Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Unexpected plans in Germany

Well, I cannot believe I am telling everyone this. We always joked about me staying somewhere in Europe for a while, but I never thought it would actually happen.

I was offered a position as a nanny with a family in Germany. There are four children, Kenny, 11 Tyrel, 9 Israel, 4 and Isaiah, 2. I have spent since Friday with them up in a ski resort spending vacation time with them. Yvonne home schools her children, but needs someone to look after the two youngest ones while she is schooling the older ones. Also to be able to run errands, go to the gym, etc. Ray is in the Army and is stationed in Iraq for the third time so this is when she especially needs help. I have really enjoyed them so far and I think it will be an incredible experience for the next year. I have to learn German while Im here, as that is how a work visa works for a nanny in Germany. You have to take a basic skills of German language test after three months of being in the country and then you can stay as a nanny for up to 2 years. However I dont plan on being here for that long, just up to 1 year.

I will miss everyone terrible, as I already do. Ive begun to feel a bit homesick already. My friend Jason in Pisa was talking with me on the phone the other day and he said its probably due to the fact that its sinking in that I wont be home for a year. I really cant wait to be off vacation and get into a work routine.

I would like to keep in touch with everyone as much as possible and it should be easier since I wont be on vacation all the time anymore and will have more time to sit down and email. For those of you who dont know it, my email address is alexisjlong@hotmail.com. I welcome any emails from everyone and will do my best to reply quickly! Also, my cell number is 01737734124, for those of you who feel brave enough to make an international phone call. I will use skype to make most of my phone calls since its cheaper for me that way but I can receive phone calls from this cell and it doesnt cost me anything...just an arm and a leg for you!

I love you all so much and have appreciated all the support you have given me throughout this trip, and for those of you who have been involved in my life so much, I appreciate you being there for me as much as you have.

I look forward to hearing from you through emails and phone calls!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Enjoying a lovely latte outside a cafe in London
Luke and I out in Central London the night before I left London
Piccadilly Circus
The London Eye

In the Land of the Leprechauns!

Wow, Ireland really is beautiful and green like they say! From what I'm told, it's actually not nearly as green as it gets in the summer, but from a girl who comes from southern Idaho... it's definitely green!

I spent the weekend with a family friend, of whom I had only previously remembered meeting three of this seven member family.  They lived in Ephrata for about seven years and left when I was four.  It was such a nice time!  They live in Dungannon, which is just a small town kind of off the beaten trail a bit.  They drove me around, giving me bits of history about the areas we were seeing and whatnot.  And they knew from my grandma that I am originally vegan (as most of you know, I tried to keep it just vegetarian for while I was traveling.  It's too difficult to have such strict dietary rules when you're traveling... I'm lazy :) ) so I got to enjoy vegan food for two days!  Oh how I loved it.....  Clive (the dad of the family) is a pastor of several churches so I had to opportunity to go to church with them, which was lovely.

On Monday I met up with Luke in Belfast.  He's on midterm break from teaching and decided to head to Ireland for the week!  We spent the first two nights in a hostel called "The Linen House."  I don't think I've been to a more dodgy hostel.  Kind of dark, the staff was a bit unfriendly.... and I swear there was mold everywhere!  There were nice wood floors in the rooms, but after looking around a bit one time, I noticed there was a whole in the floor.  But...... this is the life of poor teachers and students.  And we had it to ourselves, so that was a bonus!  You never know who you might meet at the hostels.... :).  

We toured around all the Northern Ireland area on Tuesday.  We took a tour bus that went to Derry, the Giants Causeway, and just kind of drove around a good portion of Northern Ireland.  It took up the entire day just driving around to those areas, but it was so worth it!  In Derry we took a walking tour and learned a great deal about all the political stuff that went on for years until just recently.  The guy who was guiding us had been heavily involved in it as well, so we really got a lot of information from someone who had actually been there and knew what it was like.

The Giants Causeway was beautiful because it was along the coast and you have all these awesome rocks all over the place!  I loved it!  We had lunch there as well, and that was nice after working up such an appetite hiking around the rocks and such.  Some nice Irish stew.... without the meat :)  

The next morning we got up and decided to head as south as possible and get along the coast.  We ended up at a little town called Tramore, where we had booked the only hostel in the place and ended up staying in a B&B!  It's about the most luxurious place either one of us has stayed during our entire time that we've been traveling, so over a month.  It's so nice to have you're own room and bathroom that no one else is in.  I've enjoyed traveling and the hostels and staying with the boys on base and at Lauren's house and everything but it's nice to just have a quiet room to yourself once in a while!  The coast is beautiful here and the air is wonderful.. it feels so nice and clean and fresh!  

If only we could live life at the coast of Ireland forever.. :) 

Friday, February 13, 2009

Rome Pictures

Pretty terrible picture of us, but this is the fountain that you are supposed to throw coins into.  I cant remember what it's called at the moment though.
Vatican City
These water fountains are everywhere, you just have to go through a series of exercises to get to the water!
My touristy Colosseum photo
Some boys playing soccer in the park

Finally figured out how to upload pictures!

Here are some photos from Barcelona.  I'll get some of Rome and Pisa up too.

Too many cities in too short of time!

It has been a ridiculous week and a half!  I apologize for not updating anyone sooner, but there simply has been no time!

Barcelona was not planned into my trip whatsoever (although, what actually has been planned? Things have been changing at the drop of a hat nearly every day!)  The night before we (Lauren and I) left we were chatting with out friends in Pisa from the Air Force.  I was telling them how I absolutely had to see Rome before I left.  I could not live with myself being so close and not going to see it (I guess that was one thing I actually made a plan to do :) ).  So he suggested we take the train on Saturday to Pisa, leave Sunday morning for Rome and spend the day there.  Sounds like a great plan, yes?  Now let's consider that we get  back from Barcelona Saturday evening around 6:00p.m.  Jason finds a train that leaves at 8:50p.m. and we decide that this sounds like a grand idea and we'll see him on Saturday.  

Oh good grief.

Spain was great!  The weather was quite warm (at least it felt like it when compared to London on a good day) and we went to a Tapas bar, which is pretty much a nice appetizer/cocktail bar.  Very delicious!  However, the cost for a place like this adds up rather quickly because you think, "oh these are only 4 euros, no big deal" and you buy 5 of them.  Not to mention the price of drinks as well, even water.  Pretty much I decided this was going to be my only nice meal for the rest of Spain.  Oranges and bread sound pretty good to me!

When spending the day sightseeing, it was extremely frustrating trying to get around the downtown area.  It reminded me a lot of London, with it's curvy roads that seem to make absolutely no sense.  The difference between London and Barcelona, though is that I can speak English, so I don't mind just wandering around getting lost in London.  You don't really want to do that in Barcelona.  We also didn't have as much time (only a day) to see everything, where I had a week and a half to roam around London.  The map was horrible as well!  We had a pretty seasoned map reader with us and she was having such a difficult time!  But we did end up getting to see pretty much all there was to see, and all that we wanted the see.  There is a lot of Gaudi architecture in Barcelona which is just nearly the coolest, most unique looking works of art.  The Cathedrals are incredible as well, however they were under renovation, so it was difficult to see everything.

I once wrote a blog on how familiarity tends to be a comfort to us.  How finding someone who lives in Idaho while you're traveling around other parts of the states suddenly makes you feel as though you're best friends, and how seeing familiar license plates and businesses just make you want to take that car or building, scoop it up, and give it a great big hug.  We experience this in Barcelona with Starbucks.  Now, as the manager of  Moxie Java Tuscany, I really shouldn't be admitting to how much I was so pleased to find one of these.  But there are none in Italy!  While I have enjoyed every single second of this adventure, there are times when something familiar (Like the English language, perhaps?) is sooooooo welcoming.  I enjoyed that tall soy chai with every fiber of my being.

We have an hour and a half to get ready(this includes showers, hair, make-up, repack) get phone minutes, take a trip to the store, then get back to the train station, which requires a walk to the metro station and a little ride.  And we did it!  We didn't realize, but somehow we ended up on sleeper cars.  Wow, never doing that again.  Tiny room with 4 old, large Italian men all sleeping.... it felt as though we were in a sauna.  They were relatively friendly though, and not obnoxious like the others we encountered.  Lauren was having quite the conversation with them, in fact!  We were sooo thankful when we got there though... At 1:00 a.m.

And then Rome in the morning.  We had to leave pretty early because it's a 3 hour drive to get there from Pisa.  We decided that pretty much everyone ended up with about 3-4 hours of sleep (not including the "pretend sleep" Lauren and I had on the train).  Once we got there, it was immediate site seeing everywhere.  I can't even name to you everything I saw.  It was beautiful though!  So green, and all these old ruins everywhere.  The Colosseum was incredible.  I felt pretty cool standing right inside it!  To imagine that it was actually used constantly thousands of years ago, and it was still there so I can stand in it!  The Vatican was breathtaking.  There are simply no words, and pictures could never do it justice.  All I wanted to do was stand and slowly turn so I could see absolutely everything.  

Apparently my body decided it didn't appreciate being shoved too and fro at ridiculous speeds, so I ended up getting sick that night.  I figured it would have been a cold, but no, just some terrible flu.  Of course I didn't end up stopping.  I did on Monday, since Jason worked all day and we weren't leaving until the evening to go to Torino.  But we had an All That Remains concert in Milan Tuesday night that I could not miss out on!  Probably a really dumb idea, but it was soo worth it.

What's really weird about American bands having concerts in Italy is they end up playing in fairly small venues and not many people come.  What I found slightly humorous was all these people looked like emo kids from Twin (not being said in a rude manner, just trying to explain) but the second they open their mouths, definitely not from Twin Falls.  When we asked about tickets, this wonderful British guy went to ask and when they found out we were American, they just put us on the guest list!  And once ATR was on, I was seriously right up in the front at the stage with the lead singer standing no more than a foot away (probably more like inches) grabbing my hand and letting me sing!  It was an incredible concert, to say the least!

Now I've basically just been trying to rest up and get better before I head to Ireland for a while.  I'm so excited to go!  And I will so appreciate people who speak English much more than I ever did before.  

I know I told a lot of people I was going to try to send out postcards, but it's just not going to happen for most of you.  I apologize, I've just had no time to do it.  I have bought a lot with good intentions!  

Now it's time for a nap :).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Non parle Italiano part duo

I apologize for the abrupt end to the last blog.  I was suddenly informed that I had to leave right that moment, with no chance to finish what I was writing.

In continuation.. so we saw the Duomo, and the rest of Florence for that matter.  It was beautiful and I loved it.  The rest of the evening was spent in purchasing my first taste of gellato (pistacchio and tiramisu) and celebrating Lauren and I's 20th birthday all over Florence and Livorno.  It was an excellent evening.  Lauren ended up purchasing several euro's worth of pastries while we were sitting at a bar/bakery along the beach.. it was quite wonderful.  I definitely enjoyed my birthday to it's full extent.

As a side note, you should know that nearly any cafe, restaurant, bakery, etc is basically a bar as well.  For Europeans, drinking really seems to be a part of their culture.  Like the British, where they have pubs, these people have cafes.  And alcohol is everywhere, but as I think said before it doesn't seem as though they have the alcoholism problems the Americans have.  Also, children do not get ridiculous when they end up drinking simply because this is their culture and it isn't as big of a deal as the U.S. makes it.  

The next day was the Super Bowl, and considering I was on an American military base, of course we are going to have a party for it.  The only issue was, for us here in Pisa, it didn't start until midnight!  But we definitely made up for the time.  It was fun because most of these people were older than myself and it made me a lot more comfortable than those whom are my own age and having a party.  We played poker, and I actually stayed in for quite some time!  I was awfully proud of myself.  We spent the evening just hanging out and bull shitting for the entire evening, not going home until the wee hours of the morning.  It was quite nice, and just a bit of a taste of America right in the middle of Italy.  While this was what I was attempting to get away from, I did enjoy it.

The train ride back to Torino was ridiculous.  Six hours, but only because that was the cheapest one I could find.  This was the first time I had taken such a long train ride on my own.  I discovered that these are not necessarily the safest places to be, and not to sit where no one else can see you.  Italian men are ruthless!  They seem to have no boundaries whatsoever and it's a good thing I have no problem getting up and walking away.  Or smacking the man.  Good grief.

Today I spent time walking around Lauren's apartment.  I also felt the need to do some sort of exercise, since I spent the entire weekend doing nothing but consuming solids and liquids!  It really is frustrating to not know how to communicate with the majority of people around you.  At times I feel that all I want to do is hide in apartment and not go anywhere.  But I know that this is not the point of the trip and refuse to have spent the money to get here and only hide out.  I went to a supermarket today, and even with British supermarkets they were more difficult than what you would find in the U.S. until you get used to their system.  But good grief, let's add a language barrier.  I had forgotten that when you buy produce you had to place it on a scale and put a little sticker on there.  I felt bad because the woman was asking me how much they weighed and I didn't know how to tell her, so she got up and took care of it herself.  Ahhhhh....... at least I know how to say "I'm sorry" and "Thank you."  Now I'm safe at home, cooking up the pasta I bought trying to get some food into me in order to have more energy to go out and do more exploring!

As a good deal of you may know, I really enjoy red wine.  Of course, it's difficult to get a good red wine without it costing an arm and a leg.  Today I bought a bottle for just under 3 euros, which is probably around $4 or $5 and it's better than bottle's I've had that cost four or five times that!  I was told it was like this here, but I didn't believe it until I had actually experienced it.

It is difficult for me to think of coming back.  It's not that I'm having the vacation experience of a lifetime, because half the time I don't even do the "tourist" kinds of things.  I just enjoy experiencing the culture, soaking it all in.  Half the time I think I just don't belong where I'm at right now, that I can definitely fit in but that eventually I am meant to move on to greater places.  I have realized a lot, and gone through a great deal of experiences that have made me come to more clear conclusions about who I am and what I require from life, what choices I need to make.  I know right this second that I could never spend the rest of my life in the U.S. in one place.  Perhaps eventually, but I have got to spend time traveling and seeing the world.  I need the constant influx of new experiences, of places where I'm uncomfortable to make me an even more educated and open individual.  

Just as a quick ending note, I'm headed to Barcelona, Spain tomorrow and will be back on Saturday.  Lauren and a few of her friends are going, so I decided to just go on ahead with them.  I appreciate all the support everyone has been sending!  Miss you all!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Non parle Italiano

I never realized how difficult it would be to travel in a place that doesn't speak English as it's native language.  It's a good thing I've been with Lauren so far, who is only a beginner but a lot better at speaking Italian than I am.  I feel as though I need a crash course...  However, I have learned a few phrases in order to get me by.  And thanks to Zeb, I have a book that is basically survival Italian.  I have learned now though; definitely try to learn a bit of the language before you get there!

Arrival into Torino was interesting.  Because the airport I was flying out of in London was a good hour and a half away from where I was staying in Greenwich, I had to get a Bed and Breakfast for the night before.  Unfortunately, it was just the bed that I got to enjoy since my flight was at 7:00 a.m.  This portion of the trip marked another first for me; taxi rides.  For me, the idea of essentially putting all control into the hands of a total stranger is far too frightening to even think about doing (also, it costs a lot more than a bus fare).  However, I had no choice.  As I took my deep breath and headed over the the line of taxis, I went to the one at the front of the line, thinking to myself that he seemed like he may be okay.  Thankfully, I was right.  He got me straight to where I needed to go with no side trips to the middle of nowhere in the woods.  

The B&B was so cute!  Just like a little English Cottage.  Because I have been staying with several people to a room and sharing bathrooms, I was so pleased to finally have a single quiet space to myself, even if it was just for a few hours.  There was a slight sigh of relief I could feel inside myself as I walked into that room.  I soaked up as much of this time as possible to be alone, taking time to let my mind go wherever it felt it needed, nothing to tell me to stop because someone else was in the room.  I needed this time to let it be okay that I was overwhelmed.

One of the things I noticed while in London was that the culture is one of drinking.  And not really drinking to get drunk, but more of sitting in a pub with your friends and/or family and having a few pints.  Because I lived on top of one, I enjoyed many times sitting down there visiting with people and building some excellent relationships.  I went into one that was across the road from this B&B and had the opportunity to bull-shit with a group of old men.  What a great time that was!  And this pub was old... 400 years old!  Tiny and with a fireplace as it's heater, it truly is what you would imagine an old pub would look like.

Once in Torino, Lauren and I had to figure out exactly what we were doing for our birthday, which was the next day.  We knew we wanted to meet up with a friend of mine who is stationed with the Air Force in Pisa, but I didn't have his phone number and the internet at her house wasn't working.  We knew he had her number, because I had given it to him before I got a phone for here, but no idea whether or not he would get a hold of us.  So we went to the train station and looked up a bunch of different places and how many euro's it would cost to get to each one.  We decided Pisa would be a good idea, since that's where Jason is at and thought if all else fails, we can just find a hostel when we get there.  We buy the ticket, run back to her place to get a weekend bag put together, purchase a pizza and a bottle of wine and away we go.  While my entire trip has been kind of like this, it hasn't been to this extent.  I did enjoy it though.  To have no plans whatsoever.. it's a pretty interesting way to go!

Thankfully, we did hear from Jason while we were on the train.  He picked us up from the station and we ended up spending the entire weekend staying at places all around.  A few nights were at the military base and a few others were at an apartment in Livorno.  Livorno is a beautiful place along the Mediteranian and the apartment was overlooking it so we had a great view.  We spent time in Florence, climbing to the top of the Duomo, which is a huge church in the middle of the city.  It's quite the hike, but the view is gorgeous.  Part of climbing to the top includes getting to be right underneath this beautiful ceiling that is basically a huge painting of biblical scenes.  It was amusing when we got to the top because I had not seen so many Americans in one spot until this building.  They were everywhere!  But, instead of thinking how wonderful it was, I got rather annoyed.  Americans really can be obnoxious in comparison to other European societies and you see it when they are side by side.  

Now I'm headed to the train station to get back to Torino.  I'll update more later!