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Food and Friends

The Peeps

Peeps, E girls, and the Big Wiz—this one’s for you.

I’m twelve years old, and I am deliriously happy. It’s a summer night at the Eliopoulos’ house. All nine of us are in the bonus room. My flannel American Girl sleeping bag is slowly turning into a sweatbox, but I don’t care. (Caitlin and Kelly also have flannel American girl sleeping bags. In the morning, we’ll all wrestle the puffy black material until it folds in on itself and miraculously takes the shape of a duffle bag with a strap.)

Caitlin’s knee is sticking into my hip, and on my other side, James is making jokes about his boxers. Zach’s all scrunched up in the corner next to Joe. (Zach’s the youngest and the smallest, so he gets last pick in the sleeping spot lottery.) Taylor’s on the couch, Kelly’s on the other side of Caitlin, and Jake and Annabelle are by the big bay window.

“I’m gonna make it to 5am,” Jake says. “Not going to sleep until I see the sunrise!” (Jake says this kind of thing a lot. He dreams big, but it’s also pretty likely that he’ll be asleep within the half hour.)

“Bullshit!” James throws a pillow at Jake. They’re both wearing very silly boxers.

“Guys!” Taylor whispers, “Andy and Lisa are trying to sleep! Quiet down!”

“Okay mom,” Joe laughs from the corner.

“Kell,” Annabelle says, “what was that thing you were saying about the werewolves earlier?”

“Seriously guys, they’re real,” Kelly sits up in her sleeping bag. “Someone was telling me about it last week. And look, there’s a full moon right now.” We all look to the big bay window, and sure enough, the moon floats bright and full over the E’s front lawn.

“That does look pretty big,” Jake says.

And then, I swear to God, we hear a howl. The room erupts.

“What the hell was that?”

“Did you hear that?”

“Kelly, how’d you do that? I’m serious!”

Shit!”

We’re all laughing and poking each other and debating the likeliness of an actual werewolf wandering outside on the Eliopoulos’ property.

“Guys, it’s definitely just a coyote,” Caitlin says after a few minutes. We all kind of agree. But how awesome would that have been if it were an actual werewolf?

(Note: I couldn't get home to scan pictures this week. My mom doesn't know how to scan pictures, but she DOES know how to take pictures of pictures. All shown here are courtesy of her meta-photography skills.)

(Note: I couldn’t get home to scan pictures this week. My mom doesn’t know how to scan pictures, but she DOES know how to take pictures of pictures. All shown here are courtesy of her meta-photography skills.)

To be honest, I don’t even know how we all met. I don’t remember who came up with the name, either. The Peeps. Our parents all joined the Nashua Country Club when we—the Big Peeps—were around six years old. Our younger siblings—the Little Peeps—were probably two or three. We grew up together, but it was more than that. We became family.

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All of my memories start in the middle. 7 AM swim practice at the pool, shivering in the one-piece race bathing suits that gave you a wedgie no matter what size your mom ordered. Stealing little white towels from the bin next to the guard desk and wearing them as capes. Eating french fries outside the snack bar on chairs that always left designs on the backs of our legs.

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Flashlight murder was a sleepover tradition. As soon as the sun set, no matter whose house we were at, someone had to go get the good flashlights from the parents. (Everyone started keeping flashlight and battery stashes in their garages.) Rules for flashlight murder: An empty soda can must be inside the chalk-drawn circle in the driveway at all times. Singing in jail to distract your captors is encouraged. No puppy-guarding under any circumstances. (Looking at you, Jake.)

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“The parents” became a collective term. (I’m pretty sure they started calling themselves the Really Big Peeps at one point.) It’s like we all had this giant team of adults that yelled at us when we did something stupid and hugged us when we did something great. And we knew all the drills—line up early for Andy’s pancakes at the Eliopoulos’, Kelly and Rina yell the loudest (and hug the hardest), Lisa’s the one to watch Napoleon Dynamite with, Maura will make you laugh so hard you pee a little bit, Jim can teach you how to beat up your little sister if she’s being a punk, etc. (I still owe you for that one, Jim.)

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We had about eighteen different parents we could call if we left our most expensive pair of swim goggles on the pool deck. (I was infinitely better at losing swim goggles than I ever was at swimming in them. Sorry, Mom.) There was always someone around to put a Band-Aid on your scraped knee or stop you from ordering that third ice cream sandwich from the snack bar. If it takes a village to raise a child, the Peeps were a sprawling metropolis.

As we got older, the Peeps faded away from the Nashua Country Club. (Astronomical monthly fees, I’m tellin’ you.) We still saw each other at cookouts and lake days and ski adventures, but the Big Peeps started working. We got cars and made new friends. We went to different high schools. Soon even the Little Peeps started driving and dating and doing big-kid things. Life went on. We stayed in touch and we grew up.

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Then a few weeks ago, the world lost an incredible man. Andy Eliopoulos passed away suddenly on the 4th of July while riding his bike to train for the Pan-Mass Challenge. My first thought when I heard the news was that I desperately wanted to hug my friend Annabelle. Then I thought of the pancakes.

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I’m twelve years old, and I’m still deliriously happy. It’s the morning after the night with the boxers and the werewolves. (Jake claims to have seen the sunrise, but there were no witnesses.) We play a few rounds of Ziggy the Boy Scout Slayer on Belle’s desktop computer and take turns logging onto our AIM profiles. Then we hear Andy shout from downstairs.

PAAAANCAAAAKES!

And it is just pancake mania. The Little Peeps are already sitting at the long granite countertop when we get to the kitchen—they beat us downstairs from where they were sleeping in Gigi’s room. Andy stands in front of a giant griddle with a monstrosity of a pancake batter bowl, singing goofy songs and flipping pancakes onto plates behind his back. This is a full-scale production. We’re talking upwards of fifteen kids, all under the age of twelve, all bombarding Andy with special pancake requests at the same time.

“Chocolate-chip, please!”

“I want plain!”

“Do we have any blueberries?”

“Andy! Andy! Kelsey says she wants plain too! Makes sure she gets plain!”

“Everyone’s gonna be a-getting the pancakes,” Andy says in a funny accent. (He has a lot of funny accents.) And we do. And they’re fricken delicious.

I remember thinking that Annabelle, Gigi, and Ceci were so lucky because they got to eat those pancakes all the time. Now I think we’re all lucky.

Andy was magical. He really, truly was—and not just because he joined in when Belle and I pretended we were Harry Potter wizards for an entire summer. (To this day, the entire Eliopoulos family calls me the Wiz. Belle is also a Wiz. Andy was, of course, the Big Wiz.) He was goofy and smart and so kind-hearted, and he had this gift for turning even the worst moments into hilarious stories. Belle, Gigi, and Ceci all have that gift too. Lisa is one of the strongest and funniest people I’ve ever known. There’s always been a kind of magic in the E’s house.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve seen more of the Peeps than I have in the past three years. We’ve cried together and laughed together and drank together—my goodness have we drank together. (Isn’t it funny that we can all do that now? And who the hell’s idea was it to put watermelon in the Fireball?) Everything’s changed and nothing’s changed. Ten years later, we’re still a family.

Andy—we miss you. I’m going to think of you every time I hear a Coldplay song, make a cheesy Harry Potter joke, or hit a freshly paved road on my bike. (“Oooh, bama.”) We miss you now and we’ll miss you always.

Peeps—you are the best. All of you. It’s hard to do our story justice. We made an awesome thing here.

Belle, Gigi, Ceci, and Lis—I love you guys more than words can say. Thanks for always letting me in on your magic.

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Study Abroad

Here’s To The End

Dammit, you guys, I did it. I blinked. I blinked, and it’s all over. I’m back in the states and happily overwhelmed with the rush of familiarity and the time difference. I’m going to leave you with the last thing I ever wrote in Ireland.

I’m sitting in my gate at Cork Airport, waiting to board my last plane of the semester. (I’ve been on sixteen planes so far, most of them rickety bargain-airline planes, and Meg thinks I’m lucky to be alive. She also loves the consistent turbulence while landing.) Sitting in this airport feels different than most of the other ones I’ve waited in.

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Two for the road!

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Realized these would be my last legal drinks for a while and was less than happy

Most of the time I’ve spent in airports I’ve been sleep-deprived, fresh off of three-hour bus rides, unshowered and a little smelly, and sprawled all over whatever floor space I could find. I carried only a backpack and a determination to find adventure and some of the world I’ never seen before.

This time feels different from those times, but similar to another journey I took in January. Meg and I checked into our flight, dropped off our bags, and as I waited for her to buy a postcard, I noticed my knees shaking. My stomach felt empty and queasy, and I might have cried if I let myself.

I felt exactly like I’d felt on my way over to study abroad.

I didn’t get to tell you guys about my trip over to Ireland, but it was a bit of a nightmare. My flight was so delayed that I missed another flight, I lost a jacket, and I was wired the whole time. Like, the entire time. I’m not sure how I pulled off being anxious for like 30 straight hours, but I managed it.

I was leaving home for five months. For the first time ever. I was excited, nervous, and not entirely sure I was going to be able to do it. This time it’s the opposite. I’m a seasoned flyer and I’m going home to everything that’s familiar and the people that I love. So why am I teary eyed and nauseous?

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My last view of Cork, which looked a lot like my first view of Cork. Thanks for nothing, May.

I think it’s because in a way, I’m still leaving home. I’m leaving home to return home, which is confusing, and doesn’t mean that my plane will just be circling Ireland then landing back in Cork again. Between the friends I’ve met and the strangers I’ve encountered and the odd places I’ve fallen asleep (the list is surprisingly extensive), this city became my place.

So now, I feel a little torn. I am so excited for the airport hugs and the catching up and for no longer being a tourist. To hug my mom. To kiss my sister’s little round face. But part of me needs to mourn. I’m saying goodbye to friends, to my little city, and to a lifestyle so unique and surreal that I know it can never be recreated. A little part of me knows that I’ll never get all the way home again. I have two places now. Growing pains, my parents would call it. I had to grow a little to make room for my new home.

So to my friends and family who I’m about to see, I ask for your hugs, but also your patience. Mom, if I’m a little moody in a few days, just lock me in my room for a few hours. I’ll nap and it’ll all be better. I’m still beyond excited to see you all, but I might need a little time to come to terms with the fact that this is all over.

Gone are the days of eating gelato everyday in Greece and Rome, staring up at intricate cathedrals and churches (why is it always the churches that have the most badass architecture? Was God really into flying buttresses?) and being able to run my fingers over the history of cities older than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s a tough adjustment, back to reality.

And while there’s been some spectacular views, it wasn’t all about the scenery. It was about the people, in large part. About the Irish history that made its way into almost all of my classes, not because it was on the syllabus, but because I was taught by proud Irish men who couldn’t stand not to talk about their heritage. It was about being uncomfortable and wrong and clumsy. It was about being able to go to a bar and order a beer. It was about getting used to asking for help. It was about being away from home for longer than ever before, and creating a home for myself, from scratch.

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Started our last trip with a concert at the world’s smallest venue

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Visiting the Guinness Brewery felt like we were children with free reign of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory

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EAT IT, RUBIN. (For you, tits)

EAT IT, RUBIN. (For you, tits)

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Amsterdam/Amsterdumb

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Either the IAmsterdam sign shrunk or I grew

The IAmsterdam sign is a lot smaller than you think, guys

Airport naps

Airport naps

Honeymooning in Prague!

Honeymooning in Prague!

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For a while I thought Edinburgh was the pointiest city I’d ever see, then I got to Prague

And one last one of Cork

And one last one of Cork

So here’s to the end of #hannahandjulieabroad. I know my nostalgia gland is prone to overreacting, but this feels like one of the most bittersweet goodbyes. It’s been real.

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Study Abroad

Things I Want to Take Home

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” –Paul Theroux

Friends, this is my last post before I leave for home. (If you remember that I used this quote to start my last post before I left for Spain, ten points to your Hogwarts house. If you’re not sure which Hogwarts house you are in, just give those points to Gryffindor. Gryffindor is the fucking best.)

I could write a novel on the feelings that come with the end of a semester abroad. It is outrageously hard to put all of this into words. I can’t wait to get home but I know that going home means the end. The end of this adventure, the end of being this specific kind of uncomfortable, the end of Spanish in the streets and bread at every meal and weekend trips with the same fifteen people. It feels just as surreal as the beginning.

I still don’t really know where I’m going—although Julie and my parents will tell you that I can read a map now, which is a pretty big step up from getting lost on the UNH campus in December—but I do know where I’ve been. Giant snowy mountains and quiet rose gardens. Tiny crooked towns and big loud cities. Airplanes and trains and holy shit, so many buses. I’ve been on such an adventure. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that a week from now, I’ll be back in New Hampshire, eating familiar foods and doing familiar things. There’s a sadness and a profound happiness in that.

Things I Want to Take Home:

Tranquila. Take it easy. No pasa nada.

Silliness. You’re going to make mistakes. (Don’t forget to laugh.)

Humility. The world is bigger than you.

Endurance. You can go further than you think. Don’t build barriers in your head.

Friendship. Family and friends, new and old. Remember the little things.

Patience. You’ll figure it out.

Confidence. You’ve figured it out before.

Adventure. There’s always more to explore.

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I have no idea how to conclude this. There’s too much to describe and all of it sounds like a record of clichés on repeat. But there is one more thing I want to tell you about.

Twelve of my friends and I took a trip to Rome last weekend. We got lost on the outskirts of the city as a group of thirteen, and working together to figure out where we needed to go felt like some weird and hilarious reality TV challenge. We drank a lot of wine. We cancelled the reservations for our last night at the hostel before realizing that the airport didn’t open until 4:30am and the hostel only let us sit in their lounge until 11:30pm. “We are so much more homeless in Rome than Julie was,” several of my friends muttered as we sat on a safe-ish stoop outside and waited for time to pass.

It was an absolute logistical nightmare.

It was physically miserable.

It was fun.

I wouldn’t have expected the semester to end any other way.

#hannahandjulieabroad

(See below for the story in pictures.)

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We fought for our lives to get onto the bus from the airport to the city, and then we swarmed a lot of other places. Traveling in a group of thirteen is like drinking an entire gallon of milk in one sitting – I’m glad we did it for the story, but I probably wouldn’t do it again or recommend it to friends with certain health conditions.

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I took a solo trip to visit my sweet friend Pooja in Florence for a day. (The guy we asked to take our picture never took his thumb off the lens.)

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Our thirteen-pack split up for some touring back in Rome, and we saw some super old things.

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“Wtf are we looking at? A sculpture that inspired basically all of Michelangelo’s work? Oh weird, I thought it was one of those thumb dudes from Spy Kids.”

Then came the longest day that has ever been. It was my 21st birthday, but that was probably the least interesting thing that happened. First we got group-lost.

“Hey guys, do you know where we’re going?”

“What about you guys? Do you know?”

“Does ANYONE know where we’re going?”

“Alright yeah, this way sounds good.”

We eventually found the wrong catacombs, then the right catacombs. I tried to take pictures inside but a bald guy yelled at me. He wasn’t even the guide.

Later that night, we went out to dinner for my birthday, and my friend Jeremy bought a selfie stick.

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Then came the homelessness.

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We eventually got ourselves to the airport, then to the bus station, then home.

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What the fuck time is it?

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It was an adventure and a half, guys. We made it.

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Study Abroad

Sleepless in Scotland

There’s nothing quite like the surge of nostalgia you get when you realize you’re doing something for the last time. You’re sitting in a booth of your favorite pub surrounded by everyone who means a lot to you, and it hits you that this is the last time that these people will all gather together in this place. You walk down the hill towards the center of town and the knowledge that your trips down this street are limited sits heavy in your heart. You’re at dinner one night and some asshat decides to remind everyone that, guys, this time next week we’ll all be gone and never see each other again! (Looking at you, Zach.)

I’m a very nostalgic person. Hann knows this. She makes fun of me for saving notes and doodles we find as we clean out our desks every year. My family knows it. Hopefully Meg knows it too, because she’s the one who’s going to be dealing with me on my last day in Ireland when I’m sniffling quietly into my pint in the corner of a pub.

Last week Hannah talked to you guys about the feeling anxiousness to get home. I was there a few weeks ago. After the semester-long build up to spring break that coincided with end of classes, it felt like this whole thing was over. I’d done my European adventure. I’d seen Hann. I’d been done with classes for almost a month, so it felt like all that was left to do was go home. I spent hours every day fantasizing about hugging my family in the airport and catching up with friends.

I wanted a fast-forward button.

I blinked, though, and May crept up on me. We’ve entered the beginning of lasts and goodbyes. The last trip we’ll take all together, the last time we’ll cook a family dinner in the kitchen of our apartment, the last cider we’ll sneak into a bar and chug in the bathroom. The lulls in conversation are charged with an awareness that all of this is temporary, and we all look around at each other with big, sad eyes.

All of a sudden I want a rewind button.

I know how foolish it is to wish something this awesome away. It’s almost as foolish as getting so caught up in the nostalgia of leaving that you don’t enjoy the time you have left. Just like every other part of this trip, it’s been a challenge to stay completely in the moment. During my first month I checked the calendar every day, hoping that all of a sudden it would jump a lot closer to the day I got to go home. I spent the weekdays waiting for Friday when I got to hop on a bus and explore a new town in Ireland. Now I’m wincing as the days pass too quickly and the “lasts” start to roll by.

I get a familiar flutter of panic when I realize I’m not truly “living in the moment” as much as I could be. I hear the voices of study-abroad veterans and family friends in my head. Enjoy it while it lasts, every minute of it. If I’m not enjoying what’s right around me all the time, am I doing it wrong? This is something that Hannah and I questioned a lot when we got here, and something we still question pretty much constantly all the time.

I don’t think we’re doing it wrong at all. We realized during one of our Facetime-deep-conversations that perspectives and emotions aren’t black and white. They weren’t at home, and they aren’t here. You can be sitting on a bench in Rome with a cup of gelato in your hands and be in awe of what you’re seeing and feel like you want to curl up in a ball and roll all the way home at the same time. You can be anxious to get home and ready to stay forever at the same time. You can be appreciative and present and homesick and happy and exhausted. A lot of the time you are, actually. That’s not wrong. It’s about time I realized it.

These past two weekends, my friends and I took our last ever trips together as a group. Both involved three-hour bus rides to Dublin in the middle of the night, and no sleep. They were physically draining, but we made every second count. Meg comes out to visit me in exactly one week, and I could not be more excited.

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Some great views in Dingle

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Seriously, though

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Last-minute trip to Giant’s Causeway

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A last hurrah

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One of the most beautiful and pointiest cities I've ever been to

One of the most beautiful and pointiest cities I’ve ever been to

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Wound up in the National Museum of Scotland after about 30 hours of no sleep, so of course this happened.

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Chased down a runaway balloon in the middle of Edinburgh

Chased down a runaway balloon in the middle of Edinburgh

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Edinburgh castle felt a lot like Hogwarts

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Arthur’s Seat!

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Study Abroad

Jumping the Rut

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you feel comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” -Clifton Fadiman

My second week in Spain, I decided to travel from Granada to Madrid to spend a few days with my cousin Kristina. (For those of you who have been reading for a while, you might remember Kristina as the friend who can run way faster than me and brought me to a ball in Washington D.C. one time.) Kristina has been kicking ass studying in Madrid since September, so she offered to lead me around the country’s capital for a weekend and give me a few hugs. (Two weeks into a semester in a new country with a new language and new people, I was really looking forward to the hugs.)

This was my first big travel adventure of the semester, and Kristina helped me plan the whole thing out. I had to wake up at 6:30 to be at the bus stop by my house at 7, where I’d take a city bus to the big Estación de Autobuses at the other end of town. Then I’d get on another bus to Madrid, and when I got to the city five hours later, I’d hop on the metro and get off at the Manuel Becerra stop to meet up with Kristina and head to her apartment. The plan seemed straightforward enough.

The night before I left, I had a dream that the bus to Madrid was leaving without me. The bus had a platform, like a train, and a woman with a short, no-nonsense haircut told me that my ticket wasn’t valid. The glass sliding doors of the bus-train began to close and it started to chug away. No! I was determined to get on that bus-train. Somehow I knew that if I didn’t make it on this one there would never be another way to get to Madrid, and then all of my hopes and dreams would be destroyed, and then I’d die. Not getting on the train was not an option.

In the dream, I took a few steps back, adjusted my backpack, and jumped the platform onto the moving bus-train as the doors were still closing. The woman with the no-nonsense haircut yelled something, and there was a big crash. In real life, I dove out of my bed and onto the cold tile floor. I woke up when I hit the ground, completely disoriented. Holy shit. Maybe I was more anxious about this trip than I realized.

The morning of my viaje, everything almost went smoothly. I forgot to pay when I boarded the city bus—probably the result of months of free bus rides with my UNH ID—and when the driver called me to the front to pay my 1.20€, I didn’t have any coins in my wallet. Turns out the bus only accepts coins. The driver told me to get off at the next stop, make change somewhere, and then get back on the next bus. At least I think that’s what he said. My Spanish was still pretty weak at the time.

So I hopped off the bus and found myself alone on a deserted street in the middle of a Spanish city. In late January, 7am Spanish time looks a lot like 4am American time. The sky was still dark. Absolutely nothing was open. I didn’t even know which street I was on. The bus left, and everything went eerily quiet. Holy crap holy crap holy crap, I thought, choosing a random direction to walk in. Alright, Hann, stay calm. Just find somewhere to make change. No big deal.

I found a 24-hour Pharmacy five or ten minutes later, and I knew it was open because its medical-cross sign blinked green above the door. Hallelujah! But even the 24-hour Pharmacy looked like it wasn’t into the 7am-wake-up-call, and there was a locked gate in front of the door. I rang the doorbell and shook the gate until the man in the white lab coat—I could see him in there, and I knew he could see me too, goddammit—took pity on me and came to ask what I wanted. I begged in sub-par Spanish for change. Cambio, por favor! He agreed to break my 20€ if I bought a pack of chicles. I have never been so happy to buy a pack of shitty strawberry gum.

I finally made it onto the city bus with change jangling in my pocket, and I was still early for my big bus ride to Madrid. Kristina and I found each other on the Spanish metro no problem. She gave me lots of hugs and fed me well and took me clubbing in the city to show me that I could. It was awesome. I had survived my first big adventure!

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Looking back, it’s hard to believe I was so nervous about that bus ride. I love using the Spanish bus system now. I know exactly how to order my ticket online (with PayPal, always with PayPal), I wake up excited for my trips, I chat with the older Spanish ladies in the seat next to me who want to visit New York someday. But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about that first trip to Madrid.

For the last couple weeks, it feels like I’ve been in a bit of a rut. I’m homesick, guys. I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming. I’ve been here for three and a half months. I’ve figured out the bus system and I’ve flown internationally by myself, twice. I can actually understand Spanish now (most of the time, at least). I thought I’d be at maximum comfort level by now—hitting my stride, watching the days fly by, maybe having a brief yet passionate love affair with a handsome local. I figured the last month of my study abroad experience would be exactly how study-abroad-veterans describe the whole semester: Amazing. Incredible. I would probably give my left arm to go back there.

Don’t get me wrong—so much of this semester has been amazing and incredible and worth giving a left arm for. But lately I’ve found myself wishing time away. I want to get back to my own bed and my own restaurants and my own language. I want to feel comfortable again. I feel homesick and then I feel guilty. How could I think those things when I’m lucky enough to be living in Spain and traveling every weekend? How could I want to go home when I know an adventure like this is probably never going to happen again?

I’m writing this because I have a lot of friends—both old and new—living study-abroad adventures right now. We’re spread out on different continents and eating different foods and speaking different languages, but from the conversations I’ve had over the last few weeks, it seems like a surprising number of us are feeling the same way. This is the final stretch. We’ve been uncomfortable for a long ass time. We’re close to going home, but not close enough to feel nostalgic quite yet. We might just be in a rut.

And friends, if any of you are reading this, it’s okay. It is okay. We can cry and laugh and get angry and anxious and homesick. We can stumble over our words even though we’ve been immersed in this culture for three and a half months, goddammit, and we’d hoped we’d be knock-your-socks-off-fluent by now. We can do this.

I often think of how I felt on that deserted street in late January. (I now know that the street was Camino de Ronda, and it is one of the largest and most centrally located calles in Granada.) It was terrifying, and I was pretty close to frantic, but underneath that fear there was something else too. Excitement. Courage. Adventure. Knowing that I was in charge of what came next. Feeling blind and unsure, but also confident that I could figure it out. I would figure it out. That’s the only option.

My family came to visit me in Granada this week. A piece of home came to me just when I was missing it most. (That same piece of home can’t really speak Spanish, tried to drive a rental car in world’s most un-driveable Spanish neighborhood, and locked a piece of luggage in that same rental car at the airport before their flight home, but those are all stories for another time.) Friends, I know most of you still have a few more weeks to go before your parents hug you too hard at the airport, but I think we can consider this our reset button. Today. Right now. These words, if they help.

There’s fear and anxiety and discomfort here, but there’s so much more, too. There’s the feeling that you get staring out at the sunset through your bus window, like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. You can feel it growing giddy in your chest. This is it. I am here. This is the adventure. If you stretched out your hands, your fingertips could touch around the earth.

#hannahandjulieabroad

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Hiking in Monachil, Granada. My mom grimaced all the way across that rickety bridge. (She didn’t want to cross it at all, but we called her a chicken. Works every time.)

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We did some (legal) family drinking.

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“Hey guys, this is the two-way street we tried to drive the rental car through!”

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Mom, Dad, Sar, and Kissy – thanks for the week of adventures! Love you guys more than Milka.

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Study Abroad

Homeless in Rome (Kind Of)

I returned home yesterday from a two-week Eurotrip. It began in Cork then moved on to Granada in Spain, Berlin, Thessaloniki, Athens, some Greek islands, and Rome. This trip has been a long time coming; on orientation day, my first day in Cork, we were handed a schedule for the semester and told that we essentially had the entire month of April off. I turned to my roommates and none of us knew whether to be excited or a little horrified.

What are we going to do in April? was the question that loomed overhead all semester. As it got closer and plans started to form, our nervousness turned to excitement mixed with nervousness, then to frantic anticipation, and, right before we left, blind panic. April was wide open. It was 30 days of opportunity. A chance to travel, to experience, to do whatever we wanted, really, and it all depended on what we wanted to make happen.

And damnit, did we make things happen. By the end of the two weeks, we’d become masters of the skills that you need in order to tour Europe on a study-abroad budget. We nailed down how to fit all of our belongings into one lumpy, overstuffed backpack. Room was made for souvenirs and sneakers were stuffed with underwear, but we made it through five plane rides without having to check a bag.

There’s another aspect of travel that I didn’t anticipate before this semester: problem-solving.

Our April excursion was a trip, not a vacation. We dove headfirst into complex public transportation systems, and at one point we took the metro, to a bus, to a plane, to another bus, to a taxi, to our apartment. From the time I landed in Granada, most of my brain power was going towards wrapping my head around the things I was seeing, trying to be present and appreciative and finding things to say other than, “this is fucking crazy!” But a small, pessimistic corner of my mind was also waiting for something to go wrong. I figured I wouldn’t make it through the semester without at least one goof-up to work through. I tried to not let it scare me, but to look at it as something that would make me just a little more capable. IMG_6857  IMG_6791

Granada was a perfect world where you ate this for breakfast and nothing could go wrong. Thanks for a great few days, Hann!

Granada was a perfect world where you ate this for breakfast and nothing could go wrong. Thanks for a great few days, Hann!

And when we finally came face-to-face with our goof-up, everything was okay. The Greece leg of our trip was especially travel-intensive; we stayed for only two days in each city and squeezed in a one-day boat tour of some islands. The days had settled into the routine of about 12 hours of no wifi and no phones, then 20 to 30 minutes of wifi, if we found it, when everyone’s screens were practically glued to our faces between our eyes. Someone decided, by chance, to check our hostel reservations. They didn’t match the dates of our flights.

So basically, we were homeless in Athens for one night and had booked an extra night in Rome. We all leaped into problem-solving mode, booked the extra night for our Athens hostel, and emailed the Rome hostel explaining that we’d be a day late. The mysterious Rome hostel people never got back to us. No biggie.

Hostels are always a bit of a gamble. You never quite know who you’ll be sharing a bunk bed with or whether the person at the reception desk will speak English. But when we showed up to the address for our hostel in Rome, we found ourselves looking at the door to an apartment building. No reception, just a buzzer for our room number. We looked at each other, shrugged, and buzzed. Then buzzed again. But there was no answer.

It was 2 p.m. and we were homeless in Rome. After fifteen minutes of hovering by the door we crossed the street to buy some food from a stand and make a plan. When we noticed someone walking into our building, Matt sprinted across the street to hold the door for us, so now we were at least inside. We knocked on our door, on neighbors doors, and had a few strained conversations with locals who spoke little English. Erin and Shannon got stuck in an old-timey elevator that looked like a pulley, and their screams of terror echoed down the stairwell from the top floor. A kind older woman helped them to pull the emergency lever to get the door open, but because of the language barrier they were both sure that pulling the lever would release the elevator and send them plunging to their deaths. We decided to make our escape once Erin and Shannon were free and the lady realized that the elevator was broken and it was now her problem.

So our first few hours of real “problem solving” consisted of barging into a private apartment building and making nuisances of ourselves. But as we rushed out the door, we ran into a scowling man in a leather jacket. He sized us up, six flustered American kids in sneakers and backpacks, and asked, “hostel?” He spoke little to no English, and he was pissed. He spoke to us long enough to let us know that he’d been waiting for us all day yesterday, despite our email. We followed him around the corner to a different apartment like scolded elementary school children, wincing at his short responses to our apologies and shrugging at each other.

But in the end, all that mattered was that we weren’t homeless in Rome. In especially trying situations, I like to say hey guys, it could be worse. We could be on fire! in an attempt to lighten the mood. It works to varying degrees of success. After our third time trying to call the hostel, Shannon turned and said it to me. That was when I knew that we could make it through anything, probably.

We bought slushies outside the Acropolis, but they don’t tell you that you’re not allowed to take drinks inside so we huddled together and chugged them by the entrance, stomping our feet and making brain-freeze faces. We tied sweaters around our waists to cover our knees in the Vatican. My flight to Berlin almost got cancelled because France decided to be all difficult and call in an air control strike so planes couldn’t fly over it. (Really, France?) But we also jumped into the sparkling blue Mediterranean, ate pesto in Italy, and did handstands in the park next to the track where chariot races were held in ancient Rome.

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Met up with pals in Berlin, which is a magical place where you can drink openly on the subway.

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Bein’ Olympians at the site of an original Olympic stadium

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We got lazy and spent our last day in Rome goofing around in a park and eating gelato.

Now I’m two weeks older and feeling a little more capable. I’ve made it through the hoops of security and customs at five more airports, and seen six more cities. I’m both bummed and relieved that it’s over, and so thankful that it all happened.

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Study Abroad

Together! In Europe!

Before this semester, Jules and I had never really been apart. There have been week-long stretches when one of us is on vacation, and over Christmas break I go skiing and she doesn’t. Even those hiatuses feel long. (After a weekend at home last semester, we group-hugged with our friends/soulmates Meg and Andie in the dining hall like we’d all just gotten home from war. That much love.)

But this was different. We hadn’t seen each other in three months. As I boarded my flight to Cork, I felt like I was about to be united with a long lost lover, only happier, because there wasn’t any anxiety about whether the sex was still going to be good or not.

(I knew the sex was going to be good.)

(Just kidding. Totally set myself up for that one, though. Had to.)

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I caught a glimpse of reddish hair and long limbs across the arrivals terminal, and then she was standing up and running towards me, and I was running towards her as fast as I could while also wheeling a suitcase that I bought for 12€, and then we hugged for a pretty long time. I almost cried. She almost cried. We both pretended like we weren’t almost crying and walked out of the airport—can you believe this is real? I can’t believe this is real—to find a cab.

When we got back to Julie’s apartment, I was hugged by every single one of her friends and handed a bottle of Apple Tree Cider. “This tastes like hangovers,” Jules said, “but it’s our cheapest option.” We played some very creative drinking games and ate a lot of Reese’s. (Shout out to Erin, Jen, Shannon, Matt, Zach, and Tobin: You guys rock! Thanks for being so damn friendly and good at improv.)

Jules and I eventually squeezed into her tiny, uneven, spring-covered bed. It was outrageously uncomfortable, and I felt more at home than I had in months.

The next day we did some parading around Cork.

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Then we did some parading around Cohb (pronounced “Cove”).

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Back in Cork, Jules cooked me dinner! With vegetables! (I was excited about the dinner, but even more excited about future dinners now that my roommate knows how to cook things with pesto.)

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After dinner, we went to a little bar in town with Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling. It was mostly old Irish men and us, and the hand dryer in the bathroom didn’t work. We were feverishly happy. We got to catch up—something totally foreign to us. There were all these things that we’d seen and done without each other, all this newness we had to recount. We talked about new things and old things and Europe and kindergarten and home. (And boys. When I said Europe, I really meant boys.) I drank cider and Jules drank Irish beer and made fun of me for drinking cider, and then we went home.

Posing with Jules' beer

Posing with Jules’ beer

Our last full day in Ireland, we took a bus through the Irish countryside to see the Cliffs of Moher. They were breathtaking. Jules kept trying to get as close to the edge as she possibly could, and every time she moved I had a small heart attack as I pictured her tumbling to her rocky, sea-soaked death. I mean, I love heights as much as the next guy, but people have literally died there. There are signs.

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We ran around and took a lot of giddy pictures of each other.

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IMG_4835 Jules threw this apple core off the cliff a few minutes later.

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We spit and watched our lugies drift down towards the water. (They took forever. It was awesome.)

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The day was magical. The whole week was magical. We were together in Europe. We hawked lugies and listened to Frank Turner. Part of me is still convinced it was a fever dream.

We headed to Granada the next day, but I promised I’d let Jules tell that part of the story. She’s currently in a hostel bunk bed in Athens, but she typed an impressively coherent mini-post on her iPhone that she’d like me to share next.

I picked Hannah up on Wednesday night and we might have had the most dramatic reunion ever at the airport. We spoke to each other at about 1.5x speed for the next three days, making up for lost time. We averaged two philosophical life discussions a day, and whispered a lot about God in a cathedral in Cobh. It was a religious experience, you could say.

We blinked, basically, and it was time for Spain.

You guys, I love Granada. I love the food, the cafés with orange-tree-lined patios, and the mountains peeking between all the buildings from the distance. I will always remember this city as the utopian dreamland where I spent three days, largely because I spent them with Hann.

The entire trip felt a little like I was in an alternate universe because for once, Hannah knew where she was going. I somehow let go of my knee-jerk reaction to question her navigational abilities, and I let her lead me through the shaded streets of Granada. Hannah had PLANS. She knew where we had to be, when we had to get there, and even the most efficient routes to take! It was a bizarre and relaxing experience.

She planned the trip wisely, because every place we saw only got more and more beautiful. We took a bus into Granada at night, and I marveled at the dark outlines of distant mountains. I turned to Hann with wide eyes and all she said was, “Dude, this is nothing.”

She was right. Granada in daylight is magical, featuring plazas with more trees in full bloom than you thought could ever exist in one place. Our first day we blitzed the city, and every stop was better than the last. Cathedrals, ancient tombs, palaces and beer that comes with free food. The best part was the company, though.

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Since I left Granada I’ve made stops in Thessaloniki and Athens, Greece, and we head to Rome on Wednesday! So I’ll be back the week after next (I think? I’m not sure what day it is, to be honest) with a more coherent post. But for this week I’ll leave you in Hannah’s capable hands.

So there you have it, folks. Life is better with friends who understand how terrible you are with directions.

A big thanks to our families, old friends, and new friends for making this experience what it is. Only a month and a half of study abroad adventures to go. We’re ready to keep exploring. #hannahandjulieabroad

 

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