Saturday, 28 June 2014

Russia: Moscow

 Well it's been a crazy last month since I last had time to write a post…wow! I made it safely to Russia and back home in one piece, and started work back at Maja's House on Wednesday. I'm getting back into the swing of things in the 612, most significantly, legally purchasing alcohol at East Lake Liquors. But to recap: I had my Polish exam on June 5 and celebrated one last night out in Notts with my Polish family! It was so great to see everyone and have fun before I left. June 6 I managed to (somehow) pack up my entire room aka everything I own, get to London via train, and crash at my friend's flat before repacking most of my stuff, so that I could be all set to go to Russia.

Russia was an absolutely amazing trip! To sum up, I've never felt so brave and so happy. I faced a lot of setbacks, harsh criticisms, negativity, people telling me I can't go because I'm a woman, etc. with this trip. While Russia is no place to mess around, people seemed to have this idea that since I was a woman traveling by myself, I shouldn't go to Russia—despite the fact that I have traveled by myself many, many times this year already (and had two solo trips to Eastern Europe already under my belt). Of course I appreciate the concern, since it is RUSSIA. But once I got there, it really was the same as any other trip to any other foreign country. I was always extra cautious, which maybe was unnecessary, but as a confident solo traveler my plan is always rather be safe than sorry. Russia is NOT an unsafe, scary, horrible place for tourists/women/Americans. Granted, I wasn't running around shouting USA everyday, but still. To anyone who is reading this and considering going to Russia: please go. Even with the visas. Even with all the negativity you will face. It is one of the most fascinating places I have ever been, and you will not regret it. Be smart and safe and enjoy your time.

So to go day by day of the first week of my adventures…

June 7: I got out of London to Gatwick airport, got to wait in the bag check queue for 45 minutes even though I didn't have a bag to check so that I could get my boarding pass printed, waited at the airport, waited at the gate, and then boarded my flight. Unfortunately, my Transaero flight was operated by EasyJet. For my feelings on EasyJet, please see my blog post about Paris. (Fuck EasyJet.) My flight was 3 hours and I got to Moscow Domodedovo airport a little after 9:00pm. My first impression of Russia: an airport worker lying (possibly napping) on the conveyer belt that transports the suitcases to the trucks. You know you're in Russia when… I got through the passport checks just fine and my visa cleared, turned down Cinnabon since I was tired and wanted to go to sleep, got the Aeroexpress (Аэроекспресс) train into Moscow, and successfully transferred to the right station for my hostel (Tsvetnoi Bul'var). My Russian professor once made us spend over an entire class period going over the Moscow Metro map and asking each other how to get to different stations. This is my sincere thanks to her, since seeing a Metro map I already knew was a huge relief. I managed to find my hostel (thanks to their stellar directions) going through a back path and showed up around midnight. Success! Just kidding. I had to pay in cash (rubles) of which I had like 100 (I needed like 6000 to pay for my hostel for the week) so I had to go run around Moscow at midnight by myself to find an ATM. I found an ATM, only to realize that my US debit card wasn't working aka I had no money. I was able to withdraw some of the money I needed via my UK debit card (which still had a bit of money on it), ran back to the hostel, and was able to pay for two nights, so I could at least sleep safely until I figured out my card. Since it was now past 12:30am and I was completely exhausted, I got to my bed and went to sleep.

June 8: Spent the morning trying to figure out my card—luckily my parents had been able to unblock it, which was good, since I was unable to call my bank due to the whole being-in-Russia thing. I was able to get money and buy food!!! YPA!!! I set off for Red Square, and wow. Just wow. Seeing it and finally being there…it's the stuff I've been dreaming of for years. The Kremlin, St. Basil's Cathedral, Lenin, everything…the stuff of dreams. Since I had 5 full days in Moscow (or so I thought! LOL #gettingsickwhenyou'retravelingaloneinRussiasucks) I really wanted to take my time with things and not rush anything. So this day I just went to St. Basil's Cathedral. It was amazing. The (medieval) wall paintings were incredible, I've never seen anything like it. The individual chapels were all beautiful, the towers seemed so high, wow. I got the cheapest food in Red Square aka McDonalds (Макдоналдс) and had my first ever Big Mac (Биг Мак) since I couldn't figure out which one on the menu was a double cheeseburger. I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Kremlin walls and getting sunburnt in the boiling sun. I also made my best/favorite purchase of the trip, a set of nesting dolls of the Romanov family. Greatest thing I have ever bought. The biggest one has Nicky, Alix, and Alexei on it, and then the next 4 (decreasing in size) were of Olga, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia. So wonderful! I walked back to my hostel down Tverskaya, one of the main streets, basically pretending that I was an extra in the final scene of one of my favorite Russian movies, Stilyagi (Стиляги). Had a resting period and successfully ordered food for myself in Russian.

June 9: I went to both the Kremlin (most importantly, the Armoury) and the State Historical Museum today! The Kremlin/Armoury ticket was super expensive, but sooo worth it! The Armoury was absolutely incredible. Definitely worth the extra money. First it went through a bunch of religious stuff (gospels, icons, etc.) from around the 13th century? Then it went through all these gold/silver works including…the Faberge eggs!!! The real ones!!! The ones that Nicky gave to Alix in real life! The ones I've only ever read about and only ever seen in pictures! The one with the working model of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the one with all five kids…they were there! I saw them! Definitely a highlight of my time in Moscow. They had a room of silver gifts to Russia from other countries, section on arms/weapons/horse armor, a huge selection of royal carriages, thrones and crowns/state regalia, and last but not least, clothes. Catherine the Great's wedding dress, her coronation dress, Alix's cornation dress, her shoes…wow. Wandered around the Kremlin more, saw the Grand Kremlin Palace and the three main cathedrals, as well as Ivan the Terrible's Bell Tower (here comes the cat!). The State Historical Museum was huge and a bit overwhelming, they take you through Russia's history from the Stone Age to the 1900s, so there's quite a bit to cover. The building was really interesting, since it was built in the late 1880s and each room was built and designed specifically for the exhibit that it housed. Saw my first portrait of Nicky!!! I succesfully bought a map (using my Russian #skillz) and got blini for dinner. Oh my god, I love blini. Blini all day every day. Blini for days. #datyungblinilyfe

June 10: Started my day off by seeing the man himself—V. I. Lenin. Lenin's Mausoleum is free, you just have to wait. I walked past a bunch of graves of people buried in the Kremlin walls, then go through this creepy ass dimly lit have-fun-tripping-over-your-own-feet-and-nearly-falling-down-the-stairs building to see a waxy Lenin in his tomb. Crazy to think he's been dead for 90 years!!! He looked really lifelike, I almost expected him to sit up or blink or start breathing. Walked past a bunch of other graves on the way out—Brezhnev, Stalin, Yuri Gagarin, etc., then headed to the Tretyakov State Gallery. Even though I hate art, I am SO glad I went! It wasn't very expensive and it was sooo great! There were several portraits that were highlighted in the book I was reading (Natasha's Dance by Orlando Figes, highly recommended to anyone who is interested in anything to do with Russia and Russian culture) which was awesome, they had a portrait of Nicky (!!!), AND they had the portrait of Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581, also known as one of my favorite Repin paintings due to this tumblr 'Ivan the Terrible Killing Things He Shouldn't': Walked halfway through the rain back to the hostel before I decided fuck this shit and took the metro. Blini again!

June 11: So for those people who did not have the lovely opportunity to talk to me during or immediately after my trip to Russia, I'd just like to give a notice that the next few days will be very short due to the fact that I got very sick with a UTI and several other types of infections during my time in Russia. And there is nothing that will make you feel more alone than being a single woman traveling alone in Russia and getting sick. Bonus points if you get to talk to a plethora of (Russian) men about these types of problems. I started off the day not feeling the greatest, but still went out and saw the Lubiyanka building (KGB) and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. I started to feel really not good, nauseous and a bit feverish, and headed back to the hostel. The good news is that you can buy literally anything over the counter in Russia—the only thing you need a prescription for are controlled substances. I was able to get antibiotics after a great conversation at the apteka (pharmacy) with a man who spoke English and was trying to help me out, and once I told him what I had, he awkwardly laughed and said 'oh I'm so embarrassed.' You're embarrassed? YOU'RE embarrassed?? Dear everyone: if you can avoid getting sick in Russia, please do so.

June 12: I spent most of the day lying in bed resting, since I just wasn't able to get up and go do things. I was able to get to the minimart for food and water, and got myself to my blini place for dinner—breakfast blini this time, aka blini with bacon, egg, and cheese. Three of my favorite things, all together!!!

June 13: I was hoping I would feel better this day, as I had a 7 hour train ride to St. Petersburg. I did not feel better. However, I was able to get sufficient train food and embarked upon my horribly shitty trip. I made it to St. Petersburg, alive, only to get off the train and they were playing some Soviet-esque heroes welcome song, which did not make me feel better considering that my family wasn't there/no one was waiting for me, and only served to remind me that I was sick and alone in Russia. #спасибоРоссия I was able to get to my hostel in one piece, after a half-hour walk down Nevskii Prospekt (!!!!) and check in. Then I had the chills so bad I was unable to get out of bed for the rest of the night. Again, if you can avoid getting sick when you're a single woman traveling alone in Russia, do it.

I'm going to cut my post off at the half-way point of my trip because 1. It's a nice stopping point and 2. I really want to take a shower right now! For the record, I am feeling better since (spoiler alert!) I was able to get new medications in St. Petersburg that helped. Writing this post has made me super nostalgic (minus the sick and in pain part), since Russia really was the trip of all my dreams. I got to do and see so many things I've only ever read about or dreamed about! And I got to use my Russian in real life situations, which, considering it's my minor and everything, I think is pretty cool. Next post to come soon!

Red Square
St. Basil's Cathedral
Kremlin walls
Grand Kremlin Palace
inside the Kremlin
Ivan the Terrible Bell Tower
graves along the Kremlin walls

my favorite Repin painting in real life!!
Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Road Tripping

 Well the end is in sight…tomorrow I have my last exam, Friday I move out of the flat, and Saturday I’m headed to Russia!!! I can’t believe how fast the time is going now, it’s crazy. Things at the flat are both quiet and hectic—half of us are gone and back home now, so it alternates between flurries of activity before exams and packing and absolutely nothing. So weird. To quote a song my sister and I wrote, “I hate change, I hate change, I love normalcy!” I have a second to breathe in-between this crazy week of road tripping around England and managing to plan, write, and turn in my big essay. So this is my road trip with Adam! (#biiiiiiitches)

I went back to Sandbach with Adam on Wednesday (May 28) and got to see the pub he worked in, which is super nice and has priest holes from when they used the place to hide priests! What! Then we managed to find our way back to Notts even though Adam is severely directionally challenged (this will be a common theme in the trip).

May 29: We were up bright and early and headed to Leicester, which, by the way, is the worst place on earth. Don’t even go there. First of all, we drove into the city on the road that, in January, Bob made us get off the bus and walk around even though it was raining and all the shops were closed. And then, it was just fucking Leicester. We were able to find the Cathedral, which was really nice. I made notecards for Adam so that he would know the historical signifcance of all the places I was dragging him to, so this one focused mainly on Richard III. Just a few days ago (May 24), they announced that Richard III will indeed be buried in Leicester Cathedral, a decision that has me fuming mainly because he’ll be interred in Spring 2015 instead of Spring 2014, and I had obviously been planning on going to his grave once he was buried. #unamused They have a (free) museum on Richard III and I was able to peek into the excavation site, which was really cool! Also saw the Guildhall, one of the best 15th century guildhalls in England. Then, possibly the highlight of the trip and literally the ONLY reason to go to Leicester: Cinnabon. I had converted Adam to Cinnabon back in Wroclaw, and after finding out that there’s one in Leicester, we obviously planned our road trip around that. It was delicious, and definitely Leicester’s only redeeming quality.

“Leicester: where people go to die.”

After we spend for fucking ever getting lost, driving around the same roundabout several times, driving on the wrong highway, etc. we finally made it out of Leicester (fucking Leicester) and about 2 hours later we were in Gloucester. Gloucester Cathedral was the last big cathedral on my cathedral list this year, and so I am very happy to say that I completed my list and went to all the major ones that I wanted to see! Gloucester was absolutely beautiful, really big round pillars and it had the tomb of Edward II. More importantly, the cloisters (with the oldest fan vaulting ceiling in England, I believe!) were used in filming Harry Potter 1, 2, and 6!!! Not only was it where Harry and Ron see the troll on Halloween, where the Fat Lady’s portrait hung in front of the Gryffindor Common Room, and where “The chamber of secrets has been opened, enemies of the heir beware” was written on the wall, but it was also where Snape tries to find out Malfoy’s plan of killing Dumbledore! Being there was magical :)

Sudeley Castle was our next stop, and after many struggles, wrong turns, wrong highways, getting rid of our google maps directions because they were absolute bullshit, we made it through the village of Winchcombe and to the castle. It was a beautiful day, and the castle was really nice! They had a TON of portraits of my people, which was absolutely awesome. Portraits that I had never even seen before! I love it when that happens. It’s always a good time when I see a new Tudor portrait. The main reason I wanted to go to Sudeley Castle was because Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr, is buried in the chapel there. I got to see her grave, which means I’ve been to the graves of ALL of Henry VIII’s six wives this year!!! Holla! We spent about quite a bit of time getting lost on single-lane country roads in the middle of bum fuck nowhere trying to get to Hailes Abbey, and when we did finally make it there, it was closed. But we saw a fair part of the ruins from a public footpath, and then got to see Hailes Church (c. 1175) which was a really small, sweet, and quaint little place. The Cotswolds really are a beautiful place, so perfect and so English with fantastic scenery. It was at this point that I started using my new favorite thing ever, the atlas. I am such a map nerd, and so I had an awesome time figuring out routes for us on the atlas. We eventually made it back to Cheltenham and then, since my kebab senses never serve me wrong, we got kebabs.

May 30: After taking the scenic route out of Cheltenham (aka getting lost) we rolled up to Tewkesbury and I got to go to the abbey! Tewkesbury Abbey is a damn nice abbey, round Norman pillars, AND (as I found out once I got there) also the final resting place of George, Duke of Clarence (of “drowning in malmsey wine” fame) and his wife, Isabel Neville. I LOVE surprises like that!!! It was great. There were a bunch of old ladies cleaning in the abbey and they pointed a lot of stuff out to us, which was really sweet. Our next stop was a spontaneous one: Cirencester. They have a cup that belonged to Anne Boleyn there, so obviously I had to go there. We saw a grassed over Roman amphitheater, and then I found us a badass free parking spot and we went to St. John the Baptist Church. Besides having Anne Boleyn’s Cup (it was a really nice cup, to be fair), they also have one of the best pre-Reformation pulpits left in England! Hollllla! Cirencester is a really cute town, and they were having a big market day on the day we were there.

Thanks to my best friend the atlas and several country roads in the middle of nowhere, we got onto the A40 and got gas in Shipton, which I will forever hold fond memories of since we were literally running out of gas, and Shipton had the cheapest gas we saw all day. We made it to Blenheim Palace, which is where Winston Churchill was born. It is beautiful and big, and had a great exhibit on Churchill. He really was a such an interesting man. I cried a ton and I got to see the room where he was born. The rest of the state rooms were nice, but not as cool. We walked around the gardens, saw the Column of Victory (Battle of Blenheim 1704), saw where Churchill proposed to his wife Clemmie, and the waterfall. It wasn’t the best day (cloudy and a bit chilly) but it wasn’t raining, so the weather was therefore great. Even though I’m technically not allowed to drive in the UK, Adam let me drive his car and I had a very successful victory lap around the Blenheim Palace car park. Despite the fact that I hadn’t driven in 9 months, hadn’t driven a stickshift since the Saturn (RIP) in October 2010, had to drive on the wrong side of the road, and (worst of all) had to drive on the opposite side of the car aka change gears with the wrong hand. So crazy and so scary but I loved it!

Our next stop was the town of Bladon, to see Churchill’s grave in the yard of St. Michael’s Church. It really meant a lot for me to finally be able to go there—I am a huge fan of Churchill, and in general think he was one of the greatest leaders our world has ever seen. It was really touching, that he was buried so privately and inconspicuously with his family. We got back in the car and hit horrendous traffic until I used my atlas skillz and took us on a different route via the town of Fritwell, stopped at a McDonalds on the way, and then drove back to (I shudder to even type it) Leicester. Here’s what happened: Adam stopped at a stoplight near Highcross shopping center, I jumped out of the car, ran down a street, through a parking ramp, across the entire fucking mall, and then ordered our 4 for £10 Cinnabon, where I had to wait 8 minutes for them to get out of the oven whilst I stood there panting due to my run, chatted with the guy and told him how far I came for Cinnabon and ended up getting free frosting, then ran back across the mall, parking ramp, and down some sketch street that Adam had parked at. It was awesome. AND free frosting!!! #thegoodlife Adam got me back to Notts and Kula and I went to Ocean for our last time, which was so much fun but hot and sweaty. I will miss it so much!

May 31/June 1/June 2: I finished my reading for my essay, wrote an outline, wrote 2980 words, and then turned it in. Can I get a what what?!??!?!?!?!?!? For sure the fastest I’ve ever done an essay, and it definitely wasn’t as shitty as I was expecting! If anyone wants to know about the impoverished state of the Church of England from 1558-1640, let me know.

June 3: Adam, for some reason, was willing to take me to Peterborough, so we got in the car, he gave me the atlas, and we took one last trip so I could say goodbye to my girl, Katherine of Aragon. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get back to Peterborough before I left England, and I’m so, so glad I was able to. Peterborough is one of the most important places in the world to me, and it was important for me to go and say my goodbyes. In terms of saying goodbye to England, Peterborough and Katherine were the first ones. It was hard, but I’m happy I could go. I bought these beautiful orange-red roses for her grave, which were perfect since they were just about the colors of Spain. It made me feel a lot better, that I had the chance to say a proper goodbye.

Peterborough was originally the only stop on our trip, but when I saw that Fotheringhay was so close, Adam agreed to drive on more winding single lane country roads to get me there. Fotheringhay Castle was the birthplace of Richard III and the site of Mary Queen of Scots’ execution, and Richard, Duke of York (Richard III’s father) and Edmund (Richard III’s brother) are all buried in Fotheringhay Church. It was a really nice church, beautiful pre-Reformation pulpit (I’ve just been pulpit hopping across England) and a nice window with the crests of various Yorkists. We found the path to the castle site (nothing from the castle is left, except a nice castle mound) and we had fun dodging around sheep to climb to the top for superb views of Fotheringhay and the surrounding countryside. It was so perfect, so English, and quintessentially everything I love about England.

I should also make a side note: on our way back to Notts (we unfortunately had to pass through Grantham, “where people from Leicester go on holiday”) we took a detour to go through the village/whatever you call something smaller than a village (it was 3 houses) of Bitchfield. Yes, I went to Bitchfield. It was bitching.

I should probably start studying for my exam now, considering that I have 19 hours until I have to take it and I don’t know any Polish and don’t remember anything! Time is going so fast now! By Saturday I’ll be in Russia, which doesn’t even seem real. I am so excited though, it has been my dream for so long. I’m not sure if I’ll have time to do another post before I leave, so… до свидания!

Leicester Cathedral
Gloucester Cathedral

Sudeley Castle
Katherine Parr's grave
Tewkesbury Abbey
Anne Boleyn's Cup in Cirencester
Blenheim Palace
Finally made it to Churchill's grave :)
Picture of the picture of the picture of the picture at Peterborough

It was a nice castle mound

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Back in England + Croatia

Well, I am finally back home after a great road trip around England and as of an hour ago I finally finished my big essay! Fuck yeah!!!! YEAH SON!!!!! Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitches!!!!!!! Seriously, I feel so relieved right now. I picked a question, did all the reading, and wrote the 3000 word paper in less than 5 days (including yesterday where I literally sat at the kitchen table and did the reading, made an outline, and wrote half of the essay) sporadically spread out since I got back from spring break which is way less time than I would normally take at Luther. And it wasn’t even as shitty as I thought it would end up being! I for sure passed, which is all that matters. 42.

So trying to catch up on everything since spring break, here are the highlights from being in England pre-Croatia:
-Polish Oral Exam: I woke up on Tuesday at noon after getting in at 4:30am and had approximately 24 hours until my Polish exam to study. All of us got together and studied for a couple hours before the exam on Wednesday (May 14), and the exam itself wasn’t too bad. The first part was a little bullshit since it was making up a conversation in Polish (which isn’t what we were expecting), but my group nailed the part with the conversation that we prepared. And in the end, World of Drinks is on my way to switch buses to go home anyway…
-Program Dinner: Friday (May 16) we figured out that everyone in the program would be in Nottingham for the extended period of almost 36 hours, so Bob and Marilynn organized a semi-impromptu program dinner for us. Kaia got back to the flat from Paris at 6:05pm, and the cabs left for the pub at 6:45. We ate great food at a great pub and shared a last few moments all together. Bob had printed out the essays that we wrote for our Nottingham Program application (over a year and a half ago!) and read a line from each of them, and we guessed which essay was which person’s. It was really fun to get dressed up and spend time together with everyone.
-Cigar Garden Party: Also known as the 2014 Cigarden Party, Bob and Bob’s Friends (Kula and myself) threw a cigar party (with decorations from Poundland!) for everyone in Bob and Marilynn’s backyard. We had cake for Sarah’s birthday, wine and cheese, cigars and whiskey. Perfection. Kula and I were the perfect hosts It was so nice to be together with everyone and hang out and laugh and smoke cigars and appreciate the last few days that we all have left together. Bob’s Friends had a great time hosting and we can’t wait for the next one!
-Pretending to work on my essay: I picked my question, checked out some books from the library, and then procrastinated actually doing anything about it until I got back from Croatia.

Pre-program dinner pictures
Bob's Friends Cigarden Party
Bob and Bob's Friends
Okay so Croatia!!! This trip was probably one of the best of my entire year so far. I have fallen so, so in love with the country. If you haven’t been to Croatia yet, please, go immediately. It was so beautiful—just an entirely different type of beautiful I had ever experienced. The water was so blue and so clear, the hills and cliffs green, the roofs in the city orange and everything was amazing. More than anything, it was a wonderful last trip before I got back home. I know I still have Russia left (!!!) but that trip is so different—longer, more intimidating, bigger, etc. This was the last “weekend” trip I’ll go on this year where I just jet off to another country and spend a wonderful few days immersing myself in another place and its culture. So here goes:

May 18: My journey to Croatia was a bit of a shit show, due to waking up at 3:50am and me reading the bus schedule for Mon-Fri and not Sunday, and showing up to the bus station and having no bus there. Unfortunately, I had to take a cab to East Midlands Airport (it was so expensive that if I type it I will cry and want to die) in order to catch my 6:45am flight. I’m glad I did though, since I never would have made it through in time for my flight if I had waited for the bus. Flying into the Dubrovnik airport was amazing, and got the airport bus to Old Town and (thanks to the very specific directions from my hostel website) dropped off my stuff. I hung out at this cliffside bar right on the ocean, but I sat on some rocks right by the water so that I didn’t have to pay for a drink. It was just so beautiful, being right next to the water and just taking in the sights. I wandered around Old Town and then got out of Pile Gate and stumbled on this amazing rocky cliff and went hiking around there for some awesome views. I took a resting period at my hostel (after I made my way back through the hordes of tourists), before another walk outside of Ploće Gate and the best decision of my life: ice cream. I have found the best ice cream place in Europe, I repeat: I HAVE FOUND THE BEST ICE CREAM PLACE IN EUROPE. The ice cream (gelato style) is delicious, super smooth and creamy texture, but more than anything it was the value for the money that impressed me the most. For 10 kuna (almost $2) you got this GIANT scoop that nearly overflowed the cone. It was amazing. I went back every night that I was in Dubrovnik.


May 19: I woke up pretty early since I wanted to start walking the City Walls before all the other tourists! I’m really glad I did though, since at the beginning I was literally the ONLY person in my section, and by the end there were big tour groups starting to go through. The views were incredible, and it was so much fun to poke around all the fortresses and inlets and stuff. I sat by the bay and then saw both the Franciscan and Dominican Monasteries. Next stop: beach!!! It was a bit chilly, kind of cloudy and the water was super fucking cold, but I’m from MN and I can handle anything. BUT the important thing is that I swam in the Adriatic Sea for the first time!!! Soooo amazing! The water is so clear, it looks so shallow since you can actually see the bottom but it’s not at all. I had a nice long shower, hot dog/beer combo, and then back to Europe’s Best Ice Cream Place and got caramel, one of the better decisions I’ve made culinarily.

Walking the City Walls

Ladies and Gentlemen: May I present The Best Ice Cream In Europe
Best ice cream ever
 May 20: This was my favorite day of the trip and one of the best days I’ve had so far this year. I had a leisurely morning and saw the cathedral before getting the ferry to Lokrum, which is the island nearest to the mainland. It’s a nature reserve, so I got off the boat and there were peacocks everywhere. I wandered around one part of the island, before I found the Dead Sea, which is this inlet on the island where I went swimming. I have no idea why they call it that, since it’s not like you can float or anything, but whatever. I shared the rocks with a group of Irish people and peacocks, who kept trying to steal my food. And after I saw the two Irish guys do it, I decided to go for it and… I went cliff jumping for the first time in my life!!!!! I’ve never done it before since I’ve always been too scared, but I was in Croatia and I just thought I’m in Croatia I might as well do it. It was awesome and SO much fun! I cliff jumped twice :) After that I explored the ruins of the old monastery, then hiked up this giantass hill to Fort Royal, where I climbed on top of the roof of the fort and sat in one of these sketch lawn chairs that they had up there. The views were incredible, something I’ve never seen before and never experienced. I sat up there for about 1.5 hours, just soaking it all in. For about a solid 40 minute period I was the only one up on the fort, and I was literally on top of the world. It was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life. I eventually got down, hiked back to the ferry, had a quick dip in the Adriatic Sea (what I thought would be my last one!) and then got back to the mainland. The perfect way to top off the day? I went to my ice cream place and, after deciding that my first ice cream wasn’t enough, went back for seconds and the guy gave me my second ice cream for free. There are no words to describe it. The most amazing ice cream ever, for free. I didn’t even have to use my AK, I had to say it was a good day.

Peacocks at Lokrum
Cliffjumping for the first time ever!!!
On top of the world

My lawn chairs on top of the roof
May 21: Woke up at 5:45am, got my shit together, got the bus to the bus station, and then got my 7:15am bus to Split. The bus ride was something else—for the first hour or so we were driving right along the coast, with the sea on one side and the hills/mountains/cliffs on the other side. I cried for a while, thinking about how beautiful it all was, how lucky I am that I get to experience it, and how this trip was the perfect way to end this amazing year for me. I got to Split and dropped my stuff off at the hostel and explored the city! It used to be the siteof the Diocletian’s Palace during Roman times, and they still have tons of buildings and stuff left over. Really cool to be in a place that’s so old. I sat on some steps near the cathedral and did some quality people watching, and made friends with two Roman soldiers who gave me free strawberries and who I chatted with for almost another hour. Then I headed out of Old Town and up to the edge of the big (national?) park for a great lookout point over the whole city. Shower and resting period before doublefisting two huge pizza slices, ice cream, and then going to bed early for some decent sleep.

Roman stuff in Split
My bffs who gave me free strawberries

May 22: I got the 9:00am bus to Zadar, which took a bit longer than I was expecting due to the fact that in Croatia they pick up and drop people off at random places on the side of the road in addition to the main bus stations. I made it to the hostel, which was a super nice place—I’m sad I only had one night there. I took the coastal walk to the Old Town, which was beautiful. There were lots of Roman stuff in Zadar too, like Split but just less. I saw the sea organ and then on my way back to the hostel I stopped in a grocery store where, to my great surprise and joy, they were playing Remix to Ignition by R. Kelly!!!! (If you didn’t have a reason to go to Croatia before this sentence, grocery stores in Croatia play my jam! Go immediately!) I changed at my hostel and then spent the next 3 hours on some rocks, swimming in the sea and appreciating the beautiful views of the sea and sky, and not appreciating the views of 65 year old Croatian men in Speedos. I packed up and got ice cream (really disappointing after Dubrovnik, but really everything will be), then headed to this café bar called Tequila Sunrise, where I got a jug of beer and watched the sun slowly slide into the ocean. It was perfection. I hung out with people in the hostel that night, playing Cards Against Humanity and chatting before getting to bed at a decent time.

Coastal walk
Sea organ in Zadar
Absolute perfection
May 23: Slept in (finally!!!), checked out, got the bus to the airport, waited at the airport (Zadar airport is, by the way, fucking tiny and boring) and got on my slightly delayed flight to Manchester. My last Ryanair flight! I miss them so much already. My love for them has never wavered. I was trying to get back as soon as possible, because I had time before my train left for Notts and I wanted to go to Taco Bell. At first it seemed like everything was getting in my way: our plane from Zadar was late in arriving, we were late in boarding, it was raining in Manchester so we had to fly around for 10 minutes before landing, none of the gates were open so we had to sit off the runway for 5 minutes, everyone was being fucking slow getting off the plane, one of the automatic doors locked and all of us were stuck in a hallway, the people in front of me in the All Other Passports line were also slow as fuck, people were in my way on the pedestrian walkway to the train station, I had to let the ticket guy use my machine at the train station, my train to Manchester seemed to take forever, but, despite all these adversaries and setbacks, despite the world trying to stop me, I made it to Taco Bell. Hi can I have 5 bean burritos please? were my first words to the Taco Bell employee (2 for right now, 1 train burrito, 2 for tomorrow). My friend Adam was passing through Manchester so I showed him the glory that is a bean burrito from Taco Bell and took the train back with him. I enjoyed my train burrito and the next day I enjoyed my next-day burritos even more. Nothing, and no one, can ever stop me from getting Taco Bell.

Proof of our reunion :)
So all in all, Croatia was one of the most beautiful and amazing places I’ve ever been. It made me so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had this year, and it was the absolute perfect goodbye trip to this year abroad. Sitting on the lawn chair at Lokrum on top of the world is a moment I’ll never forget. And seriously, everyone please go to Croatia now!

Okay now that this blog post is over I can continue with my post-paper-dance-party. I’m almost all caught up now, the next post about my road trip will be coming soon!