soaks your flat's recently mopped floors. The sun is a reminder that it is all going to be okay. That sometimes our days are filled with a dark and dreary rain, but at the end of week, when you least expect it, the sun will come out and bring a smile to your face. When something is scarce, we love and appreciate it more. The sun has become a joy every time I see it peeking through the clouds. Wow, my hippie side is really be coming through here.

And then... just as you're walking home from class and thinking of how to write a very insightful post on the beauty of the sun... the clouds move in, within five minutes you're soaking wet and still 7 blocks from home. Oh well, we all know that a terrible rain storm can always be cured with a cup of hot tea. That is what the Brits do really well. But weather? Not so much.

Cheers y'all, Lisa

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


A huge part of being away from home, family and friends is learning to build a new home, new family, and new friends. Don't worry Winston, you're not being replaced but for the next year I'm loving London as my home, my flatmates as best friends, and family..? Well I've found a church family so that will have to do for now. Carly and I have been going to afternoon services at HTB Queen's Gate, just 15 minutes away from our flat. It has been quite an experience. The 4:30 service is, in a word, different. There is prayer but it is accompanied by music, there is passing of the peace but it is accompanied by hugs and personal prayer time, and there is no dress code. Not quite the church that I grew up in, however I love it. I know that I'm meeting some great Christians and I'm growing with God during the service.. so what else could ya ask for? Oh yeah, a gorgeous setting in an old church.. that'd be nice too!
Queen's Gate at night
HTB is a massive community with 10 services across three churches every Sunday. There are over 60 pastorates (what we would call bible studies or small groups, but each of the groups has about 30-40 people!) The original church, HTB Brompton Road, has been 'picking up' smaller churches who are at risk of closing their doors. The HTB support helps the church stay alive as well as bring even more people into church on Sundays. They run all kinds of programs for kids, youth, and adults as well as service work with the elderly, homeless, and imprisoned. I love this church because I feel like they have grown massively over the years, yet they have not lost their vision of what Christ wants them to do.

Carly and I went to our first pastorate last night and it was great. A bit of worship, a bit of prayer, and a bit of community.. exactly what ya need when you're 3,900 miles from home!

Cheers y'all, Lisa

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Star Stuck & Day Trippin'

The past week has been great! Not too much work, as our papers are all due next week so it was a bit of a slow week work-wise, yahoo. Class on Tuesday was held in the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is one of the best in the city! A museum dedicated to art and design, it's collections range from ballgowns to staircases to sculpture to stained glass windows. It would take at least a week to see everything in the museum but it is a great place to be inspired and be in awe at the vast collection.

Thursday was a day like any other.. until...after class, Carly, Kate and I decided to head to the Tate Modern on the Southbank.Usually, this museum is not my choice to go to. It is a modern art museum and while my modern art tastes have surely grown since I've first started studying art history, this place still weirds me out sometimes. There is no doubt in my mind that the pieces are worth seeing and will live in infamy forever.. however, it is not the most accessible museum to wrap your head around. That being said, I could not be more happy to have gone. I have Carly to thank because she spotted John Krasinski and chased him down for a picture! He was so nice and so, so very nice to look at!
Hi there, John! Ditch Emily Blount and come hang out with us?
After getting over the shock of seeing this famous person (which took about 45 minutes), we strolled around the Tate Modern and the girls helped explain some of the art to me. Another great part about the museum was the exhibition in the Turbine Hall. Tino Sehgal created a piece using 50 people and their stories. Literally, 50 people run around the hall telling visitors stories about anything! We heard a man talk about banana fritters and a girl talk about the time her purse was stolen. The visitors become part of the experience as Sehgal's people run around the groups of people. Every now and then, the 50 people will stop and sing a song unknown to us. Or they will line up and just start skipping. Or they all stop and lay down on the ground. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the exhibition except for celebrating human interaction and the concept of "the stranger". Some people feel this is a really weird piece but I loved it! The idea that 50 people can flow and speak and work with the unfamiliar audience is fascinating. There is no script, there is no set acting/dancing/singing that is supposed to happen. It is all free will and the 50 people simply reacting to the audience at hand. What an interesting and powerful experience! If anyone's in London, I absolutely suggest they go and 'feel' this awesome exhibit.

We went on a day trip Friday with two of our professors and 13 of us Art History and Visual Culture students...

Secret Garden, anyone??

Modern sculptures in a rural space

It was so nice to be surrounded by nature for the day!
(You won't here me say that often...)

After an hour tube ride, a two hour bus ride and a small walk in the woods, we arrived at Roche Court Sculpture Park. What an amazing piece of land. With over 600 acres, there were cows, chickens, a gorgeous country home, and... sculptures! The private home also exists as a working sculpture gallery and an arts education trust. We spent the morning walking around the grounds and enjoying not only the massive art pieces but also being outside in the fresh, country air. We all talked about home and how much we missed being around trees, our animals, and clean air! It was a nice break from the city.. but once I got back into the hustle and bustle of central London, I felt home again!

Standing in front of The Vyne, a home built in 1520 for a courtier of Henry VIII and Anne.. yes, I was in heaven!

The front of The Vyne

There is a chapel inside the house!

We had a bit of rain throughout the day but nothing that would hold us back. As we drove another couple hours to The Vyne, we all took a good (much needed) nap. The Vyne is so impressive as it was another beautiful outdoor space with lakes, ducks, cows, and weeping willows. The house was built when Henry VIII was on the throne so I loved soaking in the Tudor architecture as well as the updates from the 18th century add-ons. Carly and I pretended we were being presented to the court as we slowly walked down the double staircase into the foyer. You're never too old to use your imagination?!?

We got home in time for a late dinner and a fun night out at my fave, Notting Hill Arts Club. Great day overall, now back to writing papers and researching!

Cheers y'all, Lis

Monday, October 1, 2012

Good Things

First, the best way for me to start is by giving you the blog of the dear friend who went to Oktoberfest with me... Laura Grace is a much better writer and document-er than myself so please visit: "Oktoberfest festivities" to see great pictures and a play by play of my weekend in Munich! That is suuuchhh a cop-out, I know. I just see Jessie shaking her head as I write this!
Round Two!
So instead of Oktoberfest happenings, I can share a bit about other things going on here in Londontown. The past week was by far my most busy/stressful/weird/hectic/insert negative word here. However, it had one big highlight. I was able to get away from the library and my laptop to have a drink with some close friends from my time here two years ago. It was so wonderful to see them and I really felt like no time had passed! As we sat in a dungeon-like bar with some over zealous live music playing in the background, I had so many flashbacks of my time in London two years ago. As I write this, it seems like such a trivial thing.. drinks and catch up time with friends but in fact it was just a further confirmation of my being in London again and the person I have come to be today. In two years, I feel as though I've grown more than I have in my whole life! Seeing these friends allowed me to see myself, who I was two years ago in my "Old London" and see myself now as I am more confident and self-assured in my "New London". Lucky me, now I've got old friends in new London!
Cheers to Oktoberfest!

So... back to Oktoberfest.
So... back to Munich.
So... back into Wake World.
It was a weekend to remember, that's for sure. No horses were involved and much more pretzels were eaten this time around. LG and I had an amazing dinner the first night as well as great catch-up time. Saturday was an early morning and a lot of beer, pretzels, and screaming and clapping but I'd say the highlight of the weekend was just being around friends again. I didn't realize how much I miss my friends from college and this weekend just made me that much more excited for New Year's with them! 

I've got another busy week ahead but I am so glad to be back in London. Stepping off the plane was accompanied with a big sigh of relief, such a sense of coming home. No more confusing German, no more pretzels, and no more beer. For now, at least!

Cheers y'all, Lis